6 Surprisingly Caribbean Water Adventures to do in Northern Michigan

Written By: The Planet D

Want a beach vacation that offers world class diving, secluded beaches, and unlimited water sports? This may sound like it is somewhere in the Caribbean, but in the summer, Northern Michigan offers just that! Michigan is blessed with four of the five Great Lakes, all of which create a water lover’s playground for adventurers.

You don’t have to leave the mainland to enjoy a Caribbean vacation. These water adventures will help you make the most of your summer in Northern Michigan. So grab a margarita, put an umbrella on the cup, sit back, and enjoy these surprisingly Caribbean water adventures that you can do in the U.P.

Water Sports in Northern Michigan

Scuba Diving in Michigan

scuba diving michigan

If you want to feel like you are going to the Caribbean, an island escape is a great way to set the mood. Beaver Island is the largest island in Lake Michigan and has water sports, sunset dining, and deserted beaches.

Our trip to Beaver Island took us on an archipelago adventure with Mike Weede of Paradise Bay Charters, where we went scuba diving to explore some old shipwrecks. The Great Lakes are a mecca for wreck diving because countless ships litter the lake beds. Visibility has increased over the years due to zebra mussels clinging to ships coming from Europe’s Caspian Sea. Ships that used to lie in a murky fog now sit in crystal clear waters with up to 100 feet of visibility.

After a day on the water, head over to Beaver Island Lodge for a sunset dinner offering an innovative menu designed by Chef James Mason. This local favourite offers wine pairings and inventive cocktails with their menu du jour.

Stand Up Paddle Boarding in Alpena

Paddle Boarding in northern Michigan
Paddle Boarding in Alpena, Michigan

Stand up paddle Boarding, also known as SUP, is a sport that can be done anywhere in the world. Once you get the hang of it and find your balance on the board, it’s a great workout and an excellent way to explore shorelines. In Alpena, we met our guide for a shipwreck paddle from Waterworks Park. Several shipwrecks are located just off shore from Alpena, and paddles can range from just a half a mile out to longer full day trips of 5 miles.

When the sun is shining and the water’s calm, you feel as if you’ve been transported to a Caribbean Island while searching for old pirate ships. It’s an amazing feeling to paddle over the ships laying in the water below. You can book paddleboarding tours at Performance Locker. Check out VisitAlpena for the complete shipwreck paddle guide.

Snorkeling in Thunder Bay Marine Sanctuary

Time for some snorkelling in Alpena, Michigan
Time for some snorkelling in Alpena, Michigan

Alpena is the best place in Michigan to see shipwrecks. Thunder Bay can be explored by snorkeling as well. If you love swimming, don a mask and fins and get in the water for a dip. Many of the shipwrecks lie in 10-20 feet of water, so you can dive down and get a close-up view of a bygone era. It’s best to hire a guide who knows the water and where the shipwrecks are.

Snorkeling is a lot of fun, but swimming out offshore can be tiring, so take precautions.

We mixed our snorkel trip with the paddle board and had a place to relax after paddling out to the wrecks. You can rent wetsuits, paddle boards, and snorkeling gear from local dive shops and hire a guide. In Alpena, we went with the Performance Locker located in Mich-e-ke-wis Park.

If you want to visit something unique, Petoskey has an underwater shrine in Little Traverse Bay. The shrine is built to remember divers who have lost their lives and each winter there is an event where people can peer through the ice to see the 11 foot monument.

Glass Bottom Boat Tours

northern michigan watersports

If getting in the water isn’t your cup of tea, you can take glass bottom boat tours just like they offer in the Caribbean. Alpena Shipwreck Tours offers tours from May through October and visits several of the 116 shipwrecks in the area.

The waters off the coast of Alpena are some of the most treacherous in the Great Lakes, and they caused many a ship to go down. Alpena was declared a National Marine Sanctuary and has attracted divers from around the world including Jacques Cousteau’s son Jean-Michel Cousteau as well as Titanic discoverer Robert Ballard.

Sea Kayaking in Michigan

sea kayaking michigan

Sea kayaking doesn’t only have to happen in salt water. One of our favourite things to do on the Great Lakes is to go sea kayaking. You can go anywhere along the endless coast. There are shipwrecks to explore, islands to circumnavigate, and inlets to enter. Something we loved about sea kayaking on Beaver Island was that you could also kayak on an inland lake. When the weather is bad, you can still go out!

Note: kayaking the Great Lakes can be dangerous, as weather can turn quickly. Make sure to check the weather, and that you should be confident that you have enough skill to go out alone. Don’t go too far from shore and if you are unsure, hire a guide. Kayaking on Beaver Island can be booked through Happy Paddle.

Sailing in Michigan

sailing in michigan

For a true Caribbean feel, get out on a sailboat and take in the beautiful Michigan sunsets. From the picturesque town of Charlevoix on Lake Michigan to the maritime mecca of Alpena on Lake Huron and everywhere in between, you can join a sailing charter or sunset tour to see it all and get a taste of what sailing the Great Lakes is like. You can even help out the crew if you want to try your hand at pulling ropes and tying knots.

When we travel to the Caribbean we love doing water adventures. Not everyone can always get away for a week in the South, though, so instead try an adventure closer to home and put Northern Michigan at the top of your summer adventure list.

Travel Planning Resources

Looking to book your next trip? Why not use these resources that are tried and tested by yours truly.

Flights: Start planning your trip by finding the best flight deals on Skyscanner

Book your Hotel: Find the best prices on hotels with these two providers. If you are located in Europe use Booking.com and if you are anywhere else use TripAdvisor

Find Apartment Rentals: You will find the cheapest prices on apartment rentals with VRBO

Travel Insurance: Don't leave home without it. Here is what we recommend:

  • World Nomads - Digital Nomads or Frequent Travelers.
  • Allianz - Occasional Travelers.
  • Medjet - Global air medical transport and travel security.

Need more help planning your trip? Make sure to check out our Resources Page where we highlight all the great companies that we trust when we are traveling.

About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

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4 thoughts on “6 Surprisingly Caribbean Water Adventures to do in Northern Michigan”

  1. I’m considering moving to Michigan (more like my husband is trying to convince me that it’s a good idea) and knowing these kind of activities are available really helps! Looks like the summers are beautiful!

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  2. My mother’s family comes from Alpena and it’s so rare to see it mentioned in travel blogs! Charlevoix, Petoskey, Mackinac and Traverse City usually get all the love in Northern Michigan. I think Lake Huron also gets short shrift by comparison with Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, too. Alpena’s 500 acre wildlife sanctuary in the middle of the city surrounds Island Park, which is a great place to kayak as well. Love to see well-deserving underdogs get the mention! Aloha!

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  3. Just awesome and certainly did a glass bottom boat tour in tobago and it was just amazing ? The sea world that can be seen is great and a great education learning experience – thanks for sharing this post guys ?

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