Grand Rapids has been named America’s Best River Town (Outside Magazine) and one of the country’s Top 10 Beach Towns (National Geographic). So it’s no surprise that the area is a mecca for stand up paddleboarders (SUPers), canoers, and kayakers.
Take a look at many of the paddling opportunities Grand Rapids and the surrounding area has to offer:
Stand up paddling towards downtown on the Grand River.
Photo Credit: Experience Grand Rapids
Stand Up Paddle Boarding
The Grand River that flows through downtown Grand Rapids is a major focus of aquatic adventure. For experienced paddlers with their own paddleboard, it’s a fantastic waterway for stand up paddle boarding.
If you don’t own a paddleboard, no worries. Living Water Adventures is a mobile business that rents and delivers paddleboards to you wherever you’re planning to SUP in the Grand Rapids area. While their primary business is renting flyboards and jet skis, they have a small inventory of paddleboards that are perfect for a small group of friends or family visiting West Michigan.
One great place to SUP is the section of the Grand River that runs from Lowell to Ada. It’s about an eight-mile paddle on a SUP, which generally takes people two-and-a-half to three hours. Or SUP around Mill Pond in the Flat River in Lowell, then grab dinner or drinks in the quaint downtown.
At the western end of the Grand River, you can paddle the Grand River Heritage Water Trail. While you may not want to paddle the entire 35.7-mile length of the trail, there are water trail access points at 18 Ottawa County parks. Or you can simply enjoy a paddle around its bayou.
The Grand Rapids area offers many lakes and rivers that are great for SUPing.
Photo Credit: Experience Grand Rapids
Beyond rivers, West Michigan has many lakes with public boat launches. A few that are ideal for SUPing are Wabasis Lake, Versluis Lake, and Reeds Lake, the latter of which has a kayak launch which is even easier for paddle boarders to use than a regular boat launch.
If you’re looking for a little serenity, there’s a channel between Big Wabasis and Little Wabasis that’s quiet, scenic, and surrounded by cattails. For more ideas, check out Kent County’s Water Trail Access Points map, which includes county parks with access to local river trails as well as other access points.
To try SUPing at a staffed facility, you can rent paddleboards (in addition to kayaks, canoes and paddleboats) at the DeVos Family Boathouse at Millennium Park, just five minutes from downtown Grand Rapids. The park has 100 acres of water and four miles of shoreline that are easy to explore. Staff is on-site to answer any questions.
If you decide to brave Lake Michigan, which is less than an hour drive from downtown Grand Rapids, rentals abound at and near state parks. Check out SUP rentals from beach towns like Holland, Grand Haven, and Saugatuck.
If you plan to try SUPing on Lake Michigan, go on a low-wind day. Wind can create a chop on the water that can make it really difficult, almost impossible, for beginners to paddle.
Jeff and Rita Newman, owners of GR Paddling, kayak down the Grand River.
Photo Credit: Experience Grand Rapids
Canoeing and Kayaking
The Grand River is also ideal for canoeing and kayaking. “Some of our favorite reaches are the ones on the Grand River. They’re easy launches, it’s easy to get in and out of the boats, there isn’t a lot of boat traffic on the Grand River, and we see a lot of wildlife,” says Jeff Neumann, who co-owns GR Paddling with his wife, Rita Neumann.
Entering its seventh season, GR Padding is a unique, full-service canoe and kayak rental service distinguished by its focus on personalized service. Neumann picks up his customers at their home, workplace, or hotel, shuttles them to a lake or river’s edge, and then picks them up at the endpoint, where snacks and cold beverages await them in a cooler.
Neumann takes pride in treating his customers well and enjoys getting to know them. “We’ve had 2,500 customers from all around the world, [including] 43 states and 13 countries so far.”
Upon request and based on availability, Neumann provides guided tours, but most often clients prefer to explore the waterways on their own. He’s vetted the waterways and can suggest a variety of routes based on paddlers’ timing, preferences, and experience level.
It’s not at all unusual to see wildlife while canoeing or kayaking, and Neumann can tell guests where to look — he knows where the Eagles’ nests are, as well as when and where paddlers are likely to see other wildlife. “It’s so cool to see an osprey take a fish out of the river right in front of you,” he says.
Kayaking the Grand River is just one of many excursions GR Paddling offers.
Photo Credit: Brian Kelly Photography
Growing up, Neumann canoed frequently with his family. While he enjoyed the paddling, he recalls the unpleasantness of swatting away mosquitos while they waited to get picked up at the end. His customers don’t need to worry. Not only does GR Paddling provide insect repellant, but Neumann also arrives at the pick-up point long before they do—no waiting or swatting mosquitoes required!
In addition to the boats and insect repellent, GR Paddling also provides paddles, life preservers, transportation, snacks, instruction (if required), and binoculars.
Clients who book through GR Paddling can choose from more than 35 safe, customized experiences on twenty-one reaches, ranging from a quiet, scenic float down a river to an intimate paddle on the relaxed waters of area lakes. The trips may be short or long, easy or moderately challenging.
In addition to the Grand River, the company offers kayak trips on the Rogue, Thornapple, Flat, and Coldwater rivers along with five local lakes.
GR Paddling also offers special excursions, like a peaceful moonlight or sunset paddle, which is fully guided. Another interesting option is a paddle and dine trip, where paddlers stop in either Rockford, Lowell, Middleville, or Saranac to enjoy lunch at a local restaurant before continuing their paddle trip. Trips are designed for no more than eight people, ages 12 and up.
Paddlers enjoying kayaking at nighttime at Riverside Park.
Photo Credit: Emily Sierra Photography
In addition to the businesses we’ve already mentioned, the Grand Rapids area has several canoe liveries that rent canoes and kayaks and provide transportation, as well as other outlets that rent them to those who plan to arrange their own transportation.
AAA Rogue River Canoe Rental, Rockford: The livery rents canoes, kayaks, and tubes for floats down the Rogue River. It has been shuttling paddlers for more than 40 years. Paddlers can choose from two-hour and four-hour trips. For more information visit AAA Rogue River Canoe Rental’s website.
Rogue River Rentals, Rockford. Located a short distance north of Grand Rapids, Rogue River Rentals offers 2-, 3-, and 4- hour kayak trips on the Upper and Lower Rogue River. They also provide a Car Spot Service, a full-service transportation option for for paddlers with their own kayaks--no more worrying about having a vehicle at the start and finish of your trip. For more information visit Rogue River Rentals.
Wisner Rents Canoes, Newaygo: The popular 44-year-old livery on the Muskegon River rents canoes, kayaks, rafts, and tubes. It provides shuttle services and caters to large groups. The company organizes a monthly full-moon paddle down the river at night just for fun. For more information visit Wisner Rents Canoes’ website.
Lakeshore Kayak Rental, Grand Haven: Located on the lower Grand River in bayou country where wildlife and water lilies abound, the shop rents one and two-person kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards. It offers a shuttle upriver for those wanting to explore the Crockery Creek Natural Area managed by Ottawa County Parks. For information visit Lakeshore Kayak Rentals’ website.
Bill & Paul’s Sporthaus, Grand Rapids: The store rents solo and tandem kayaks for the day, weekend, or week. It has a limited inventory that is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Renters need to be able to transport the boats themselves. For information visit Bill & Paul’s Sporthaus’ website.
There are so many ways to get out and enjoy the water in the Grand Rapids area. You can learn more about the Neumanns and paddling in Grand Rapids in the “Alive with Water” installment of The Grand Outdoors video series:
Leave us a comment and share your favorite waterway to SUP, canoe, or kayak!
Header image photo credit: Emily Sierra Photography