Paddling the Upper Peninsula

Photo: Keweenaw Adventure Company

Lake Superior and the inland lakes and waterways of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula make it a world-class destination for paddlers

Kayaking and paddling Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the Keweenaw offers something for everyone. While the big lake claims a lot of water sporting glory, Copper Harbor and Eagle Harbor offer more shelter from the big winds of the Gitche Gumee, and there are plenty of inland kayaking spots we love.

We were named by National Geographic Adventure Magazine as a “Superior Sports Port” for good reason, and there’s a wide range of trips you can do, whether you want to go with a guide or on your own. 

Michigan’s Keweenaw Water Trail 

The Keweenaw Water Trail is a complete loop for sea kayaks and canoes that circles the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula. Paddlers love that you can return to your starting point instead of having to backtrack on an out-and-back route, eliminating the need to spot two vehicles or obtain a shuttle. An average paddler can cover the route in six to eight days, but extra days should be planned to compensate for weather delays.

The Keweenaw Water Trail is a complete loop for sea kayaks and canoes that circles the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula
Photo: Greg Maino

It is said the Water Trail “exemplifies the Keweenaw Peninsula in the most literal sense” due to its rugged Lake Superior coastline, uninhabited wilderness, and nature preserves and parks. There are even some sheltered harbors that offer the weary paddler the option for a hot meal, a hot shower, or lodging at a comfy inn.

Planning your Water Trail trip

You can plan your trip on the Water Trail with the Keweenaw Adventure Co. Keweenaw Water Trail maps are available from the Keweenaw Convention & Visitors Bureau and The Keweenaw Land Trust.

Inland kayaking

It’s not all about the big lake! Lake Superior gets a lot of attention from paddlers, but inland kayaking the U.P. is an unforgettable experience and much more approachable. There’s excellent fishing, wildlife viewing, and birding as you enjoy a nice paddle. Most launch areas have picnic tables and basic bathrooms, and some offer on-site camping and boat rentals. 

Inland kayaking Michigan's Upper Peninsula is approachable for all experience levels and offers excellent wildlife viewing
Lynn’s adventurous parents kayaking the Keweenaw with us.

Lake Medora

Lake Medora is 695 acres with a maximum depth of 30 feet. Small, picturesque islands are scattered about the lake. Folks have good luck fishing here for walleye, smallmouth bass, and perch, if that’s your thing. There is public access and a boat launch along US-41 south of Copper Harbor. You can’t miss it!

Lake Bailey

Lake Bailey is a 204 acre lake with an average depth of three to six feet. It’s a shallower spot but perfect for an evening paddle with a cold beverage. There is public access and a shallow boat launch along M-26 east of Eagle Harbor.  

Lake Fanny Hooe

Lake Fanny Hooe is 227 acres with a maximum depth of 40 feet. You can publicly access it and launch your boat in Ft. Wilkins State Park along US-41 east of Copper Harbor. You can camp and rent boats from Lake Fanny Hooe Resort & Campground.

Fresh Coast favorites

Eagle Harbor sunset paddle

Eagle Harbor is just six miles down the road from Fresh Coast Cabins and offers one of the best sand beaches in the Keweenaw. With easy access and a large harbor, the cove itself makes for a beautiful paddle. If you are looking for a longer adventure, and/or Lake Superior is very calm, consider a paddle outside of the harbor (you can also launch from the beach at the marina) and explore the beautiful conglomerate rocky outcroppings that are unique to the area.

The best spot to go for a sunset paddle? This is that place! Hang a right outside of Eagle Harbor and paddle away from the sun as it’s lowering, then turn around for a grand show as you paddle home. 

The Torch Lake dredge

The Quincy Dredge is an old mining relic that is partially sunk in Torch Lake, Michigan’s longest and deepest inland lake, stretching out over 19 miles and 285 feet deep. The water is unbelievably crystal clear with a turquoise tint, and legend has it, home to a monster.

Launch from Hubbel Beach and navigate your way west to see the Dredge. This is a longer paddle, so plan a couple of hours. The calmer the water, the easier the paddle. For this adventure you’ll be rewarded with amazing views of the Dredge that are much cooler and more detailed than seeing the landmark from M-26.

The Torch Lake dredge, or Quincy Dredge, is a popular destination for paddlers in the Keweenaw Peninsula
Photo: Marty Hogan

We explored this area with our good friend, Michael. The Dredge is home to graffiti—both inside and out—but we don’t recommend venturing inside. The structure is old and has claimed more than a few injuries. Best to keep your distance and imagine the machine when it was fully operational, removing sand from the lake for mining ships to carry Keweenaw copper to other ports.

Portage Canal, North Entry (Lily Pond to McLain State Park)

The Portage Canal is a popular spot for paddlers in the Keweenaw Peninsula
Photo: Greg Maino

The Portage Canal is the body of water that created the Keweenaw Peninsula. Widened in the mining days to support ship passage to carry precious copper for the world to enjoy. The North entry is still used by a freighter each year to deliver the Copper Country’s annual supply of sand to keep the roads passable in the winter.

From Hancock, head west on M-203 to Lily Pond. There is a boat launch site there that is perfect for launching kayaks and small watercraft. You’ll then continue west out through the mouth of the canal to two gorgeous beacons lit up to show boaters the way.

Note, the last ¾ of a mile is man-made and corrugated steel was used to construct the passage. This makes the waves especially rough when boats create a wake and you may want to rethink this option if it’s a particularly  windy day.

You can also launch from the beach at McLain State Park which does have an entry fee is Lake Superior if calm enough for a paddle. 

Know before you go

Before you get started planning your paddling adventures, you need to be aware of safety hazards and considerations for Lake Superior and the inland lakes and streams. 

Lake Superior is well-known for its cold temperatures, fog, and sudden squalls that can generate waves that could easily swamp a canoe or kayak. This, along with scarce outer shore landing sites, adds to the potential danger. It’s really important that only experienced kayakers should be out there so your fun paddle doesn’t get turned into a very bad time.

Please read more about paddling safety from the National Park Service before you join us on the water.

Talk to a guide

Start planning by contacting Keweenaw Adventure Company. Their experienced team will discuss all your options with you so you can have the best experience possible, no matter your experience level.

Copper Harbor sea kayaking experience

To get a taste of paddling in the Keweenaw, check out the interactive Copper Harbor Sea Kayak map. Join two guides from the Keweenaw Adventure Company as they navigate the coastal Lake Superior waters near Copper Harbor and offer tips to get the most out of your Keweenaw paddle experience.

Stay in touch

We’re always happy to share more ideas and resources about paddling the peninsula and anything Keweenaw-related, so please reach out to us if you have any questions or if you’re looking for lodging. We love hosting and sharing our favorite parts of this magical place.

We hope to see you soon on The Keweenaw!

About Us

We’re Lynn and Jason Makela, and we love cabins. Our love for cabins started in 2018 when we purchased True North—in need of much repair but in a breathtaking setting on Lake Superior. After that, we were hooked and in 2020 added nine more cabins that we're updating and sharing with those willing to adventure to Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula—the most beautiful place on earth.