Paddle On

Newly designated state water trails total more than 540 miles.
Photography by Howard Meyerson

No one questions whether Michigan has water. Of 51,438 miles of river in the state, 656.4 miles of 16 rivers are designated wild, scenic or recreational under the National Wild and Scenic River System administered by the National Park Service ( MSU Extension reports that Michigan has 26,266 inland lakes over 1 acre in size. And the state’s Great Lakes shoreline is 3,288 miles long, the longest freshwater coastline in the U.S.

That’s a lot of water if you like to paddle canoes or kayaks.

But finding a good place to paddle can be a challenge, particularly for beginners who often turn to commercial outfitters to frame a short day trip, spot a car, provide gear and a ride at the end of the float. But those who yearn for longer trips, overnights, weekends or longer yet inevitably find themselves poring over river maps and paddling guidebooks, trying to piece together routes and important logistics like where public access is easy and legal, where to stop for lunch and takeout each day, where water and supplies are found and where camping is allowed, among other things.

Stand-up paddle boarding
Stand-up paddle boarding // Photography courtesy of Michigan DNR

That’s what it takes to get away from the crowds. Which is why I was pleased to hear the state of Michigan designated eight official water trails in December. Novice and experienced paddlers now will have easy access to the information they need. The water routes total more than 540 miles. Access is good and community support is strong on all of them, according to the Michigan DNR. Some of the routes are good for canoes and/or recreational kayaks or sea kayaks.

“Outdoor recreation-based tourism is experiencing major growth right now,” Paul Yauk, the state’s trail coordinator said in news reports. “… We fully expect that offering — and expanding — water trail opportunities in Michigan will encourage more outdoor recreation and healthier lifestyles and also serve as regional destinations that will give a boost to local economies.”

Photography courtesy of Michigan DNR

All of that is good news.

The eight water trails running through more than a dozen counties are the result of DNR partnerships with local communities and organizations that developed and submitted water trail plans for scoring based on a number of criteria. Those include providing a quality trail experience, having clear information for users, having community support and safety, stewardship, as well as historic and cultural resources. Ribbon cuttings for each are expected to be held during the 2019 paddling season. More information about each is available at

The newly designated water trails include:

  • Central River Raisin Water Trail, 11 miles in Monroe County
  • Chain of Lakes Water Trail, more than 80 miles in Antrim and Kalkaska counties
  • Huron River Water Trail, 104 miles in Livingston, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties
  • Island Loop Route, 10 miles in St. Clair County
  • Flint River Trail, 72 miles in Genesee and Lapeer counties
  • Middle Grand River Water Trail, 87 miles in Clinton, Eaton, Ingham and Ionia counties
  • Shiawassee River Trail, 88 miles in Genesee, Oakland, Saginaw and Shiawassee counties
  • Upper Grand River Water Trail, 91 miles in Eaton, Ingham and Jackson counties

For information about other water trails in Michigan, see

Howard Meyerson is the managing editor for Michigan BLUE magazine.

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