While some fair-weather paddlers pack up their kayaks and paddleboards after Labor Day, others know that September and October are the best months of the year to be on the rivers of Southwest Michigan. The bugs are gone, the temperatures are just right, and the fall colors are in full bloom.
Here’s how to plan your fall foliage tour on a kayak and paddleboard:
Timing Is Everything. Schedule your paddle during the peak fall foliage, estimated in Southwest Michigan to be from mid-October to the first week of November. For updates, check the following resources:
- Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council
- The U.S. Forest Service; fall color hotline: 800-354-4595
- Foliage Network
- Pure Michigan
Once you’ve set your paddling date, consider the increasingly shorter fall days when deciding your start time. You’ll want to make sure you have plenty of daylight to take in the glory of autumn from a kayak or paddleboard.
Choose Your Route. On the Paw Paw River, you can launch just outside downtown St. Joseph for an easy paddle through the Harbor Shores golf community and the outlying wetlands, all bursting with seasonal color. You can find a list of other great local paddling options from the Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council here. For destinations all over the state, check out this Michigan Water Trails map.
What Are You Paddling? Whether you rent, buy, or borrow a kayak or paddleboard for your fall color tour, there are options out there to suit all ages and skill levels. For beginners, sit-on-top-style kayaks are especially stable and user-friendly – perfect for taking in the foliage at a relaxing pace. Paddleboarding newbies will want boards that are on the bigger, thicker side; the narrower ones are geared more toward racing. For guidance on equipment size and other specifics, ask for help when you’re ready to buy or rent.
Be Prepared. You’ll need more than just a kayak, paddleboard, and paddle to hit the water in the autumn. Make sure you also have:
- A properly fitting U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket. (Click here for more information on selecting the right personal flotation device.)
- A signaling device, such as a whistle. Check your life jacket, as it may already have an attached whistle.
- A “float plan,” a record of your planned trip. This can be as simple as an email to someone not paddling with you that lists your launch and landing points, how to reach you or other members of your group, and when you plan to return.
- Water and snacks.
- A waterproof headlamp or flashlight in case you lose track of time on those shorter fall days.
- Appropriate clothing for autumn weather. Be aware of the water temperature and dress accordingly with layers you can peel on or off, plus an extra set of clothes in a dry bag. Remember, cotton should be avoided – once it gets wet, it will sap the heat from your body. For especially chilly temperatures, a wet/dry suit preserves body heat in case of sudden immersion.
- A waterproof container or bag for items such as your phone and extra set of clothes.
Remember, with all water sports, safety is key. Be sure you have the appropriate safety equipment, are prepared for fall weather conditions, and have proper instruction. Better yet, opt for a guide to make the most of your autumn color tour. Happy paddling!
Resources for Autumn Paddling
- Michigan Water Trails – information on regional water trails, safety, and more
- NOAA Great Lakes Forecast – current and future weather conditions on the Great Lakes
- Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council Paddling Guide – directory of Southwest Michigan waterways
- Third Coast Paddling – kayak and paddleboard sales and rentals in Southwest Michigan
- U.S. Coast Guard PFD (Life Jacket) Information – information on selecting, wearing, and caring for personal flotation devices
- West Michigan Coastal Kayakers Association – kayaking club offers events and education
Our guest blogger, Erin Gerard, is the group outings coordinator for Third Coast Paddling, a paddle sports retail store in Benton Harbor which offers hourly kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals throughout Southwest Michigan. For more information, visit www.thirdcoastpaddling.com