Paddling in North Western Michigan

  Having grown up in the northwestern part of the lower peninsula of Michigan, I have a special place in my heart for the big waters of Lake Michigan. The deep blues and vibrant turquoise that get more brilliant the brighter the sun shines is reminiscent of the Caribbean or even Hawaii. The white sand beaches beckon me to sit beside the lake with a bonfire and a smile on my face, browning in the warm sunshine. It’s literally where my soul begs me to be in the dog days of summer when the water temps reach the mid 70's and the peak of tourist season has subsided. 


    When I lived there, I didn’t have paddle boards. They weren’t even a thing back then. We had kayaks and canoes to float around on and we did that alot. To this day, I love canoeing but paddleboarding has been my top preferred method for wasting an afternoon on the water. One of the things I love the most is looking down through the crystal clear waters and looking for treasure below my feet. I’ve found fishing gear, towels, shoes, beach toys, wallets and more sunglasses than I can count. The vantage point of standing above the water vs sitting is incredible. Not only do I find cool stuff, I see cool stuff like fish, turtles, and other neat critters swimming or living in the lake. I really love the way the sun makes the bottom so visible, even in 15-20 feet of water. The waves in the sand on the bottom formed from the waves is natural visual art, and I get totally lost staring down at the patterns as I float above. Just writing this, as I look out the window at the snowy and cold day before me here in Aspen, I long for those warm sunny afternoons on the lake. 

  My favorite place to paddle when I am ‘Up North’ is on a 5 mile stretch of river between Big Platte Lake and Lake Michigan in the Sleeping Bear national lakeshore called Platte River. The lower Platte is a few miles of meandering river that cuts through the inland sand dunes, through Loon Lake and eventually lets out into Platte Bay on the big lake. The river is usually pretty warm that time of year, and in most places shallow enough to stand and hangout. The current is fast enough that people float the entirety on tubes in a few hours, but slow enough if you want to just hang out and chill, you can. The sandbar on Loon Lake is usually a scene on the weekends, especially around the 4th of July holiday with flotillas of rafts, SUPs, canoes, and kayaks anchored off and groups of fun folks out there listening to music, possibly grilling some food and just hanging out. Sometimes it’s a little rowdy, but always fun.  From there, we paddle across loon lake, and back into the river. We like to tie our boards together and make a big island to all hang out on as we let the river take us where it wants us to go. Eventually, we end up pulling over on one of the many sandy beaches that pop up periodically along the way, just to hangout and watch the groups go by. It’s especially entertaining when a group goes by that’s been partying especially hard and watching them tip over in their canoes or kayaks. 

What to know before you go.

  •   Parking can be tough at the takeout. Some folks like to use a bicycle to shuttle since it’s only 2.5miles on the road, but if you are patient, depending on the time of day, you can usually find a place to park. 
  •  If you rent from RiverSide canoes at the M-22 bridge, they will get you set up with everything you need for your trip down the river and shuttle you back. Super easy. Also, a great place to hangout after the float since they have great snacks and ice cream. 
  • You need a park pass if you are going to be using any of the parking lots. You get them at the campground. They are like $45 for the year pass. Totally worth it. 
  • Glass is strictly prohibited on the river and beaches. 
  • It can get cool on the river if the clouds blot out the sun and it can get windy so pre prepared! 
  • Park rangers do patrols on and by the river so mind yourself while you are out there! 
  • It’s a national lakeshore, so it’s very protected even though there’s literally thousands of people out there. Be respectful. 

Critical gear: 

  • Dry bag for your phone, keys, wallet and anything else you want to keep dry.
  • Sun protection; sunscreen/ sun hat/ sunglasses
  • Small packable cooler for snacks and drinks. Stay hydrated! 
  • Dive mask or swim goggles. If you drop your stuff, you’ll at least have a chance to find it.
  • Speaker. A little music always boosts the vibe.
  • Water shoes. There are places where the river is a little rocky. Having shoes will make things easier if you have to stand or walk.