Tips for Kayaking In Metro Detroit

There’s no shortage of water trails and kayak rentals in Metro Detroit. So how do you decide which is best for you? Every summer for the last seven years, my friend and I set out to explore a different waterway in Michigan. I’m here to share some tips that we’ve learned over the years along with a few of my favorite trails to kayak in the metro Detroit area.

kayaking in metro Detroit on Belle Isle
Kayaking on Belle Isle

To Rent or Buy a Kayak

The decision to rent or buy a kayak is a highly personal choice. When I first started kayaking, I convinced my husband to get me a kayak for my birthday — which led to us having to get a rack for my car to transport it, a rack for our garage to store it, and a bunch of other accessories. When practicing loading and unloading, it quickly became clear that I bit off more than I could chew. But, for me, the real deciding factor was the types of trails that I wanted to explore.

In Michigan, and specifically Metro Detroit, we’re blessed with calm inland lakes and slow-flowing rivers where a recreational kayak is perfect for a leisurely paddle. But we also have the powerful Great Lakes and some rough rivers that require a sea kayak. You can read more about the difference between a recreational kayak and a sea kayak here. Since I enjoy a leisurely paddle just as much as a challenging one, I decided to sell my kayak and stick to rentals.

Many rental companies require you to join a tour guide, but not all. Some trails can be dangerous (freighters, strong currents, etc.), so a tour guide isn’t all bad. And, in most cases, they share some incredible history about sites along the trail. But, if you’re looking to explore on your own time at your own pace, buying a kayak might be a better option for you.

Where to Kayak in Metro Detroit

A quick Google search will turn up pages and pages of places to kayak in Michigan and companies that serve those trails. There are likely some kayaking trails closer to your home than you think. Here are a few of my most memorable paddles:

Riverside Kayak Connection

RKC has several kayak tours including a historical canal tour, Grosse Ile tours, and several tours downriver. One of my favorites, the Belle Isle Blue Heron Lagoon Tour, is perfect for beginners. On this four-mile tour, you’ll explore the interior of the island with lots of opportunities for wildlife sightings.

Clinton River Water Trails

With over 72 miles of water trails, you’re sure to find a stretch that fits your needs. An abundance of launch spots and this map make it easy to kayak without a tour guide, but keep in mind that some trails are fit for beginners while others are reserved for experienced paddlers.

Detroit River Sports

If you’re looking for a challenge with awesome views of the city, check out the Detroit River Sports Belle Isle Tour. Recommended for experienced paddlers, this seven-mile trail takes you down the Detroit River and past the Detroit Yacht Club. Go for a swim and recharge at Hipster Beach on Belle Isle before the challenging paddle back upriver. Detroit River Sports also has sunset and full moon paddles that are on my list, too.

Port Austin Kayak

Though not technically Metro Detroit, Port Austin Kayak offers unbelievable views that make you feel like you’re up north without the far drive. The seven-mile trail of almost untouched shoreline to Turnip Rock is well worth the sight, and doable for even beginner paddlers as long as the water is calm that day. Port Austin is just a little over two hours from Metro Detroit so it can still be done as a day trip, or there are several lodging options listed on their website.

What to Bring Kayaking

I wouldn’t be caught on the water without these items (in order of importance):
  • Personal floatation device
  • Large water bottle
  • Sunscreen
  • Swimsuit + appropriate clothing/layers, including a hat and/or sunglasses
  • Snacks or a packed lunch
  • Camera or phone to take pictures
Other optional accessories:

Kayaking is a great way to get out and see Metro Detroit from a different point of view while getting some fresh air and vitamin D. Looking for more day trip options? Check out 100 Day Trips for Detroit Families.


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