Paddling Lake Superior

Was just up to the Munising Mi. on vacation. Planned a guided trip with a local Guide service to paddle Pictured Rock shore line. Will Tuesday came, and So did the weather. Nasty Storm rolled in over night… N.W. winds 25-30 mph. The Guide called and let me know they would not be going out… I thank them for that… I was not really feeling up to paddling in the wind… LET alone the 6-8 foot white caps… YEA that is right 30 mph north wind and hug waves… My wife and I went to the beach where we would have launched from… I stood at the waters edge just short of getting my toes wet… I could not see over the waves… But could feel the power of the waves.

I could have paddle the next day… BUT that day was reserved for the wife and several water falls…

Hope to make it up next year… and maybe paddle in some flat water…

If you have not be to Munising MI… Awesome place… I have live as a troll (Some one who lives south of the Might MAC Bridge) for all of my life… This was our first trip up… Sad, BUT True…

the moral is
you cannot schedule Superior. I have only paddled it once and it was kind over 120 miles only one wind day but it was enough to let me knew it and not my timetable ruled.

Going back this year and expect to be windbound one out of three days.

Pictured Rocks
Although an experienced paddler I too have been “weathered in” three times where we couldn’t launch. Once we parked the truck and the lake was OK but as it took us an hour to get our boats/gear ready and fix a rudder on my buddy’s boat; when we came down to the lake to launch the waves were 2 feet and building. With the wind shifting and coming at 25 mph from the north, we watched in awe as the waves built higher and higher and then became very lumpy due to the shoreline rebound.

One thing we learned is that Grand Island does make a superb Plan B on windy days since one side or the other of this large island is usually in the lee and will generally be pleasant to paddle while the rest of the bay rages. The crossing over to the southern tip is ten minutes so you can check it out, determine the level of challenge by venturing up either lee side; and abort and head back to Munising if things are too dodgy. On another trip, The Lady was so rough we gave up and headed to an inland lake NE of Munising off H58 I think called Beaver Lakes. AWESOME. Great fishing and we had the entire camp to ourselves for two days. The last leg was a pretty bumpy dirt road for a few miles but worth it. Beaver Lakes were protected by hills and trees and even a beginner paddler we had with us could handle that versus getting thrashed in Superior. Another superb and sheltered place to paddle are across the Mac Bridge-hang right and head for the Cheneaux islands. A few hours away Superior can be cold and mean while the paddling in the Cheneaux is fine. You’ll love the village of Hessel to eat and launch from for day trips. we did a little photo shoot and product testing at Hessel for Peregrine Kayaks last year and the locals couldn’t have been nicer!!

Sounds like Superior
It sounds like Superior. One interesting fact about Superior is that the prevailing current and the prevailing wind work in opposite directions, so the waves tend to build quick and get steep.

Had the same experience in the same spot
Back in the summer of 2004 with my new outrigger on my roof. I desperately wanted to paddle Superior, but could picture myself being ground to atoms by the crashing waves against those cliffs.

It was the same every day along the whole south shore, and I never got to paddle Superior. I had one chance at Copper Harbor at the very top of the Keweenaw Peninsula, but it was getting dark and I was desperately low on gas on gas.

I was there when day when it was blowing hard, and ended up going for a short paddle in the lee of Grand Island. As i recall, there’s a shipwreck in Murray Bay that’s easy to see from the surface – just put on a mask and roll or hang from a partner’s bow.

Have you thought about going to the symposium at Grand Marais?


– Last Updated: Jul-04-11 6:55 AM EST –

I grew up on Lake Michigan, Upper Penninsula right on the lake, and Lake Superior, a short drive away.

There is no telling how many people have drowned in Lake Superior going back to even the Indians that travelled the lake extensively; and more especially during the Fur Trapping era when many of the occupants of the canoes didn't know how to swim, even if they could have reached the shore by swimming before secumbing to hypothermia.

I have swum in all of the Great Lakes and Lake Superior near Duluth or along the shore of the Upper Penninsula. Superior was by FAR the most cold of all the Great Lakes or any other lake, including Lake George in New York. Superior is so cold that I, while being a youngster with high level of endurance could not stay in the shallow waters along the beach more than five minutes without being thoroughally chilled to the bone. Ten minutes would be the maximum time I would stay in the water. Definitely not a real fun swimming experience.

A lot of people will not venture out on Lake Superior in a canoe or small boat. The waves on Lake Superior or Lake Michigan can come up suddenly and be huge and extremely powerful, hitting the breakwaters and spraying over twenty feet in the air. If you were forced onto rocks you could lose everything and easily be killed.

If I canoed on Lake Superior I would be extremely vigilant and not have a time deadline. I would stay very close to shore, rather than cutting across large bays. You don't want to be out there and have to tack the waves in a direction opposite to the direction you are trying to move, in order to keep from capsizing. The lake can trick you and force you to take a course away from where you need to be going. This condition, as mentioned above, could endure for a very long period of time, worsen, and not subside until after dark.

Therefore, being in an open canoe has the potential of being a fatal endeavor. Being in a kayak may not be as immediately deadly, but certainly is always potentially extremely dangerous if you get caught by surprise at the wrong place in space and time.

Many experienced people would advise you to stay off of Lake Superior in a small craft, unless you are highly prepared and highly experienced; and even then the risk would not be dismissable as less than very dangerous and potentially treacherous.

Similarly, Lake Michigan is nothing to approach lightly in a small craft.

Many would be wise to avoid such dangerous waters and be satisfied seeking out the most awesome and exciting of the millions of other canoeing and kayaking destinations.

I hope I have not given you the impression that I am a know it all that is unreasonable in my opinion of the dangers involved in such an endeavor. But I can guarantee you with complete certainty that if you underestimate those lakes long enough and enough times you will personally come to understand what I'm talking about.

Good luck in all your endeavors.

Many experienced people would advise you to stay off of Lake Superior in a small craft, unless you are highly prepared and highly experienced; and even then the risk would not be dismissable as less than very dangerous and potentially treacherous.


These people are being drowned out and the people venturing out without proper equipment and experience are increasing, along with the number of rescues, injuries and deaths. This is especially true for kayaking, which is increasingly promoted as “a safe sport” by people who stand to profit from it. Kayaking on Lake Superior is not an inherently safe sport, it is a very dangerous one. Only proper equipment, training, and most of all experience makes it safe, but scaring people isn’t good for business so the incidents will continue to increase.

I think of paddling Lake Superior as roughly equivalent to running Class III or IV whitewater on snowmelt rivers. You need to have comparable cold water clothing, skills and judgment.

How many people would come to something like a Kayak Festival if it was promoted thus: “Paddling Lake Superior is roughly equivalent to running Class III or IV whitewater on snowmelt rivers. You need to have comparable cold water clothing, skills and judgment. Come to the Kayak Festival and be prepared for a grueling weekend of training in the hot summer sun, wearing full drysuits”.

Hey, man, that would really shove a spoke in their stoke.

Its all about getting people on the water (bring the kids-our kayaks are STABLE), spending money, having fun, and by the way…maybe learning something about what a serious activity they are undertaking.

Lake Superior is very unprecictable
And humbling. It’s in my backyard and is an awesome to paddle. Knowing what the weather is going to be during your paddle is a must as well as being prepared for what the lake can throw at you. I feel very fortunate to have such diverse and beautiful lake to paddle on. Hope your plans work out better in the future, Pictured Rocks is a great paddle.

I really like this: “I think of paddling Lake Superior as roughly equivalent to running Class III or IV whitewater on snowmelt rivers. You need to have comparable cold water clothing, skills and judgment.”

Sounds about right to me, especially the judgment part. I’d suggest a very conservative risk management plan for paddling on the big lake. But, I also think that there’s a lot of irrational fear about paddling on it. There’s a culture of fearing the lake that surrounds it – some of that fear is justified – but with the right equipment, skills and judgment it doesn’t need to be feared like it is.

I agree ^^^ but only wish that Superior was in my back yard. However, keep a bail-out plan in mind because even if you “know” what the weather is going to be that day, it still may change.

Lake Superior is an incredible place. Not like the other Great Lakes, and definitely not one to be messed with. “The Lake Is The Boss”, as quoted by a long-time commercial fisherman.

The culture
I think all the t-shirts in Bayfield bearing the motto “The Lake is the Boss” and the penchant of locals for telling you about the latest kayakers to bite the dust contributes to it. That withstanding, it’s a valid warning and the aforementioned whitewater analogy comes close. If you don’t have the appropriate skills and equipment for that volatile environment, you’re courting trouble.

Most of the skills are between your ears

– Last Updated: Jul-05-11 12:48 PM EST –

If you wait and watch the rhythms of the Lake and every second have a bail out plan you ought to be good.

Turning tail or not going out is still a successful trip.. It is a learning experience.

I have paddled a few hundred miles of shoreline on the Ontario side..not the south side. I did a commercial boat tour to Pictured Rocks and what scares me about that area is the comparative lack of cover..Things can go south in about ten minutes.

Beautiful and tempestuous
Here’s a little piece I wrote about the varying moods of Lake Superior:

Arguably the most beautiful of all the Great Lakes, Superior is also the most capricious, and can change moods faster than any woman alive. I have paddled on her when the water was so calm and glassy that I could read my partner’s drysuit labels reflected in the water. And I’ve endured hours of five-footers on the beam, where the only landing for ten miles was a 200’ cliff; the experienced WW paddlers in my group almost lost their nerve.

On a recent ferry ride back from Isle Royale, we had a gut-wrenching three hours of ten-foot waves that had half the passengers sprawled on the floor clutching sick bags. I was finally driven out to the fantail for a breath of fresh air, and when another paddler joined me, I asked how things were going inside. “Man, it’s like a triage unit in there …”

As others have said, plan on losing one day in 3-4 to bad weather, depending on your skills. Fortunately, I can think of few ways I’d rather burn a precious vacation day than hiking a Lake Superior island or strolling a rocky shore while windbound, watching powerful waves pound the cobbles.

On the other hand, Superior can give you some of the most magnificent paddling and awesome natural beauty that you’ll find anywhere.


To say that there is a culture of “fear” by the people living around Lake Superior is in large part a falacy.

Lake Superior is not similar to a typical lake. It is more like a gigantic inland sea.

There is a culture that exists as it pertains to the attitude of the people living around the lake, as well as other of the Great Lakes and even other big lakes such as Lake George, NY, and that is termed “respect”; respect for the lake in all its beauty, unpredictability, dangerousness, and treachery. This respect isn’t anything new and has been reinforced by the experiences of the many accidents and tradgedys that have happened on and along the shores of the lake.

The idea of organizers promoting events on the lake is insulting and demonstrates a level of irresponsibility that can only be questioned with great curiosity. Their motives are self serving, to say the least.

With so many alternate trip destinations that would prove much more exciting and safe, I can only wonder why people would want to risk their lives on the lake.

"The idea of organizers promoting events on the lake is insulting and demonstrates a level of irresponsibility that can only be questioned with great curiosity. Their motives are self serving, to say the least."

Were you referring to the GLSKS symposium?

My wife and I went a few times. Grand Marais has a protected harbor with a huge sand beach, and beach outside the harbor as well. The symposium runs(ran?) classes and trips for different skill levels.

Yes, the water’s cold, and if you don’t have a drysuit – we didn’t – you’ll be cold by the end of a rescue or rolling class. We still had a great time and learned a lot.

Depends on where you are
The pictured rocks trip is risky because there is no place to land if the weather comes up. But we recently paddled from Grand Marais to Whitefish Point (several days of paddling and camping). The coast there is sand beaches with lots of landing spots and is much safer.

you have not read the McGuffins

– Last Updated: Jul-05-11 5:56 PM EST –

nor enjoyed the lake..If she forces you to shore there is much to learn there.

sometimes it is instructive to feel how small you are..drysuit or no (and yes I have one as I solo)

We as paddlers are free to paddle our own trips. Its unlikely you will change my mind.