When it comes to outdoor pursuits, there are those who enjoy seeing waterfalls and rushing rivers from the general safety of the many hiking trails and viewing areas that exist within the Upper Peninsula. Then, there are also the kind of people who prefer to dive right into the river for a fully immersive experience that challenges their paddling skills while giving them a burst of adrenaline.
Whitewater kayaking in the Midwest often veers on the challenging side, with roaring rivers that come to life as the snow melts in the spring. Yet, you can also find quite a few beginner-friendly rapids that you can use to develop your paddling abilities before tackling bigger challenges.
As a beginner, it helps to book a kayaking tour that is located near your favorite Lake Superior hotel. You’ll learn more paddling with a group, and tour guides are great at checking the water conditions to ensure you start on the safest route.
If you already have some whitewater experience under your belt, then you can feel free to explore the many popular and lesser-known places to go kayaking in the Midwest independently. While you’ll find countless places to paddle near the best upper peninsula hotel, we’ve found that these locations tend to give our guests experiences they can’t stop talking about when they return from their adventures.
Montreal River Canyon
The Montreal River Canyon flows between Ironwood, MI, and Hurley, WI. Since it’s close to the best Upper Peninsula motel in the region, you’ll only have to plan for a short drive to the prime put-in point. The best put-in site is located at Saxon Falls at the base of the 90-foot waterfall, which is impressive just to see by itself. Once you hit the water, you can enjoy around three and one-half miles of what is typically Class II and III rapids.
Most people complete this trip in around two hours spent on the water. Once you get upstream of the bridge along HWY 122, you’ll see a sign with bold black letters letting you know that you’ve arrived at the take-out location. If you opt to try this waterway, then you’ll need all of the typical gear that you would for whitewater kayaking in the Midwest. However, you will be carrying the gear down a flight of steps to reach the put-in point, so make sure to pack as lightly as possible without leaving out any safety essentials.
Black River, Michigan
The Black River runs through one of the most beautiful parts of the Upper Peninsula, and kayakers are treated to not only some of the most majestic waterfalls in the region but also unique geology. While the Black River runs lighter the further away you move from Lake Superior, most paddlers opt to put-in about a mile downstream from Conglomerate Falls at Gorge Falls.
As you paddle towards the Great Lake, you’ll encounter Class IV to V rapids along with challenging drops that will thrill even the most experienced kayaker. Keep in mind that the conditions along this route change dramatically from season to season. Although you might hear advice from paddlers who have visited the area in recent years, you’ll want to be cautious as you navigate the route.
Many of the drops here require scouting since you won’t be able to stop one once you start. However, you’ll still find plenty of whitewater here that is comfortable for the average kayaker with experience navigating, even if you need to portage through some riskier drops and channels.
Menominee River, Wisconsin-Michigan Border
This well-known whitewater kayaking destination falls within the Wisconsin and Michigan border, and you can find several outfitters offering tours in Niagara, WI. The Menominee River has Class II to IV rapids that stretch between Sand Portage Falls and Piers Gorge. In fact, one of the reasons why this is a popular spot for kayaking is that you’ll find yourself paddling almost non-stop rapids between these two points.
In Piers Gorge, you’ll encounter the famous Mishicot Falls, which is a breathtaking 10-foot drop, before you get to the Volkswagen Rock and Chicken-Ender hole. You’ll end your trip at Terminal Surfer Hole, but don’t worry. This particular route is long enough for fun but also short enough that many kayakers opt to walk back upstream and take it down an extra time to double up on the thrills.
If you have Menominee River on your mind, then you’ll also want to know that it’s only around two and one-half hours from Ironwood. A trip to the Porcupine Mountains is an excellent way to round out your kayaking trip. While there, you can hike to one of the many waterfalls and enjoy a calmer day as you kayak on Lake of the Clouds. Or, you might opt to kayak down one of the many whitewater rivers in the area. Once you’re done, you can stay in a Porcupine Mountains hotel before heading back to Niagara.
Top Tips for Whitewater Kayaking in the Midwest
Kayaking in this part of the United States is often unpredictable. While the challenge might be what serves as inspiration for choosing to go kayaking in the Midwest, you’ll still want to be careful to avoid any mishaps on your trip.
Beginning kayakers will find that joining a tour group is the safest way to learn how to navigate the waters. Experienced tour guides will start you off on land, where you can practice paddling skills. They’ll also warn you about any obstacles in your path and show you how to maneuver your kayak over drops safely. As a general rule, it’s best to start on low-level rapids to acclimate yourself to the water, even if you’ve been kayaking before.
All kayakers need to remember to use the buddy system. Although you might be eager to branch out to higher classifications of whitewater, going with a group is your best bet for handling potentially risky situations. Staying with your friends at the best Upper Peninsula motel is more fun anyways, so go ahead and invite your best paddling buddies along on the trip.
As a final note, remember to pack for the weather. You’ll need all of the usual gear that you would normally take on any paddling adventure, but you might also need warmer base layers along with wet suits and spray jackets to avoid being hit with uncomfortably cold water. Even in the spring and fall, the temperatures can rapidly drop. Staying warm and dry as you kayak helps you to extend your time out on the rushing water.
After spending a day pushing your body to its limits, it feels good to know that you have somewhere to go to rest your weary head. Our Ironwood hotel has in-room whirlpools that are perfect for relaxing tight muscles after an adrenaline-filled paddling session. Plus, you’ll love being located close enough to multiple kayaking hot spots that allow you to explore to your heart’s content. Whether you’re just starting out with guide-led tours or are eager to advance your competitive kayaking skills, you’ll find many friendly faces in town that are all ready to help you feel like a local in one of the top paddling destinations on Earth.