When the peak of summer approaches, there is no better way to cool off than exploring Northern Michigan’s outdoors by boating along the rivers and beaches of the breathtaking Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Benzie and Leelanau counties—luckily, we’re here to give you the comprehensive guide to Sleeping Bear Dunes kayaking, floating and boating.

Find out how to drift down Platte River on a tube, paddle a kayak along the Crystal River, or catch some (kinda) gnarly swells on Lake Michigan. Whether you’re visiting for a week, a weekend, a day, or even just a few hours, there’s plenty of fun to be had while you float or boat, and you won’t even need a coat. These tips and pointers will make sure that you don’t get caught without a paddle as you traverse Sleeping Bear Dunes by water.

Platte River Excursions

The gentle and lazy flow of the Platte River makes it a perfect destination for a family outing or an afternoon with a group of buddies. It is quite popular to glide atop the river on a tube, but you also have the option of canoeing, kayaking, rafting, or paddle boarding. Riverside Canoe Trips, located at the intersection of M22 and the Platte, offers rentals of all of these as well as a vehicle shuttle service to the end of the river where it meets Lake Michigan, so a ride back to your car is waiting for you when your journey is finished; you can also always bring your own gear and enter the river from Lake Michigan Rd., which follows the Platte. This trip in its entirety takes only two hours by tube, so it’s an ideal option for anyone in a time crunch who still wants to experience some river magic. You can reach Riverside Canoe Trips at 231.325.5622 or at CanoeMichigan.com. Also offering Platte River tubing, kayaking and canoeing for adventurers of all ages is Honor Trading Post, view their rental program here.

To take a digital tour of the Platte with Riverside Canoe, check out the following video:

Crystal River Crusades

Farther north, the Crystal River also offers prime views of the majesty that is the Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore; it flows from Glen Lake to Lake Michigan, and courses through areas where lucky paddlers can spot some of Northern Michigan’s charming wildlife—including white tail deer, blue heron, otters, turtles, foxes and a diverse variety of fish. Canoes and kayaks can be rented at Crystal River Outfitters in Glen Arbor. This adventure is slightly more advanced than taking the Platte, as the shorter of the two (Crystal River Trip) lasts 2–3 hours while the Big Glen Extreme typically takes 4–5 hours and includes open water paddling on the Big Glen and Fisher Lakes. You should note in preparing for this trip that low water levels in Crystal River may contribute to a higher difficulty level, so it is wise to plan based on your kayak and canoe experience. So what are you waiting for? The choice is crystal clear! Crystal River Outfitters can be reached at 231.334.4420 or at CrystalRiverOutfitters.com.

Great Voyages on a Great Lake

For those of us with more than one daring bone in our bodies, trekking along the coast of Lake Michigan in a small vessel sounds just right. With this route, you can observe the Sleeping Bear Dunes from an entirely unique perspective—the sandy bluffs looming high above, the echoing calls of nearby loons hanging in the air, the crystalline aqua palette of the Northern waters enveloping you. But adventurers be warned! With Great Lakes comes great responsibility. If you decide to survey the Big Lake, you should be prepared and equipped for cold waters, strong winds, fog, and inclement weather. To aid you on a Lake Michigan, Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak located in the heart of Empire has your rental needs covered: they offer kayaks, surfboards, stand-up paddleboards, skimboards, and even wetsuits to ensure your quest goes smoothly and safely. Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak can be found 10228 W Front Street and can be reached at 231.326.9283, or at SBSurfandKayak.com.

Rent a Boat for a Day on the Lake

A day on the lake is great, and there are plenty of Northern Michigan boat rental companies that deliver ski boats, pontoons and jet skis to the inland lakes near the Sleeping Bear Dunes.  From Crystal Lake to Glen Lake to Lake Leelanau, your inland lake outing starts at the following MyNorth link: Northern Michigan Boat Rentals and Watersport Lessons.

Photo(s) by Lisa Flaska Erickson