Kayaking Lake Huron

With weekends becoming booked and time running short to have an adventure before the close of summer, I started looking for something a bit closer to home, so that I could maximize time in the field and spend less time driving. While browsing satellite and topo maps, I came across an area along the eastern shore of Michigan that looked prime for a 2-night kayking trip, with a bonus daytrip destination on the way home. I put together an itinerary for my friend Scott and I, and we set north for Alpena, Michigan.

We spent our first night at Harrisville State Park, then in the morning drove further north for Rockport boat launch. Kayaks loaded with camping gear, food, safety equipment, and our new LowePro DryZone duffel camera bags, we felt as ready as we could be for what Lake Huron was going to throw at us.

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We paddled about 11 miles that day, stopping only a couple of times to stretch our legs and eat a clif bar. The winds stayed mostly calm, but a couple of threatening storms kept us from venturing too far from shore.

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Wind and water conditions were good for most of our day, and we were able to make our 12 mile journey in about 5 hours. As a severe storm moved in from the east, we quickly went ashore in the aptly named Misery Bay, which hosts a small area of state owned land (most of the shore leads to privately owned property, but the actual coast is always fine to walk across, anywhere along the lakeshore.) 

After the storm passed, the sun broke through the clouds and left us with a rare double rainbow to the east.

Photo by Scott Heister 

Photo by Scott Heister 

We explored the murky Misery Bay, but among the wildflowers, butterflies, and occasional bald eagle, we weren’t able to find a better camping area. We think there was a better area on the northeast part of the bay, but we settled on the southern end, as paddling in the shallows was such a chore.

Indian paintbrush and monarch butterflies were abundant in the tall grasses.

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The next day we decided to try for Alpena. We knew weather conditions might be tough, so we tried to get an early start. We could see the storm clouds moving in from the west this time, and we were lucky to miss them on the first part of the day’s paddling.

Photo by Scott Heister

Photo by Scott Heister

After a few hours, downpours forced us to go ashore and set up a tarp. We waited about 45 minutes for the rain to pass, and then kept heading south. We passed a shipwreck before finally reaching the tip of Thunder Bay. After turning west, we stopped for lunch in a small cove and spotted a bald eagle.

Things were looking good until we hit a huge front moving due east. We paddled right through a fierce rainstorm, with high winds and needle-like rain drops. Once the clouds past though, the wind remained. Our 3mph paced slowed to a crawl. Objects on shore used to judge distance traveled were now barely moving. A few hours spent not even going a mile forced us to make the tough decision to call it quits. Alpena sat another 4 miles across the open water of Thunder Bay, and we had already been paddling for 7 hours. This was a smart decision for our safety, as being caught in open water was not something either of us wanted to deal with. Some good samaritans living on the bay offered Scott a ride to our vehicle. We loaded up our boats and made for Alpena to get some dinner.

Not quite finished though, we drove to the thumb area of Michigan the next day, and hiked around the local state parks. Blueberries bushes were everywhere, and we feasted on a fruity harvest at Sleeper State Park.

That evening we took in a vibrant sunset along the beach. I experimented with long exposures, and even went on to write a blog on fstoppers.com about a cool trick you can do with your DSLR and a makeshift neutral density filter.

The following morning we left before sunrise for Port Austin, with a goal of paddling a couple of miles to reach an interesting rock formation known as Turnip Rock.