Michigan State is known for its beautiful natural landscape and healthy, active way of life. Kayaking in Ann Arbor is a perfect example of just how serene and relaxing the paddling scene here can be. Ann Arbor is part of a group of towns that create a network of culture, activities and adventures to be had in this area.

The Huron River connects Ann Arbor with neighboring Ypsilanti and Dexter, giving kayakers plenty to see along the river, and many options for stops along the way. The Huron River was named the 18th National Water Trail, which is a U.S. National Park Service initiative to create a network of accessible waterways across the nation—think hiking trails, except on rivers, lakes, canals and coastline. The Huron River meanders 104 miles from Springfield Township to Lake Erie.

Calm lake at sunrise
Paddle out from Gallup Park on the Huron River. | Photo: Barbara Eckstein

Where to kayak in Ann Arbor

Located in the lower half of the Lower Peninsula, Ann Arbor is expectedly quite urban. Perhaps unexpectedly, though, when visiting here you’ll feel as if nature is right at your doorstep. The streets are lined with trees and there are an abundance of recreation areas full of established trails and tiny lakes a short drive away.

While there is always a certain kind of peace that comes with being on the water, you should know that you likely won’t forget how close you are to urban life when paddling in the Ann Arbor area. The upside of this is how accessible the paddling opportunities are. You’ll also see a new side of the cities and towns you’ve explored by foot or car, and be able to ease into kayaking and other outdoor activities.

Huron River

The Huron River is one of Michigan’s gems and provides paddlers a perfect stretch of river for a relaxing paddle on a spring or summer day. There are two boat liveries operated by Parks and Recreation: the Gallup Park Livery and the Argo Park Livery.

Both locations can get you kitted up and paddling on different stretches of the Huron River as well as on the still waters of Gallup Pond.

If you venture farther northwest, you’ll find Skip’s Huron River Canoe Livery & Outfitters. This company rents boats for two trips on the Huron River—a shorter route from Dexter to Delhi Metropark and a longer route starting at Hudson Mills.

Waterloo Recreation Area

Located a short half-hour drive west of Ann Arbor, Waterloo Recreation Area is the largest park on the Lower Peninsula. Here you can rent campsites and cabins, go hiking and mountain biking—and, paddle on the park’s 11 inland lakes.

Pinckney Recreation Area

Encompassing 11,000 acres, Pinckney Recreation Area is another great spot to get back to nature close to Ann Arbor. The paddling here can be a full day adventure as the park’s many interconnected lakes make it easy to cover a large distance.

Try launching at Halfmoon Lake and exploring Bruin, Woodburn, Patterson and Blind lakes. Keep in mind that all these lakes allow motorboats—for a more peaceful experience, go early in the morning or in the offseason.


What to wear

Ann Arbor is located in a relatively humid area being so close to the Great Lakes and the Huron River. When kayaking season in Ann Arbor opens for the year in late April, temperatures will normally be between 37 and 48 degrees Fahrenheit overnight, and 59 to 71 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. Summer temperatures are hot and humid, with an average of 84 degrees Fahrenheit during the day.

When you’re planning what to wear on your trip kayaking in Ann Arbor, think breathable gym clothes. Layers are a great idea for the mornings and evenings on the water if you’re visiting in the early fall or late spring. For true shoulder season paddling, be sure to wear the proper cold-water immersion gear, including a drysuit, pogies and neoprene booties.

In the summer, keep in mind that the sun gets extra hot on the water. While you won’t want long sleeves for warmth in the summer, you might want to consider UV-protective clothing, especially for little ones. Always wear closed-toed shoes, made of neoprene or hydrophobic material if you have them—if not, runners will do fine as long as you’re okay with them getting wet.


When to go

Paddling season in the Ann Arbor area can vary year to year based on the current season’s conditions; however, most tour companies will open late April or early May and wrap up their season in late October.

Paddling season in Michigan is fairly long, so plan your trip to Ann Arbor for your favorite time of year, and enjoy the beautiful Huron River and surrounding lakes.


  1. Several bones to pick: Michigan State (University) is in East Lansing not Ann Arbor, the Huron Mountains are in the Upper Peninsula about 400 miles as the crow flies, you won’t see bear or moose anywhere near Ann Arbor and there are probably 100 other placid rivers in Michigan.

  2. Right, what Lee said. I’m a frequent, 12-months-a-year canoeist, a member of 4 paddling clubs, and I lived in Ypsilanti for 30 years.

    No bears or moose for hundreds of miles around there. The river is called the Huron, not the “Hudson”. The Huron Mountains are hundreds of miles away and are not related to this watershed. Similarly, the National Forests are NOT in this part of the state. No steelhead, I think, in this section, either, as there are several dams downstream with no fish-ladders as would be necessary for these migratory fish.

    There is Hudson Mills Metropark on the Huron, upstream from Dexter, and it is probably the put-in for the 3.5-hour trip mis-stated as “Huron to Delhi Metropark”. But Pinckney Rec area is NOT “in” Hudson Mills; they are separate park-systems, and the Pinckney area is much larger than Hudson Mills.

    Ford Lake and Belleville Lake (and several of the other lakes named) are likely full of powerboats on summer weekends and cannot be accurately described as serene or calm, though they may be quiet at other times of the year or week.

    Though it’s nearly ALL flatwater, there are a few (class 1) rapids on the river, including at Hudson Mills and Delhi and a couple other spots. I’m pretty sure Skip’s does NOT allow their boats to be run through the named rapids.

    In general, this poorly-researched article is full of misinformation and distortion. It impugns the brand of Paddling Magazine; readers expect and deserve better.
    This article should NOT be republished without substantial revision.


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