Smack in the middle of the mitten (aka Michigan), Grand Rapids has plenty of options for paddle boarders looking for versatile and scenic days on the water. The city is surrounded by fresh water and adorned with perfect bluebird days and pleasant temperatures, so it’s no wonder many people in the area are starting to pick up Stand Up Paddling (SUP).
SUP offers a unique overhead perspective, which makes it different from canoeing or kayaking, and perfect for spying that perfect Petoskey stone on a calm day. Their mobility and weight make them easier to move and handle with one person, unlike kayaks or canoes. There are many kinds of different paddleboards, each serving a different purpose. Some boards are designed to glide well and are more stable; other boards facilitate surfing with and have more rocker or curve. Boards differ in rocker, length, thickness, each specific to their intended use. Check out your local retail shops (see our list of recommended shops in your area) or dive into BIC SUP’s choose your board page to find the right board for you.
With SUP locations right in the heart of Grand Rapids, and Lake Michigan just a short drive to the west, you have plenty of options to get your feet wet (for lack of a better term). Here are a few of our favorite SUP spots in Michigan’s second largest city.
Reed Lake, just east of downtown Grand Rapids, offers centrally located paddling with convenient access to great places to eat and relax after a day on the water. Head over to John Collins Park for easy access to the water, and nice grass areas and benches on which to gear up before you head out. Parking on Lakeside Drive NE is best for a short walk to the water. Although the lake is small, those looking to go the distance can connect Fish Lake and Reeds Lake via the connecting tributary on the north-eastern side of the water. On the eastern shore, John H Bonnell Park offers a protected paddling area from the wind on days with a stiff easterly breeze off Lake Michigan.
North Beach Park
With Lake Michigan just a short drive to the west, there are plenty of put-in options for SUP enthusiasts. In fact, the hardest part is probably choosing the best one. We recommend North Beach Park, just north of Grand Haven. Sandy beaches, facilities, and easy parking make this an easy choice for paddling on Lake Michigan for your first or hundredth time. Beginners should head to the lake on a calm day with small waves. Those looking for adventure can paddle to the shipwrecks that dot the coastline—be sure to bring a snorkel mask! Or paddlers can head north and skirt the shoreline to get a view of the North Ottawa Dunes that roll down to the crystal blue waters. There is a small fee to use this area, but we find it worth it to access the facilities, beach, and lake.
Grand River Open Space
The Grand River meanders slowly to the west from Grand Rapids, through Grand Haven before eventually dumping into Lake Michigan. Just over 250 miles long, this is Michigan’s longest river, and about halfway along its path is the Grand River Open Space—an undeveloped 233-acre swath of wetland with 1.25 miles of waterfront on the Grand itself. Restoration efforts have helped restore the native vegetation, which includes an enticing mix of swamp white oak, black walnut, witch hazel, dogwood, and elderberry. It has easy parking access and several convenient put-ins for the river, and with multiple access points and low crowds, the Grand River Open Space, is perfect for anything from a quick paddle to an all day affair on the water.
Local retailers are a great source of information and rentals if you’d like to find out more or even rent a board. You can also demo a board, which means the demo fee can go towards the final purchase price of a board. Shop staff can help you decide which board might suit your paddling style and even recommend more great locations to paddle.
Bill and Paul’s Sport Haus, 1200 East Paris Ave SE, Grand Rapids (616) 458-1684
This is a great shop for checking out paddle boards and buying SUP gear.
Action Water Sports, 4155 32nd Ave, Hudsonville (616) 896-3100
Just southeast of Grand Rapids, is the best location in Grand Rapids for paddle board gear. With a great board selection, friendly and knowledgeable staff, they’re the best in Grand Rapids.
Outpost Sports, 105 W Buffalo, New Buffalo (269) 469-4210
Outpost Sports shops dot the western shoreline of Lake Michigan. Located in South Haven, St. Joseph, and New Buffalo these store specialize in equipping paddlers with the best gear and service to go paddle boarding in Michigan.