Enjoying Michigan by canoe, kayak or raft

During my first and only year in Boy Scouts, my troop decided to participate in a rafting competition on the Grand River near Lansing.  The Chief Okemos Council organized an outing that required us to build a raft for our troop out of wood, rope and empty 55 gallon drums, intended to be used for floatation.

We arrived late and were among the last to put our rafts into the Grand that day.  It seemed like the day would never end.  Our raft, while buoyant, was not efficient at moving downstream and without paddles, we ended up spending more of our time pushing the raft downstream than we did actually riding.  Tired, exhausted and hungry, I fell asleep during the program after dinner.

And that experience bolstered my love of being on a river.  A few Cub Scout canoeing trips in previous years showed me that time on the water was fun and I have never turned back.  I have logged plenty of hours in canoes, kayaks and whitewater rafts and still, I can’t wait for my next trip downstream.

Fortunately, we live in a great state for canoeing.  This list will focus on some of my favorite places to canoe with a one notable, aspirational exception.

  1.  Huron River from Proud Lake Recreation Area to Kensington Metropark

This is a great river for beginner paddlers.  There are sections with a decent current to help move you along, with big flat water stretches that provide perfect opportunities for practicing your paddling technique.

  1.  Upper and Lower Platte River

Right after high school, a bunch of friends from work would coordinate a trip along the Platte every year.  While we always hit the Upper section of the Platte, it has sections with strong currents and sharp bends, so get a few trips in the easier to navigate Lower Platte before you venture up there.  Regardless of the trip you take, make sure you end your day at Lake Township’s park where the river flows into Lake Michigan.  It provides a stunning view of the Sleeping Bear Dunes, which is the perfect backdrop for a post-canoeing barbeque.

  1.  Boardman River

My best friend in high school allegedly went canoeing a few times in his life, so I let him take the rear seat, making him responsible for doing most of the steering.  After swimming involuntarily at least three times during our first 30 minutes on the river, I insisted on steering instead.  The spring fed Boardman always feels chilly; it has a ton of sharp turns and is a thoroughly enjoyable ride when you stay relatively dry.

  1.  Piers Gorge

This is my aspirational whitewater rafting trip.  It won’t compare to the Gauley River in the fall, there are only a few rivers in the world that provide that many thrills.  But with a few Class VI rapids mixed in with a good number of Class II-III’s, it looks like a great way to enjoy another gorgeous Upper Peninsula river.

Photo credit david.dames

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