Summer Kayaking Lake Superior

Our family is considering some day kayaking on Lake Superior near the Pictured Rocks area in July or August. If we monitor the weather forecasts and avoid choppy seas, are wetsuits necessary?

Also monitor surface temp

I’m not a kayaker but I’ve lived on the shoreline of Superior for 32 years. I pick my days carefully when I venture out on Superior with an open canoe. Generally speaking, Lake Superior is greatly affected by seiches in summer. In August there will be warmer water on the south shore whenever the wind blows from the north or northwest for a few days. Calm winds will keep that water temperature mass in place. Conversely what warmer water there is, gets blown off the south shore with winds out of the east and south for a few days. With strong off shore winds, water temps can go from 60F to 40F within a day.

Absolutely right!

– Last Updated: Jul-05-07 9:56 AM EST –

Lake Superior is an interesting critter. If the breeze is slight and onshore and you have a sunny day, the water can be surprisingly warm. But that seems to be the exception rather than the rule. It's usually cold as hell. Chequamegon Bay near Bayfield might be a warmer alternative. Also, Pictured Rocks has awesome hiking. And you get to see a lot of stuff you don't see from the water. Lots of waterfalls & cool rivers.

Let me preface my comment by saying that I'm usually pretty liberal with my personal attitude toward risk and there are times when I take risks (after all, life is a risk). That being said, at Pictured Rocks/Grand Island you may be close to shore, but a looong way from a useful landing location. So you'd best think through the ramifications of going over. Almost every boating death I hear about on the Great Lakes involves people not prepared for the cold water. Look down a few threads...

My $0.02

As of right now it looks like ~60 degree

Do some googling for NOAA “sea surface temperature” “Great Lakes” daily and perhaps “Coast Watch”.

NOAA has daily average temp maps for the Great lakes going back 3 years easily accessible (I forget where though)

Water temp
…and as it was mentioned, the water surface temp can vary a lot in a very short period of time.

Personally, I wouldn’t paddle an area like that without a wetsuit. I haven’t been to Pictured Rocks but have paddled a fair amount on Lake Superior and wouldn’t take the risk.

Surface Temps
I chceked the current surface temps at the NDBC site, most in the high 30’s.

Water Temp Link

Looks nice and warm there now compared to the Grand Marais I live in. Doesn’t take long for a nice warm sea to get cold. And it doesn’t take long for a calm day with light forecasts to get ugly.

You should probably wear neo or be really confident for a good reason in your paddling ability.

Northern Waters Outfitters
in Munising would be a good choice for a kayak trip to the Pictured Rocks if you are lacking essential equipment (wetsuits) or skills.

I just paddled the Pictured Rocks from the Grand Island Ferry Dock to Grand Marais a few weeks ago and the water was cold enough to kill. It’s a beautiful area, but the lake can change faster than you can find a good landing spot if you get into trouble in an area such as Grand Portal Point where a beach can be several miles away.

Wetsuits/Lake Superior
Were in a quandary. Wed like to do some limited paddling on Lake Superior, but do not have wetsuits. Based on the comments I received, I dont want to put my family at risk. At the same time, itll be costly to outfit the family with wetsuits that we may never use again. We were considering: Sand Point to Grand Island and probably up the East side a bit; Hurrican River to the Lighthouse; paddling a few miles E and W of Miners Beach. If we dont get wetsuits, is there an area that would be safer? Any we should definitely avoid? Thanks for your valued input.

When you say that you don’t have wetsuits and aren’t sure that you want to buy them because you may never use them again, I have to ask about your experience on big water. I don’t know all of your experience level and it is true that often Lake Superior is just fine for a leisurely paddle.

But, it can change very fast without enough time to make it to a good landing spot. Been there, done that… It might be best to look for an outfitter that does a tour of the area. They should be able to provide all the necessary gear. Having never been to that area I can’t recommend any but I see one was mentioned above. There might be others closer to Marquette.

Rent them
You should be able to rent them locally there (I think there is an outfitter in Grand Marais and/or Munnising. I would go out without them and keep an eye on the weather. Forecast for tonight includes Gale warnings with waves building to 10’