Do It Now: Les Cheneaux Kayak Weekend

Several weeks of good weather still stand between now and November’s gales. I strongly suggest taking advantage and spending a kayak weekend in Les Cheneaux Islands, a 36-island archipelago about 30 minutes northeast of the Mackinac Bridge. I spent Labor Day weekend there with my youngest son, Wyatt—here are a few tips from our itinerary.

Day 1: We arrived in Cedarville kinda late, about 3:00 p.m., so figured we might as well grab an early dinner at Pammi’s. The sign out front is broken, but the food was completely bonafide—real ingredients. I had the Texas Barbeque. Wyatt had a broiled chicken sandwich. Nice U.P. waitresses.

We left our car at Loons Point Campground. We know the owner, so not sure if they allow everybody to do that, but you could call and ask what they’d charge.

Our plan was to kayak out to Government Island, about an hour of easy paddling, and camp there. Government Island is the only island in the archipelago that is entirely owned by the public. We packed the kayaks and shoved off about 4 p.m. I was surprised by the amount of boat traffic in the water heading out to Government Island, but it is a main thoroughfare for getting into Cedarville for provisions, and with it being Labor Day, am thinking lots of island dwellers were making evening runs for beer and other essentials. A cool thing was the number of classic wooden motorboats—the people up here really drive them around; the boats don’t just sit in a museum or a garage somewhere.

The shore of Government Island is so thick with cedars you can’t really see into the forest, so to find a campsite you have to search the shore for signs of wear, like a little sandy spot among the reeds. We discovered a beautiful little campsite—picnic table and all—tucked in the trees about midway along the shore. Soft ground for sleeping, fire pit, no bugs. Sublime.

That evening we paddled out to where the archipelago opens up to Lake Huron. Was beautiful in the evening light with improbably clear sky above. Were a tad jealous of the people who had the campsite on the furthest southern point of Government Island—your basic campsite envy. Note to get that one next time if possible.

Day 2: We paddled south to the open waters of Lake Huron and then steered west, skirting the southern shores of Government Island, LaSalle Island and Little LaSalle Island. We stopped for lunch on a rock about the size of a washing machine. Lots of shallows, and as the wind picked up during the day, breakers over the shallows. Nothing too tricky, but we had to keep aware. We wrapped north between Little LaSalle Island and Marquette Island—the archipelago’s biggest island and the only other island with public land. Then we threaded our way between the mainland and LaSalle Island back to Cedarville, where we stopped for an ice cream cone—no point in pushing the roughing-it thing too far. We arrived back to camp about 5 p.m. and made dinner.

Here’s a tip for a super easy backcountry gourmet meal. Pasta with salmon gorgonzola sauce. Just dilute a can of Italian-spiced tomato paste to consistency you like. Then add some fresh gorgonzola cheese; I added maybe four tablespoons, but do whatever you like—basically you are flavoring the tomato sauce, not creating a cheese sauce. Stir to melt the cheese. You might add some wine, but we didn’t. Drain and add a can or two of Bumblebee Atlantic Salmon (don’t stir too much or you will have shreds not chunks—unless you want shreds, in which case stir all you want).

After dinner we hiked a trail along the shore, came back and turned in. We played chess and my son won, but probably because the light was bad, and I was having a hard time seeing the pieces.

Day 3: We woke and paddled early before packing, heading back out to Lake Huron and this time steering east. The outer islands here—Boot Island, Gravelly Island, Coryell Island, Strongs Island—have far fewer houses and a nice wild look. On Lake Huron we rode the biggest waves of the trip, 3-foot rolling swells. They weren’t breaking, so were easy to manage, but demanded our attention. Was fun and gorgeous: the morning air watery fresh, the lake an undulating ocean blue, and the sky still miraculously cloudless. Sublime.

Back at camp we packed up and headed out, paddling back north up the channel toward Cedarville and arriving at the car about 1 p.m.

Not into the backcountry campout thing? Call Loons Point Campground and reserve a campsite on the mainland. Contact Nancy and Ron Glendening, 1332 East M-134, Cedarville, MI 49719, 906-484-2881, [email protected], www.loonspointcampground.com. Find tons of tourist info for the Les Cheneaux Archipelago at lescheneaux.org. For guided kayak tours, instruction and gear, check out Woods and Water Ecotours Outdoor Shop, in Hessel woodswaterecotours.com/

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Article Comments

  • Anonymous

    Nice Nick Adams style recipe. I tried it a few nights ago. Always looking for those type of things, thanks.

    Very good story. Great area for all types of boating.