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The Door County Paddling Guide


If the warmer weather and extra sunshine have you daydreaming about kayaking, canoeing, or stand up paddle boarding across a quiet lake or through a peaceful wetland, Door County should be your next paddling destination.

With hundreds of miles of prime Lake Michigan shoreline as well as calmer bays, harbors, inland lakes, wetlands, nature preserves, estuaries, and more, there are plenty of options for curating a day trip or an entire trip around paddling the waters of Door County.

So pick your paddling adventure, bring (or rent) a kayak/canoe/SUP, and head to Door County to recharge and reconnect with yourself on the water.

Where to Paddle

Use the interactive map below to find the best places to paddle or kayak in Door County. If the map is too zoomed out, try refreshing your browser window or using the +/- tool in the bottom-left corner of the map.

In addition to the sampling of inland lakes and waterways in the map above, paddling along the Lake Michigan shoreline in Door County is a unique and beautiful experience that offers extraordinary views of shoreline, bluffs, cliffs, caves, shallow-water shipwrecks, and the beautiful green-blue water.

But it’s also an experience to be taken seriously.

Unless you are a highly experienced sea kayaker who can “read” the water and weather, your best bet for getting out on the big lake is with a tour guide or company. Their experienced guides know these waters well and can keep visitors safe while they paddle and explore. Your guides also make the tough call when the weather isn’t cooperating and it’s unsafe to be on the water.

Where to Rent Equipment

If you don’t have your own boats, paddles, life jackets, dry bags, or other equipment, there’s no shortage of shops that sell or rent out paddling gear in Door County.

Some will deliver boats to your rental property or meet you at certain boat launches, but others will require you to transport them yourself, meaning you’ll need a car and a roof rack and/or foam blocks to get your rental from point A to point B and back to A. Another option is to borrow boats from a tour company, which will not only transport the boats to the waterway, but you and your group too.

Always reserve equipment/tours in advance and make arrangements ahead of time whenever possible. Transportation options may be different in 2021 than in previous years; work with your equipment lender directly to figure out the logistics.

Water Safety: How to Stay Safe

Make no mistake: Lake Michigan is big water. But if you’re an experienced kayaker who can read the weather and the water—or you’re paddling out with a tour guide company—there’s no experience quite like that of paddling on a Great Lake. 

A woman paddles a kayak on an inland lake at sunset

Even if you’re sticking to inland lakes and riverways, water safety is crucial information for paddlers. We’ve excerpted some of the basic principles below but encourage all visitors to review these detailed water safety guidelines before paddling out.

  • Check the weather. It may look sunny and calm, but wind can pick up and storms roll in with little visible warning.
  • Make a plan. Anytime you head out on the water, let someone know you are heading out, and when you expect to be back on shore, and let them know you’ll contact them when you’re there. 
  • Go with someone. This isn’t always possible, but if you have the option, go out with a friend.
  • Wear your safety vest. Don’t ditch it on shore, don’t just bring it with you. You won’t have a chance to put it on if disaster strikes.
  • Bring a signaling device such as a whistle, flashlight, or cell phone.
  • Know your craft. Not all kayaks are meant for big water or bad weather. Learn the limitations of your kayak, canoe, or boat. 
  • Stay near shore. Lake Michigan is BIG water. Keep the shore in sight at all times.

If you’re looking to get onto the water while you’re up here this spring, summer, or fall, kayaking and paddling are some of the best and easiest ways to do it. 

If you’re a beginner, a little rusty after a few years off, or looking to introduce your kids to this rewarding lifelong sport, read more on Boating, Sailing, & Paddling to start planning your adventure—and be sure to do your research before venturing out.

Here’s how:

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