Endless water on Superior (photo courtesy of Ryan B.)
The Great Lakes hold 84% of North America’s fresh surface water and has around 10,000 miles of shoreline (16,000 km). That makes these five lakes a world-class inland sea kayaking destination.
Lake Superior is the largest of all the Great Lakes. In fact, Superior holds half of the water that’s in them. It’s the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area. Other than its size, the lake is well known for its water clarity and gorgeous shoreline.
All the Great Lakes deserve our respect, but especially Lake Superior. If you’re new to sea kayaking we highly recommend you go through a licensed outfitter for a guided tour. Their guides will know the lake, have the proper gear and know how to keep you safe out there.
Superior demands extra safety considerations because of its size, rugged shoreline, changeable weather, potential for rough seas and water temperature. Hypothermia is always a potential danger even in the hot summer months.
If you don't have the proper equipment to kayak safely—specifically a sea kayak with spray skirt (NOT a recreational kayak) and wet suit or dry suit— as well as big water experience, you'll have the best and safest experience with a qualified guide from one of the many outfitters we list here.
Outfitters will include all the extra gear items along with your kayak rental like life jackets, bilge pump, a weather radio (and a current marine forecast) and first aid kits. These local guides also know the best places and ways to make open water crossings, the best routes, and where the coolest sea caves, sea stacks and rock formations are.
Three US states and one Canadian province border Lake Superior. All of them have several reputable outfitters you can choose from:
Wisconsin Sea Kayak Outfitters
We’ll start in our home state of Wisconsin, where Lake Superior is just a couple of hours north of our headquarters in Osceola. The undisputed attraction here is the Apostle Islands sea caves along Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, as well as historic lighthouses and more than 20 islands to explore.
Superior's south shore is mostly made of softer rock like sandstone. That accounts for the abundance of sea caves carved by the lake's big waves, as well as its numerous sand beaches.
Adventure Vacations (LaPointe, WI) operates half-day sea kayak tours from Madeline Island, the largest of the Apostle Islands. The Island has its own sea caves and cliffs to make for a wonderful few hours of paddling.
Apostle Islands Kayak Tours (Bayfield, WI) highlights their tours that go to more protected and less popular destinations in the area. They offer a couple of beginner-level tours in areas where small waves are the norm but you still get sea caves and even a 1910 shipwreck.
Lost Creek Adventures (Cornucopia, WI) offers half-day and full day sea kayak tours all around the Apostle Islands, as well as overnight kayak camping trips. One of their unique tours is a kayak/snorkeling combo at a shipwreck site.
Trek & Trail (Bayfield, WI) offers Apostle Islands and sea cave tours from half-day to full-day to multi-day trips of 2-7 days. Their most advanced trip is the 6-day Devil’s Island Rendezvous.
Whitecap Kayak (Washburn, WI) takes their guests to Wisconsin’s sea caves and Apostle Islands for half-day and day trips. They also offer several multi-day camping expeditions, both Apostle Islands and along Michigan’s Upper Peninsula coast.
Minnesota Sea Kayak Outfitters
The Minnesota stretch of Lake Superior is known to Minnesotans as the North Shore. It has some spectacular features including 300-foot cliffs, the famous Split Rock Lighthouse and several state parks with their waterfalls.
Superior's north shore is mostly hard rock like basalt, so any beaches consist of pebble-to-cobblestone-size rounded rocks.
Day Tripper of Duluth (Duluth, MN) offers 2 and 4-hour kayak trips to nearby Splitrock State Park with its famous lighthouse, and in and around the Duluth Harbor. They even offer an iceberg tour when conditions are just right.
Kayakers in front of Split Rock Lighthouse (photo courtesy of Day Tripper of Duluth)
Positive Energy Outdoors (Duluth, MN) offers half-day kayak tours to Split Rock State Park and its lighthouse. The Burlington Bay tour takes you through areas of active shipping, where you’ll be able to see the 1,000-foot iron ore ships going in and out.
Sawtooth Outfitters (Tofte, MN) offers kayak tours that explore North Shore features like the Temperance River area and the Palisade Head high cliffs and sea caves. Half-day and full-day trips are available.
Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply (Grand Marais, MN) offers half-day tours in and around the Grand Marais area. They also offer a 6-day trip to Isle Royale State Park that includes hiking, and a full-day trip an hour northeast along some remote Canadian shore (when the international border is open).
Michigan Sea Kayak Outfitters
Most popular with sea kayakers in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore with its breathtaking high cliffs and sea caves. Like Wisconsin's shore, mainland Michigan's coastline is largely sandstone and other soft rock, with some beautiful sandy beaches.
Isle Royale National Park is also part of Michigan even though it's just a handful of miles from the Minnesota/Canada border, and is a popular sea kayaking destination.
Keewanaw Adventure Company (Copper Harbor, MI) offers several half and full-day kayak tours along the shoreline of the Keewanaw Peninsula. They also offer 4, 5 and 6-day overnight trips to Isle Royale (2021 trips cancelled due to Covid, unfortunately).
Paddling Michigan’s Pictured Rocks Kayaking Tours (Munising, MI) offers several sea kayak tours to Pictured Rocks from 2-8 hours long. These include a kayak/hike combo and a sunset paddle.
Pictured Rocks Kayaking (Munising, MI) offers a unique set up: they take you on a 72-passenger boat from which you’ll launch your kayak and paddle to all the main features along Pictured Rocks. This way you see as much of the coastline as possible in one day.
These 1,000-foot iron ore ships are a common sight on Lake Superior (photo courtesy of Four on the Water)
Rock Harbor Lodge (Isle Royale National Park, MI) is on Isle Royale and offers several multi-day kayak trips: each day on the water and each night in the comfort of the lodge. 3-6 day options are available (2021 trips already sold out in May—plan ahead!).
Superior Kayaking Company (Munising, MI) is an intimate operation that offers 2 and 5-hour tours to Presque Isle and Grand Island. They also offer an overnight kayak camping tours from 2-5 days to Grand Island with its 200-foot cliffs and sea caves.
Ontario Sea Kayak Outfitters
While Ontario has far more Superior lakeshore than the three US states, it’s a remote part of Ontario with very few towns. So there are just a handful of sea kayak outfitters on the Canadian side of the Big Lake—one on the north side and two on its east end.
If you love big adventure with fewer people, thought, Canada is the place for you. The shoreline is similar to Minnesota's with plenty of cliffs, small islands, pebble beaches.
Naturally Superior Adventures (Wawa, ON) offers specific multi-day kayak tours during specific dates throughout the summer, with trips suitable for beginner through advanced paddlers. If none of their trips and dates work for you, they’ll work with you to design a custom trip.
Rock Island Lodge (Wawa, ON) offers full-day tours along with basic instruction for beginners. They also offer a half-day basic sea kayak course with the other half-day free for you to paddle Michipicoten Bay.
SAND Adventure Expeditions (Rossport, ON) is on the very north of Lake Superior. SAND (Such a Nice Day) specializes in 5-7 day sea kayak expeditions in their area. They also offers a full-day tour of the Rossport Islands and a 2-day sea kayak Lake Superior Starter Course.
Kayaking the Big Lake off Minnesota’s North Shore (photo courtesy of Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply)
Lake Superior can give you a truly wonderful sea kayaking experience, whether for a few hours or a few days. Make the most of your time on the water by signing on with one of these outfitting businesses for your best overall adventure.
(This was first published in 2021 and has been updated.)
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