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Michigan Kayaking Destinations: Traverse City


On the picturesque shores of Grand Traverse Bay in the northern reaches of Lower Michigan sits Traverse City, a kayaker’s paradise. The area is home to hundreds of quiet forest lakes as well as streams and rivers that flow into Grand Traverse Bay and its adjacent waters. Uninhabited islands, picturesque fishing villages, innumerable coves and bays, secluded beaches and 400-foot golden sand dunes line the shorelines of Grand Traverse Bay and the nearby Manitou Passage make the city is one of the nation’s premier kayaking destinations.

Best Places to Kayak Near Traverse City

Traverse City and the Bay area offer something for every type of paddler from the many rivers and lakes to even open water. Here are a few of the best kayaking destinations around Traverse City, Michigan.

Grand Traverse Bay

The bay itself offers an extremely wonderful paddle for coastal kayakers off all levels with dozens of different available routes. The twin arms stretch out for over 20 miles in length, but the bays are narrow, rarely more than four or five miles across. From Traverse City, you could paddle along the east shore of Leelanau Peninsula towards Suttons Bay, the western coast of the mainland towards Elk Rapids or around Old Mission Peninsula, which lies between the west arm and the east arm.

Power Island

In the West Bay off the shore of Old Mission lays the uninhabited 200-acre, Power Island. Following the coast from Traverse City, it’s an easy 15-mile paddle or launch from Bowers Harbor and enjoy an even easier 3-mile trip. The heavily wooded island was once the property of Henry Ford, but today features a campground, hiking trails, swimming beaches and a picnic area.

Boardman Lake

The entire area surrounding Traverse City is dotted with wonderful glacial lakes, perfect for kayaking. One of the area’s nicest and most convenient for kayakers is Boardman Lake and it’s just a couple blocks from downtown Traverse City. The lake has three launch sites and is great for bird lovers with local birds hanging out all year as well as being a popular resting stop for lots of migratory waterfowl.

Silver Lake

Silver Lake is just a bit south of Traverse City in Garfield Township. It is joined to the bay by the Boardman River and despite being a bit smaller in size, the lake has over eight acres of islands and nearly ten miles of irregular shoreline and peninsulas offering plenty of places to be explored by kayak. It’s shores are lined by forests as well as sandy beaches perfect for swimming. The east side of lake also offers typical recreational park-like amenities with tennis and basketball courts, picnic tables, covered pavilions, grills and a large playground for children.

Sleeping Bear Dunes

The most dramatic coastal kayaking near Traverse City can be found along the Lake Michigan shoreline at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Golden sand dunes rise hundreds of feet in the air along the water’s edge making for some spectacular sights. There are also miles of secluded beaches perfect for a relaxing stop.

Manitou Islands

The rugged terrain of the Manitou Island is a must paddle with sights of isolated coves, lighthouses, giant trees and even a shipwrecked freighter. But only the most skilled kayakers should attempt the two-hour trip from Traverse City, as the water here is some of the most unpredictable and potentially dangerous in the Great Lakes. Others may wish to take the Manitou Island Transit ferry and kayak from one of the islands for a shorter, safer kayaking trip to see the sights.

Storing Your Kayak after Your Traverse City Trip

There comes a time when you must store your kayak. Whether you own your own kayak or own a kayak rental company, the right kayak storage system can keep your shoreline and your kayaks looking great for years to come. Our 100% norther cedar log kayak racks can safely and beautifully store and display up to eight kayaks on one rack and are naturally weather-resistant. Shop our standard kayak racks online now or send us a message to learn more about a custom kayak storage solution.