Ludington is a paddler’s paradise. Whether you’re looking for an open water experience or a more sheltered and secluded trip, you’re sure to find it on the many waterways in and around the small lakeside town. Lake Michigan, Hamlin Lake, the Big Sable River, and the Pere Marquette River and Pere Marquette Lake all provide unique on-the-water experiences you won’t want to miss.
Lake Michigan is the second largest of the Great Lakes, providing expansive views and all the excitement of an open-water trip. While the route to the historic Big Sable Point Lighthouse is only two miles each way, the quickly changing weather and opportunity for large swells can make it a serious undertaking. A sit-on-top kayak or a kayak with a sprayskirt is a must. Under ideal conditions, however, the paddle to the lighthouse offers spectacular views of the Ludington dunes and the 112-foot-tall Big Sable Point Lighthouse.
If Lake Michigan feels too exposed or the weather poses a threat, consider the Ludington Canoe Trail, which meanders through the many coves of Hamlin Lake’s southwestern shore. The route follows a 4-mile loop, passing a massive sand dune called Desperation Point before ducking into a series of small ponds and coves covered in lily pads. Along the way, a few short portages add to the adventure, and great blue herons, bald eagles, and kingfishers can all be seen.
The Big Sable River flows gently through the middle of Ludington State Park, providing the perfect place for visitors to cool off and float. Whether you like to float or paddle, the 1-mile float from the Hamlin Dam to Lake Michigan offers a refreshing perspective on the park. Floaters will find the paved paths paralleling the river convenient, but paddlers will likely prefer to reverse their route. Keep your eyes peeled along the way, the Big Sable is well known for its wildlife with beavers, mink, and several species of birds calling the river their home. Also take note of the remaining posts from the docks that were used in the mid-1800s for the booming lumber trade.
The Pere Marquette is a much beloved trip for paddlers and floaters alike. The 5-mile stretch from Custer to Scottville can last six hours for casual floaters or an hour-and-a-half for paddlers looking to cruise. Throughout the trip, visitors will find wildflowers and great swimming holes. Outfitters provide shuttle services as well as tube and kayak rentals. The take-out at Scottville Riverside Park is easy to spot, with picnic tables, several campsites, and plenty of parking.
Paddling on Pere Marquette Lake offers a unique perspective of Ludington and the surrounding area. Ranging from wild to industrial, the 7-mile loop follows the Pere Marquette shoreline. Along the way it passes beautiful marshes, massive car-ferries, and chemical plants. It’s not uncommon to find swans and spawning carp or lake sturgeon.