September 25, 2023
Michigan Whitewater Rafting group navigating rapids

Michigan Whitewater Rafting: 6 Unbeatable Spots for Thrilling Fun

Whitewater rafting is a fun activity involving an inflatable raft and a fast, shallow body of water. If you’re looking for something exciting to do with your family and friends, it can undoubtedly fulfill that requirement. This guide reveals the top Michigan Whitewater Rafting locations to maximize both fun and safety. Let’s dive in.

However, not everyone knows the best areas to go whitewater rafting to ensure fun and safety simultaneously. Fortunately, Michigan-based whitewater rafters are in luck. In this article, you can learn all about Michigan’s most popular whitewater rafting rivers to get the most out of your experience. 

Au Train River

If you’re already familiar with the challenges of Yellowstone rafting, you’ll likely be more than ready for what’s in store on the Au Train River. This gentle 16.8-mile river travels through Alger County’s Au Train Township in Michigan. 

The Au Train River rises from the Cleveland Cliffs Basin reservoir and flows north through the Au Train Lake before entering Lake Superior at the Au Train village. While gentle enough for canoeing, whitewater rafters can seek their thrills on the one-mile section from the dam to below the powerhouse. 

American Whitewater classifies this section of the river as 3-4. This means that it’s suitable for rafters of an advanced to expert level. Rafters are encouraged to scout the course before rafting downstream. 

Boardman River

Whether you’re looking for an easy whitewater rafting location or are a beginner, check out Boardman River at Beitner Road. The Boardman River is a popular class 1-2 whitewater rafting location located six miles south of Traverse City. 

Rafters can navigate the easy-flowing waters for 4.5 miles, enjoying an average gradient of 16 feet per minute. However, it’s worth pointing out that this popular location has changed in recent years. While the ever-popular Keystone rapids are still there, there is also more fast-moving water and new rapids due to dam removals. The river also now flows all the way to Boardman Lake without any obstructions. At least three of the 4.5 miles are classed as fast water, with a few class 1-2 rapids. 

New and experienced rafters are bound to have fun on this river, with so many thrilling areas to test your skills. There’s a class 1 stump wave to enjoy 0.02 miles in and a technical rapid at the start of the old Keystone pond. Once you reach the 0.9-mile point, be on the lookout for large boulders in the center. It can also be important to check water levels before heading out. 


If you’ve got a full day set aside for a whitewater rafting adventure, head off to Manitowoc from Union Road to Michigan Avenue. At a distance of 8.3 miles, this class 1-2 river makes for a fun day out with family and friends. 

The Manitowoc River is west of Manitowoc with a fine stretch of wide-open boulder-bed rapids. Rafters can enjoy easy 10-feet-per-minute gradients and a total elevation change of around 55 feet. 

It’s recommended that you research the best access points before setting up for a day of rafting. Access has been granted from the start of the gradient at Logwood Lane, but there may now be no trespassing and no parking signs in this area. As a result, you might find a better access point to Manitowoc further up at Union Road. Don’t forget to check water quality before hitting the water. Dairy farms dominate the drainage in this area, so runoff can contain fecal matter. 

St. Joseph East Race Whitewater Course

If you’re looking for a body of water near Michigan that seems to be made for whitewater rafters, you’re in luck. Such a space exists on the east bank of the St. Joseph River, just a few hours from Michigan. It’s a cement-lined whitewater course operated by South Bend Parks & Recreation with fiberglass pylons, stop-blocks, and partial walls throughout. 

This whitewater rafting location is described as class 2, which means it has easy rapids with clear channels and small waves. Whether you have limited or a lot of rafting experience, you’re bound to have fun on the St. Joseph River. In fact, it’s often described as an excellent place to learn and practice new rafting skills. 

However, it’s important to note that this whitewater course is not free. It’s also not open year-round. It’s available on weekends and costs $20 for an all-day pass or $50 for a season pass. You can also pay $6 per ride if you only plan to check it out once. 

Sturgeon River

Sturgeon River is a short 0.6-mile body of water that may prove popular with new rafters looking to hone their skills. You might even explore this stretch if you’re looking for some quick and easy park-and-play rafting. 

It’s a class 1-2 river with an average gradient of five feet per minute and boasts a short stretch of rapids. The Upper Ten Mile portion of the Sturgeon River, about 0.07 miles in, boasts a short gradient for play opportunities. At 0.44 miles, you’ll meet the Lower Ten Mile with a longer stretch of gradient featuring a minor wave and light boulder-bed rapids. 

If you feel like camping in Michigan after a fun time rafting, you can load your camping gear into your raft and travel 1.31 miles up the Sturgeon River to get to a campground. This campground is also accessible by road. 

Carp River

The Carp River in Marquette County is formed from the outflow of Deer Lake, a popular catch-and-release fishing spot. While you might set up for a spot of fishing, you can also venture down the Carp River for some exciting class 2-4 rafting opportunities. 

This 1.4-mile stretch of water with a 35-feet-per-minute gradient has some excellent rapids to challenge you. However, some people can find it challenging to identify the best put-in area. You often need to secure permission from private property owners or park and carry your raft from Heritage Drive.

Alternatively, you can skip the upper gradient of the Carp River and put your raft in at Heritage. After traversing the 1.4 miles, you’ll end up at the Michigan Iron Industry Museum. If you cannot get out at this point, you can travel another one-third of a mile downriver to Forge Road near the Negaunee Cemetery. 

Final Thoughts About Michigan Whitewater Rafting

We’ve explored some of the best Michigan Whitewater Rafting spots, each offering unique challenges and thrills. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, Michigan has something for you. Remember to prioritize safety as you seek your next adventure.

Finding the best whitewater rafting locations can be challenging if you’re new to a specific area. Whether you live in or near Michigan or are just passing through, these rafting locations above might be worth adding to your must-visit list. 

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Jennifer Dawson

Jennifer is a contributing writer on Thumbwind. Her interests in food and health and contributing excellent writing on related topics.

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