Northern Michigan Attractions: Best Northern Michigan Islands

Northern Michigan Attractions: Check out three Strait-area trips for sea kayackers, and visit Northern Michigan's beautiful islands.

Mackinac Island

Venturing across the Straits by sea kayak is a novel way for advanced paddlers to experience Mackinac Island. The 16-mile route (from St. Ignace, around the island, and back) is rated expert-only due to its exposure to open water winds and waves, and fast-moving, unpredictable boat traffic. Pick your day carefully based on the weather and carry a marine radio or cell phone to receive updated forecasts. The best way to avoid the bustle of fast-moving ferries whisking tourists to and from the docks at the south end of the island is to launch north of St. Ignace’s downtown core; we put in at the small public beach across from the Museum of Ojibwa Culture on North State Street, where parking is also available. From here, it’s about a four-mile crossing to British Landing, a small gravel beach near the north end of Mackinac Island. Traveling clockwise, another eight miles of paddling gets you to the downtown ferry docks, where we found a small landing site to leave our boats and wander into town for lunch. Be wary of boat traffic when paddling the constricted channels around the harbor and pick your time carefully to cross back to the mainland.

St. Joseph Island

North of the border, the pine-topped, polished granite islands at the junction of Lake Huron and the St. Mary’s River are a far cry from the angular, fossil-laced limestone shores to the south. St. Joseph Island is located a 45-minute drive east of the international border at Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, just off the Trans-Canada Highway. While it is possible to paddle around the old British fort at the island’s southwest tip, a far prettier, 10-mile day trip suitable for intermediate paddlers starts from a small park located on the mainland off Highway 548, at the St. Joseph Island bridge. Watch for boat traffic and follow your chart carefully while weaving through dozens of islets to circumnavigate Campement D’Ours Island. Sandy beach swim spots, rocky islands, a diverse array of wildlife including turtles and osprey, and a chance to see a Frank Lloyd Wright–designed cottage (the well-known architect’s only Canadian project) are among the highlights of this scenic loop.

Les Cheneaux Islands

Upper Michigan’s Les Cheneaux Islands share the same limestone geology as Mackinac Island and Canada’s Manitoulin Island. The 36 Les Cheneaux Islands are a sea kayaking paradise that’s been recognized by the Nature Conservancy as being an intact, important coastal ecosystem of wetlands, sandy shores and mature forests. From the boat launch at the end of Lakeside Drive, just off of M-134, island-hop across about three miles of sheltered water to Government Island via Hill, Coryell and Number 8 islands. There are three free, first-come, first-served campsites on Government Island that are suitable for sea kayakers. Circumnavigating the lushly forested shoreline of Government Island adds another three miles and venturing six miles to the Cheneaux Channel makes for a nice weekend trip for intermediate paddlers. Hessel-based Woods and Waters Ecotours supplies rentals and guided trips.

This article was first featured in the June 2012 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine. Click here to order your copy today!

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