Water Trails

icon for paddle sports

Water trails

A water trail is a designated route on a navigable waterway such as a lake, river, canal or bay, that is designed and managed to create a positive outdoor recreation experience for the user. Water trails feature well-developed access points, often are near significant historical, environmental or cultural points of interest and often have nearby amenities like restaurants, hotels and campgrounds.

State-designated water trails

Eight waterways totaling 540-plus miles that flow through more than a dozen counties have been selected as the first state-designated water trails in Michigan:

map of water trails

Designation process

Local water trail organizations with established water trail plans were invited to submit applications for designation. That outreach process was handled collaboratively with the Michigan State Parks Advisory Committee, the Michigan State Waterways Commission, the Michigan Trails Advisory Council and the Nonmotorized Advisory Workgroup.

All applications were scored based on criteria including whether a proposed trail:

  • Provides a quality trail experience.
  • Offers clear information for users.
  • Enjoys broad community support.
  • Has an appropriate water trail plan in place that addresses components like safety, stewardship, historic and cultural resources, education opportunities, funding, signage, management and development, local land and water use laws, and marketing and promotion.

Ribbon cuttings for the newly designated water trails will take place during the 2019 paddling season. More information will be provided early in 2019 on the application process for next year’s designations.

Other Michigan water trails

In addition to the state-designated water trails above, there are many other water trails in Michigan that can be found on the Michigan Water Trails website.To be included on the Michigan Water Trails website, a water trail must:

  • Be open to non-motorized watercraft;
  • Include access sites that are open to the public;
  • Have developed information and trail data that is publicly available and up to date (e.g., maps, guides, signage, and/or a website); and
  • Be actively supported, managed and/or maintained by at least one organization or community that can serve as the source of the water trail information.

Michigan Water Trails Website »