Paddle the Parks: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Explore Lake Superior's panoramic coastline in Michigan

The Kesselheim clan at Pictured Rocks, circa 1998. Photo: Alan Kesselheim
The Kesselheim clan at Pictured Rocks, circa 1998. Photo: Alan Kesselheim

The Best Way

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
By Alan Kesselheim

I've done a lot of paddling on Lake Superior. The Apostle Islands, the entire Canadian coastline by sea kayak, and Pictured Rocks. In every case, it's been clear that the best vantage to enjoy the coast is from the water. On the water I have poked up tributaries to waterfalls, wound through islands, arches and magical channels, enjoyed sand beaches, looked down at shipwrecks, marveled at sunsets. Sure, the inland trails are all well and good, but there is nothing like the open lake and the panoramic coastline beckoning with possibilities. This was never more true than during a 40-mile traverse of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore by canoe with our two boys, when they were mere toddlers.

To begin with, we couldn't have hiked with them at that age. The canoe was the only way we could have pulled off the trip. From the put-in near Au Sable Lighthouse our 17-foot canoe took us, two toddlers, and gear for a week down the spectacular coast, punctuated by sheer sandstone cliffs, high waterfalls, long sand beaches, forested campsites. We lucked out with calm weather for the sheer-cliff sections, which we had allowed extra time for.

The only price we paid for the calm weather was the scourge of sand flies, which can be murderous at certain times during the summer.

What stays sharp in my memory is the image of our red canoe rocking in the thundering spray of waterfalls, and our two little boys tipping their heads back, mouths open, mesmerized by the river of water pounding down over the cliffs.

Click the links below to read about paddling adventures in a few of our favorite parks around the country:

Ozark Scenic Riverways

A secret worth sharing in Missouri


Channel Islands National Park

Experience isolation 40 miles south of Santa Cruz, California


Grand Canyon National Park

Experience America's 2 billion-year-old river canyon in Arizona


Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Parks

Follow in the footsteps—paddle strokes—of great American explorers in Washington and Oregon


Big Bend National Park

Float through an isolated wilderness on the edge of Texas and Mexico


The Missouri National Recreational River

A journey through time in South Dakota and Nebraska


Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Paddle over the horizon line of waterfalls in Tennessee and North Carolina


Wrangell St. Elias National Park

Paddle through a seascape of water and ice in southeast Alaska


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The complete list of our favorite national parks for paddling


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