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17 Best Places to Canoe & Kayak for Detroit Paddlers

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17 Best Places to Canoe & Kayak for Detroit Paddlers

Find solitude just a short drive from the city. • Credit: Virginia Marshall

These exceptional Ontario routes are just a few hours from Motor City

Pristine and accessible, Ontario’s rivers and coasts are perfect for weekend paddling excursions north of the border.

For Detroit area paddlers dreaming of wild beauty and undeveloped waters, two regions just across the border in Ontario offer spectacular canoeing and kayaking within a day’s drive. These are our picks for the top rivers, lakes and coastal routes in each.

Algoma Country

Five hours due north of Detroit, Sault Ste. Marie serves as a convenient gateway to Algoma Country. This wild and sparsely populated region of North-central Ontario boasts scores of stunning rivers set amongst ancient, rolling mountains. Touring kayakers can choose from gorgeous, island-studded routes in Lake Huron’s North Channel, or the breathtaking coastline of Lake Superior. And area provincial parks offer established circuits on quiet wilderness lakes for canoe campers.

Two people sitting beside canoe pulled up on shore.
Taking a break on Lake Mijinemungshing. Photo: @aroundpipo

Canoe Routes

If your idea of the perfect paddling adventure involves gliding across tranquil lakes and carrying your canoe over scenic portages, then head for Lake Superior Provincial Park or Mississagi Provincial Park.

Just an hour north of Sault Ste. Marie, canoeists in Lake Superior Park can choose from seven canoe routes on interior lakes and rivers. For an easy half-day loop with great trout fishing, launch at Crescent Lake. For a more challenging day-trip or relaxing overnight, try the beautiful 16-km (10-mile) Fenton-Treeby circuit. While the route includes 11 portages, each is just 150 metres or less, and paddlers are rewarded with six lovely lakes. More experienced canoe trippers wishing to explore the backcountry for two or three days can head to the larger waters of Mijinemungshing Lake (say that three times fast!), or Gamitagama and Old Woman lakes.

Find maps for all of the park’s canoe routes here.

2.5 hours east of Sault Ste. Marie, Mississagi Provincial Park protects a landscape of granite hills and clear lakes with excellent trout fishing. Combine a paddle on Flack Lake with a hike up Old Baldy (5 km/3 miles) for outstanding views. Pick up the park’s canoe route brochure to plan a longer tour originating and ending in the park.

Person paddling red kayak through long grasses in the water
Hidden passages await paddlers in the Benjamin Islands group. Photo: Virginia Marshall

Coastal Touring – North Channel

Coastal kayakers and open-water equipped canoeists can explore an archipelago of rocky, pine-topped islands stretching between the villages of Blind River and Spanish in the North Channel of Lake Huron. Depart from the public launch in Algoma Mills to tour around the undeveloped Sanford Island group (one to two days). More pink granite islands speckle the waters to the east, forming the beautiful Whalesback Channel and Benjamin Islands group. Launch from Spanish River First Nation near Cutler or McBean Harbour near Spanish (two to four days).

Read more about North Channel kayaking highlights and itineraries here.

Less experienced paddlers should opt for a guided trip with a North Channel outfitter; Black Feather, Horizons Adventures, and Wild Women Expeditions offer tours from one to six days in length.

View from kayak of other kayakers on waters of Lake Superior
Waters this calm are rare on Lake Superior. Photo: Virginia Marshall

Coastal Touring – Lake Superior

For bucket-list coastal kayaking, plan to paddle all or part of the Lake Superior Provincial Park coastline. Dramatic shoreline scenery ranges from sheer cliffs to technicolor cobbles and fine sand beaches, with nearly the entire 105-km (62-mile) route exposed to the tempestuous moods of the world’s mightiest lake. Those short on time can enjoy a superb day tour or weekend trip around Sinclair Cove or the Gargantua area.

Read more about Lake Superior Park’s kayaking highlights here.

Because of the lake’s frigid temperature, the exposure to wind, waves and weather, and the remote, rugged nature of the coastline, only experienced sea kayakers should attempt this route without a guide. Wawa-based outfitter Naturally Superior Adventures offers guided Lake Superior Park trips from two to five days.

View from back of canoe of two other canoes heading for shore
Autumn brings changing leaves and migrating salmon to the Michipicoten River. Photo: Virginia Marshall

River Trips

Algoma is home to some of Northern Ontario’s finest and most acclaimed canoe tripping rivers. These waterways are rich in history and scenic splendor, rewarding paddlers at every twist and turn. Fortunately, there are just as many terrific day-trip and weekend options as there are multi-week odysseys!

Witness the salmon migration and spot countless bald eagles on an afternoon paddle down the Michipicoten River, near Wawa. Naturally Superior Adventures offers shuttles, canoe and kayak rentals, and guided day-trips.

Lake Superior Provincial Park’s Sand River is a challenging five-day route with 29 portages, two waterfalls, and plenty of class I to II rapids. Preview the route maps here.

Near Searchmont, paddlers who are comfortable in moving water and rapids up to class II can enjoy a scenic day-trip down the Goulais River. Canoe rentals, shuttles, and route suggestions are available through Mountainview Lodge.

Bald eagle sitting in tree
Spot bald eagles fishing from the riverbanks. Photo: Virginia Marshall

Grey Bruce County

Grey and Bruce County offer relaxing river floats, exciting swiftwater, or dramatic coastal tours. Even better, Detroit area paddlers can be slipping into these waters in as little as three hours. In Grey County, sparkling rivers have eroded pretty and pastoral valleys amid the heights of the Niagara Escarpment. Follow the flow to southern Georgian Bay, where charming waterfront towns enjoy sand and surf. More spectacular beaches await on Lake Huron in Bruce County. Hooking like a rocky thumb into Lake Huron, the Bruce Peninsula boasts impressive headlands, towering limestone bluffs, remote beaches, historic lighthouses, and cold aquamarine waters.

Man crouched on riverbank holding fish.
Ontario’s Saugeen River is an amazing steelhead fishery as well as a delightful canoe route. Photo: @arcticpar

Canoe Routes

Originating in the highlands of Hanover, the Saugeen River flows 102 km (61 miles) through rolling, scenic countryside to Lake Huron at Southampton. Ranging from broad placid sections to stretches with easy rapids, the friendly Saugeen is ideal for family canoeing and learning the basics of paddling swiftwater. It’s also a world-class rainbow trout fishery, boasting some of the best steelhead fishing anywhere in the Great Lakes.

The Saugeen River features 13 access points—make it an easy afternoon, rewarding day-trip, or paddle the whole route in three to four leisurely days with camping in beautiful conservation areas. Thorncrest Outfitters offers rentals, shuttle service and guided tours.

Find more information (including section descriptions) here, view a detailed route map, or visit Explore the Bruce for suggested day-trip itineraries.

Paddling a canoe next to flowerpot structures in the water
Flowerpot Island is named for its towering dolomite sea stacks. Photo: Virginia Marshall

Coastal Touring – Bruce Peninsula

Two fantastic national parks make the Bruce Peninsula a bucket list destination for experienced coastal kayakers. To paddle the rugged limestone coastline of the eponymous Bruce Peninsula National Park, launch from Dunk’s Bay near the village of Tobermory at the tip of the peninsula and paddle east, or put in at Dyer’s Bay and point your bow north towards the restored light station at Cabot Head. Steep shoreline and few landings make this multi-day journey one for fair weather and skilled paddlers only.

Read more about kayaking Bruce Peninsula National Park here.

Scattered just off the tip of the Bruce Peninsula, a smattering of dolomite islands make up Fathom Five National Marine Park. On a calm day, paddle above Tobermory’s famous shipwrecks—many easily visible in shallow, clear water—or head 6.5 km (4 miles) across open waters to a backcountry campsite on beautiful Flowerpot Island.

Halfway up the Bruce Peninsula, the quaint village of Lion’s Head makes a fine base for day-trips. Paddle out of the harbour towards the crags of the Lion’s Head, or turn north towards Smokey Head-White Bluff. Either way, look for ancient cedar trees spiraling from the cliffs, and gaze deep into the crystalline waters.

Dreaming of the ultimate Bruce Peninsula bucket list adventure? The Georgian Bay Sea Kayak Route traverses the entire length of the peninsula from Tobermory to Owen Sound!

Minivan with paddleboard on roof in front of lighthouse.
Historic lighthouses—like this station at Point Clark—mark the shores of Lake Huron. Photo: Virginia Marshall

Coastal Touring – Lake Huron Beaches

Billed as Ontario’s “West Coast,” the Bruce County stretch of Lake Huron is famous for two things: beaches and sunsets. Every community on this coastline offers public access and inviting waters.

The most famous of all is Sauble Beach—the world’s second-longest sandy beach. If it’s surf waves you're after, head for the pier at Kincardine’s Station Beach.

For an offshore adventure, launch from Oliphant Beach at the base of the Bruce Peninsula and explore shipwrecks and lagoons among the 70-plus Fishing Islands. Or make the mile-long crossing from Southampton’s Main Beach to Chantry Island and take a tour of the historic Chantry Island Lighthouse.

Someone standing in river fishing in fall.
Enjoy the scenery at Sauble Falls. Photo: @taylerbur

River Trips

In Bruce County, the secluded meanders and forested shores of the Sauble River provide a peaceful counterpart to the bustle of Sauble Beach. Launch at the upper access point for a 15-km (9-mile) day-trip that includes a portage around the beautiful chutes at Sauble Falls Provincial Park. Rentals and river info are available from park staff.

Winding beneath mature forest canopy and through open countryside with views of the Niagara Escarpment, the Beaver River is a popular canoe route in Grey County. Take a full day to paddle the gentle 18-km (11-mile) section from Kimberley to Slabtown Road. Four access points also make it easy to plan a shorter jaunt. Local outfitter Free Spirit Tours offers shuttles, rentals, and guided trips, as well as short “Pedal and Paddle” or “Paddle and Wine” tours.

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