City Guide 2020: Where to Kayak and Canoe in Metro Detroit

Go around these bends
kayak canoe metro detroit
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COVID-19 UPDATE: With pretty much all of metro Detroit’s nightlife, entertainment, and recreation options stuck in suspended animation, we’re fortunate to have an abundance of natural beauty within easy reach. With that in mind, for this year’s City Guide we’ve rounded up a number of great nearby places to bike, hike, fish — or just take in the view. Even outdoors, though, it’s important to take precautions. In addition to the usual (wash your hands often and don’t touch your face), the state Department of Natural Resources offers these guidelines: Go out only if you’re healthy. Avoid long-distance travel. Keep 6 feet apart from people not from your household. If the parking lot at your destination is full, leave and choose someplace else. Be safe out there!

In a state with more than 11,000 lakes, it’s no surprise water recreation has become a favorite pastime. It also means there’s no shortage of ways to spend a day on the waves. While the beauty and mystery of vast lakes Michigan and Superior may be alluring, you don’t need to make a long trek. Indeed, the Department of Natural Resources recommends sticking close to home for your outdoor activities for now. Hit the water right here in metro Detroit at these local kayak and canoe spots.

Shelby Township 

Stony Creek Metropark

While there’s an abundance of outdoor adventure to be had around Stony Creek, gliding across the calm waters of Stony Creek Lake may be the best way to enjoy its beauty. The calm nature of the lake makes it a perfect spot for relaxing solo cruises or family outings with the little ones. The 500 acres of blue may seem intimidating, but you can always rest your paddling muscles at Winter Island, a little oasis situated directly across from Baypoint Beach. Baypoint is also home to the Mt. Vernon boat rental, which (when open) offers kayaks for a $10 hourly rental, in addition to rowboats, paddle boats, and canoes. Stony Creek Metropark, 4300 Main Park Drive, Shelby Charter Twp.;

Auburn Hills

Clinton River

The Clinton River is one of the few lower-peninsula bodies to offer an intense white-water kayaking experience. According to the Clinton River Watershed Council, the river can be divided into three sections: the Headwaters, best for a tranquil journey through the wetlands; the Lower River, where slow-moving wakes push kayakers through dense forests to finish at Lake St. Clair; and the most difficult section, the Heart of Clinton. Experienced paddlers who brave its waters will slosh through strainers, sharp turns, and steep gradient drops. There are 20 launch locations in total, but some of the most popular are Riverside Park and Clinton River Heritage Park. When businesses reopen, be sure to check out Clinton River Canoe and Kayak in Sterling Heights for a guided tour. Clinton River Heritage Park, 44505 Van Dyke Ave., Utica; 586-739-1600;; Riverside Park, 3311 Squirrel Ct., Auburn Hills; 248-370-9353;

Ann Arbor

Argo Park and Gallup Park Liveries

Just 2 miles from one another, the Argo Park and Gallup Park liveries provide fun and accessible water sporting in Ann Arbor by offering a pair of kayaking routes. The shorter of the two is a 3.7-mile run (a journey of about an hour and a half) from Argo Pond to Gallup River. The second stretches 5.7 miles from Barton Pond to Gallup River and takes around two-and-a-half hours to complete. Each features plentiful wildlife, as well as twists, turns, and ample coves at which to dock and enjoy the fresh air. We recommend starting your adventure at Argo Park, due to its position upriver of Gallup Park. Cruising down the Argo Cascades via inflatable tubes is another popular activity — but this is no lazy river. The cascades are packed with tight turns and white water, so don’t forget your sense of adventure. Argo Park Livery, 1055 Longshore Drive, Ann Arbor;


The Detroit River

On warm summer days, the Detroit River is a scene of bustling activity. Freighters, river boats, and, of course, kayaks can be seen navigating its 28 miles of majestic blue water. Still, due to its striking deviation from the archetype of typical kayaking venues — often remote and densely wooded — the Detroit River can often be overlooked. But this gentle giant offers kayakers a rare opportunity to explore the charms of both the natural and the urban. Downtown Detroit’s glowing skyline is visible from nearly every point on the water, and yet stretches of lush greenery can conjure the feel of deep wilderness. Plus, recent improvements in cleanliness, accomplished through years of conservation efforts, mean there’s never been a better time to dip your toes  in.

To choose among the various launch sites lining the river’s banks, you’ll need to decide which of its numerous sights, such as Belle Isle, Peche Island, Fisher Mansion, Detroit Canals, and Grosse Ile, rank highest on your bucket list. Luckily, most noteworthy destinations are within paddling distance of one another, making it easy to check off multiple points of interest in a single trip. If exploring the waters around Belle Isle is a top priority, consider a start at the Flynn Pavilion in Belle Isle Park. Other popular launch spots include Grayhaven Mooring Facility and Fisherman’s Marina, both of which are only a short trip from Belle Isle, Peche Island, and Fisher Mansion.

For those interested in a guided exploration, a number of kayaking services are stationed along the river, offering unique aquatic adventures such kayaking lessons, historical tours, and sunset or full-moon tours. When they reopen, Detroit Outpost, Detroit River Sports, and Riverside Kayak Connection will provide myriad experiences for kayakers of all ages and experience levels. Flynn Pavilion, 99 Pleasure Drive, Detroit; 313-821-9844; Grayhaven Mooring Facility, 601 Port Drive, Detroit; 313-808-3342; Fisherman’s Marina, 14601 Riverside Blvd., Detroit; 313-823-2629