Kayaking Lake Superior

  1. What kayak should I buy?

    I am looking to buy a kayak to use next summer, mostly in the shoreline of northern lake Superior - specifically in Pukaskwa National Park and in the Silver Islet cove area of the Sibley Peninsula. I don’t plan on doing anything more open water than that and I would like to be able to use the kayak on small rivers and inland lakes as well. I am 5 foot 2 and ~125lb with a beginner to intermediate skill level. I am looking for something in the lower end of the touring kayak price range, but don’t want to compromise too much.

  2. Should I be concerned?

    I’ve done open-water kayaking in the Adriatic Sea before and it did not seem too different from the inland lakes I had kayaked before, but I’m hearing concern from ppl that I don’t know what I am doing. Is this a real concern if I just want to paddle some shorelines in good weather? I know it’s cold and I have a wet suit, but I’ve never seen anyone kayak there in one.

    I’m looking for a recommendation for either a specific kayak or brand, and/or a recommendation for specifications I should look for.

  3. Advice / Experience with Kayaking Northern Superior?

    If there is anyone out there that actually has experience kayaking in these places or similar places in northern Superior can you let me know what you think, and any good spots I should check out. Please and thanks!

    Any help would be appreciated. Thank you!

I have no specific brand recommendations
but have paddled the Puk coast twice and also the length of Lake Superior Provincial Park.

You say you will only kayak in good weather. I suspect you are not familiar with how fast the weather can turn in that area. The wind can go from five to thirty miles an hour in ten minutes. You need a boat that fits you and have some experience in high winds with breaking seas.

Often the wind comes up around noon and wreaks havoc in the afternoon and does not calm down till dark. For that reason you should plot each day carefully and have bail out points. Some places like Point Isacor are sheer cliffs that you might not want to pass when the waves are up with rebounds. You are familiar with clapotis and reflecting waves? They sometimes prevent you from staying right along the shore.

You might consider talking to David Wells at Naturally Superior Adventures. He does guided kayaking trips and it is a good way to be safe and drastically improve your kayak skills.

Because Superior is deep and ocean like with steep shorelines the ability to surf land and launch is a must.


– Last Updated: Sep-25-12 6:26 PM EST –

If you are reasonably close, you may want to check out Superior Kayak & Canoe club out of Thunder Bay:
It would be a way to find people familiar with the area and conditions.

Another option in a week or two is the Gale Storm Gathering symposium (connected with the coach mentioned in the prior posting).
http://www.galesstormgathering.com/index.php/event-news/gales-storm-gathering-2012-and-great-lakes-coaching-week/. Be chance to try boats and get some instruction on conditions and skills needed for the area.

On boats, you will probably want a touring or sea kayak. Within this, there are many options depending on what you want (playful vs faster, carry lot of gear vs low volume, etc.). But in general, it will be 14 to 18 feet long, have bulkheads and hatches front and back, you'll wear a spray skirt to seal water out of your cockpit, etc. Within this category, there are many different options, so best choice is to work with a local dealer and see what you can test out.

Check past posts here for kayaks for small paddlers, as from time to time a list comes up. The Avocet LV composite is often on that list, but isn't cheap (it is my girlfriend's dream boat).


– Last Updated: Sep-25-12 7:43 PM EST –

"can go from five to thirty miles an hour in ten minutes" . So with no hint from an updated NOAA or Canadian forecast, no clouds gathering afar, clear skies this often happens?

For example today it says "Wind northwest 10 knots increasing to north 15 Wednesday morning." but without being a very rare fluke it could hit 35kts today specifically?

This could pretty much bar even very experienced paddlers from spending any time there. No one would have any choice other than turn turn downwind and head to the nearest safe beach. In other places I've seen the weather change that quick but there's always been some clues it could happen that day.

Contact Bryan Hansel

– Last Updated: Sep-26-12 1:02 AM EST –

Bryan lives on Lake Superior, paddling almost daily.
He writes, takes pictures, runs tours.


Friendly guy who will give you accurate info
with a truly unique perspective as its his
daily playground.

Water in Lake Superior is COLD most of the year.
Plan on water temps in 40's to 50's often.
You'll want a Dry Suit, skip the wet suit.
--The Adriatic's generalized averaged surface temperature
usually ranges from mid 70's in the summer and mid 50's in the winter.

Definitely worth the effort to talk to him
Grand Marais, MN
Call: 218-370-8351

Here is a sobering example from Lake Superior this year which will explain why people seem to be coming down hard on skills and gear needed:


It does. Environment Canada always
has a disclaimer in their wind reports that the wind forecast is for open waters.

Very often katabatic winds pour off the cliffs and nountains that come to the northeastern shore of Lake Superior.

And sometimes when fury is forecast, nearshore is nice and quiet. BTW there are no weather stations in the area. You can get one in Hattie Cove but then the stations you pick up are for Whitefish Bay and areas of the UP that are over a hundred miles away.

If you haven’t see people in wet suits
Either you aren’t seeing the serious paddlers or you don’t recognize a dry suit. I personally agree with dry at those temps, but I paddle with one person who can tolerate a brief swim in a thick wetsuit down into the 40’s. (With a good cag on board.)

I strongly suspect that you are not remotely ready for Lake Superior. Get to the folks recommended in this thread for a proper intro to paddling that lake.

So mainly the NNE coast?
I knew tour operators and clubs paddled Superior but couldn’t if the nicest day of the nicest week could kick up to 35 with almost no notice – they’d lose too many each year and lose insurance and customers.

Here is a link to an outfitter in the
Rossport-Silver Islet area.


Note the prerequisites. Now you do need to get started somewhere and start working so you will need a kayak.

It does not fit me well but the Necky Eliza was very forgiving (its for the petite and I am not) in Belize in rough seas.

Great Lakes are indeed unpredictable
Even Lake Michigan, which is on average milder than Superior, can change from placid to deadly in a heartbeat, with no warning, official or otherwise. We lost two family members back in 1993 who were swimming at their hometown beach along the central east shoreline of Michigan when a lovely summer day suddenly turned to black skies and raging wind and waves. Both father and teenaged son were good swimmers but they were swept out and then battered against the breakwater.

I spent summers on that lake for most of my life and I’ve seen those storms arise, seemingly from nowhere – you have to be prepared to venture out on these waters. They are truly seas, in all but salt. Weather there can take out large commercial vessels. It’s no place for a casual and ill-equipped kayaker.

Agree with prior posts -
Also, are you planning to paddle alone?

how do tour operators manage
If the forecast says four days of clear skies and calm winds, you check for updates and you scan the sky and still it can change in a heartbeat then it would be unethical and uninsurable to run a kayak business. Even most experienced paddlers would do poorly with sustained 35mph winds if out of a protective cove or harbor. Those conditions, especially if blowing out to open water would be over the head of many paid trip leaders.

Watching the lake for months
They are there. They sense the patterns of weather.

When I first went to Lake Superior knowing that forecasts were for inland areas and highly localized and not to be trusted…if indeed there were any…I noticed the sky and the water and the rhythm. Winds from the west were never good on that shore.Winds coming up by breakfast were never good. Cirrus clouds meant a dramatic change.

It seems that we do not notice weather much anymore perhaps because we are inside. The patterns are still there. Its for us to find them. However most of us just turn on an electronic gizmo to tell them what the forecast is.

And sometimes that could be really dangerous. We had NOAA weather on for several days of a trip on Maine Islands. We did have to get back to the car. The forecast was for a storm Sat night but things just did not look right early Fri AM (the sun should be up at four am).We broke camp, no breakfast, paddled furiously the 11 miles back to the car. We were there just before wind and waves built up at nine am. The forecast 2 inches of rain turned in to be several.

good to know there are clues
I’ve been a long fan of watching the little patterns and combining that with larger forecasts. Knowing that certain conditions upped the chances of bad things and knowing the amount of error in forecasts (how much quicker a storm may arrive compared to the forecast). So basically there are ways to know even if not nearly 100% perfect. Generally in a new area my normal plan is to talk to locals and ideally do a trip with locals to learn more about what to watch for then I’m a bit safer doing things on my own the other days especially if I add a goodly margin for error.

Even on Lake Erie
Pop-up summer storm, which by their nature are hard to predict, from dark clouds to wind and waves that were challenging good-sized motor boats in under 12 minutes. Saw it at a niece’s wedding in Dunkirk some years ago.

that’s a very good idea.
Granted the Rossport area is a good bit more sheltered.

I think, and this is only a hunch, that people get in trouble on Superior by trying to stick to a schedule. ( you know the boss will fire you if you are late back to work).When I solo I am very conservative and probably over “bail out”. That said I have not yet had many total wind days. Some days are only twelve miles long though!

Its said that one in three to four days is unsuitable for paddling and that after Aug 15 the weather starts bringing storms from the west and the ill effects last for days.

I have spent some time on Lake Superior, including the Sleeping Giant/Silver Islet area, Rossport Islands, Slate Islands, Apostles, Isle Royale, etc.

I would probably have never went to any of those places if I had not first developed a confident ability to paddle and self-rescue in moderate conditions. Along with that, I also know when to stay ashore.

Sometimes we have worn drysuits even in August due to the cold water. Other times the water was warm enough for swimwear.

The bottom line is that you need to have confidence in ability to handle whatever conditions that mother nature might offer. A proper sea kayak is a good start, but knowledge & skills are what counts when paddling the inland seas.


Superior: Nastiest of the Great Lakes?
Seems like whenever ppl talk about the Great Lakes, it usually comes out that, while all the GLs can have their moods, Lake Superior is the one most prone to having hazardous/deadly conditions.

Is this true? and if so, exactly why so?

Just curious… I’m a West Coaster, so I’ve never been there, but I think it’d be interesting/awesome to paddle Superior one day.

The term ‘inland sea’ seems apt. I still can’t get over the fact that it’s more than 150 times larger than Lake Tahoe, and 20 times larger than San Francisco Bay. =o