Raise the mast and set sail in West Michigan! With both the Great Lakes and the many inland lakes in the area, you’re never far away from an opportunity to be on the water. If you don’t have much boating experience, fear not! Many places will take you and your crew out on the water, and do most of the heavy lifting for you. Of course, you can also rent everything yourself and set your own course. No matter your skill level, take some time to explore West Michigan’s waterways!
Get on the Water in Southern West Michigan
The Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven offers a variety of on-water experiences aboard historic and replica vessels that are perfect if you’re looking to get out on the water. Choose between the 19th-century replica tall ship Friends Good Will, the Lindy Lou riverboat, the 1921 racing yacht Bernida, or US Coast Guard Motor Lifeboat 36460. There are also opportunities to be chauffeured in a 1929 Chris Craft Cadet. All experiences include museum admission, with private charters available for an extra special experience.
Charter Lake Michigan and the St. Joseph River with Originator Sport Fishing Charters. Based out of St. Joseph, Originator Charters provide all the latest tackle and fishing equipment for you to enjoy a great experience. They’ll even arrange a fish fry at a local restaurant after the fishing trip if you’d like!
At Sea Hawk Sportfishing Charters, you’ll enjoy the experience of line ripping salmon, sky-rocketing steelhead, husky brown trout, and the fast action of spring coho salmon. Go big game fishing on Lake Michigan or take their guided river fishing trip along the St. Joseph River. With Captain Russ Clark at the wheel, your fishing expedition is in good hands!
The Star of Saugatuck Boat Cruises is an authentic sternwheeler which operates on the Kalamazoo River, enters into Lake Kalamazoo, and then heads back down the Kalamazoo River to view the private homes and cottages, boats of every shape and size, and the natural beauty of the Kalamazoo River. You may catch a glimpse of wildlife, including deer, wild turkey, fox, blue heron, seagulls, and eagles. Hop on a cruise soon when they open starting the first full weekend in May!
Lake Michigan has the largest sport fishery on the Great Lakes, and Big Lake Outfitters in Saugatuck knows where the fish are! Their fleet of charter boats are stacked with new and quality equipment, and they’ll set you up to catch Lake Michigan salmon, trout, walleye, and smallmouth bass. Join them for a half day or spend the entire day out on the water.
Float down the Grand River in Lansing in comfort with the Michigan Princess Riverboat. They offer a variety of services and amenities to make your cruise an enjoyable experience. Docked and operated out of Grand River Park, the Michigan Princess is a year-round attraction. The regular cruising season begins on March 1st and runs through December 15th, depending on weather conditions. In the off season, the boat stays at the dock but is still available to host special events.
Rent a pontoon or kayak and get out on the water in Coldwater Country. Home to more than 100 lakes, including two chains of lakes, the area is a haven for relaxation on the water.
Get on the Water in Central West Michigan
Five acres worth of boats will be on display from February 13th to 17th at the 74th Annual Grand Rapids Boat Show at DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids. Enjoy the Great Lakes State in style aboard a new motor yacht, cruiser, runabout, ski or wakesurf boat, pontoon, fishing boat or even kayaks, paddleboards, and more. Other special features include West Michigan Offshore’s Hustler 388 Slingshot and Douglas Skater 380, Gizmo the Robot, the Key West Crab Shack, the Great Lakes Dive Locker tank, and a display of wooden boats presented by the Water Wonderland Chapter of the Antique & Classic Boat Society.
Give the gift of hassle-free boating with the Freedom Boat Club in Spring Lake! If you love boating, but don’t enjoy the hassles of boat ownership and maintenance, is for you. They have the finest fleet of pleasure and fishing boats in West Michigan, and they take care of all of the details so you can enjoy the water. Crunch the numbers and it’s an easy decision, but they’ll sweeten the deal with a $500 discount!
Muskegon-based Aquastar Cruises offers public, chartered, and themed cruises on Muskegon Lake and Lake Michigan. The ship will bring a sense of nostalgia to the older generation and a historical intrigue to the younger demographic that Muskegon is tailoring itself to.
One of West Michigan’s most unique on-water experiences are the Full Moon Floats at Guy’s Ultimate Kayak Service in Muskegon. At midnight during each full moon from May through October, grab a kayak and hit the Muskegon River under the stars. Tickets for these events are available starting March 1st, but you’ll want to act fast as tickets are limited.
At the USS LST 393 Veterans Museum in Muskegon, history jumps out at you from every deck and corner. This veteran of Omaha Beach earned three battle stars in World War II and is one of only two Landing Ship Tanks that remain in the United States.
Hailed as Muskegon’s original ferry, take a tour aboard the S.S. Milwaukee Clipper, featuring art deco interiors, a soda fountain, ballroom, and movie theater. Built in 1904, eight years before the Titanic, the Clipper traversed Lake Michigan from 1941 until 1970 carrying untold thousands of passengers and automobiles between Muskegon and Milwaukee.
If you need to get across Lake Michigan from Muskegon to Milwaukee, the Lake Express High Speed Ferry is considered the new standard for Great Lakes ferry service, crossing the lake in only two and a half hours.
Finish off your maritime adventures in Muskegon with a tour of the USS Silversides Submarine Museum. This restored WWII Submarine is a Prohibition-Era Coast Guard Cutter and features wonderful exhibits aboard.
The beautiful blue water of Lake Michigan is known as one of the best freshwater fisheries in the world! Holland has several fishing charters for you to climb aboard and cast a line. If leisure is more your speed, then the dinner cruises aboard the Holland Princess are a great fit. Enjoy a two-hour cruise aboard an old-fashioned Victorian-style paddlewheel boat. You can even rent a powerboat or charter to sail and watch the sunset over Lake Michigan with the area’s many pleasure boating options.
The Ludington area is home to the S.S. Badger, the last coal-fired steamship in the United States. Offering nostalgic, four-hour cruises across Lake Michigan to and from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, twice daily in the summer season, visitors can also enjoy themed two-hour shoreline cruises in the summer such as the Fourth of July Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean Shoreline Cruise. Service resumes May 10th for this year’s summer season. Want to learn more about maritime history during your visit? Stop by the Port of Ludington Maritime Museum, which brings history to life with digital storytelling, authentic images and artifacts, and engaging interactive exhibits.
As one of Michigan’s more unique on-water experiences, Action Wake Park in Hudsonville offers the ultimate wake surf experience. Climb aboard their watersports boat and learn how to surf! This is an all-ages activity with rides starting in June.
MACkite Board Sports Center in Grand Haven specializes in kiteboarding and paddleboard gear, rentals, and lessons. Their crew, by and large, are people who found their way to MACkite because they were already experts and wanted to share their knowledge with others and make sure customers get the right gear for their style. Whether you’re just getting your sea legs on a kiteboard or paddleboard, or you’re a seasoned pro, you’ll find the best gear and a knowledgeable staff at MACkite!
Get on the Water in Northern West Michigan
Built in 1930 and launched in 1931, the steamship S.S. City of Milwaukee is the last traditional railroad car ferry on the Great Lakes. The ship is now stationed in Manistee, where it stands permanently moored as a National Historic Landmark museum. The vessel offers overnight stays, guided tours, museum exhibits, facility rentals, and the acclaimed Ghost Ship haunted attraction in October.
New to the Cheboygan area, Nautical North Family Adventures offers tours of the Inland Waterway and area shipwrecks using their glass-bottom boat. They also offer a complete diving instruction and certification program for those who want to explore new places and deeper waters! The vessel holds 28 passengers or 20 scuba divers, and runs tours from May through September.
Shanty Creek Resort in Bellaire is just minutes from Torch Lake, one of the remarkable 75-mile string of lakes and connecting rivers called the Chain of Lakes. Stretching 19 miles and covering nearly 30 miles, Torch Lake is where Shanty families head for days of sunshine and water. From water skiing and tubing to fishing or just floating, Torch Lake is a must.
Inland Seas Education Association has two ships that provide STEM+Art hands-on educational programs for youth and adults. In the spring and fall, students learn about the health of the Great Lakes as they become scientists aboard the 77′ schooner Inland Seas. During the summer, the Inland Seas Education Association provides programs for the public at various ports around the Great Lakes.
Sailing out of Traverse City, the Traverse Tall Ship Company offers a Noon Sail, Afternoon Moomers Ice Cream Sail, Evening Sail, and the popular Floating Bed and Breakfast Package. They also offer multi-day Windjammer cruises in September. With over 3,000 square feet of sail, this stately vessel has plied the waters of West Grand Traverse Bay since 1991 and continues to be the most unique attraction in the entire area.
The Beaver Island Boat Company out of Charlevoix may not be running their boats during the winter, but that doesn’t mean you can’t plan ahead. Reserve a spot for your vehicle to journey to Beaver Island for this spring and summer. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can book a tour of the island as well. Let the Beaver Island Boat Company be the start to your island getaway! Your stay in Charlevoix can also include charters on Lake Charlevoix or Lake Michigan.
Get on the Water in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
Located on the shores of Lake Huron, Mission Point Resort on Mackinac Island is the perfect place to experience the majesty of Michigan’s great lakes. With the Lake to Plate Fishing & Culinary Experience, guests embark on a private five-hour fishing charter to explore the Straits of Mackinac and catch the likes of Lake Trout, Chinook and Coho Salmon, Steelhead, and more. The fish is brought back to the hotel where Mission Point chefs will prepare a delicious, customized meal based on your catch! Any fish caught and not prepared will be packaged to take home. This experience also includes accommodations for two nights and round-trip ferry tickets to and from Mackinac Island.
Keweenaw Adventure Company in Copper Harbor provides all the equipment necessary and takes care of the logistics so that you only have to focus on getting your family there. With activities ranging from Lake Superior kayaking to in-land stand-up paddleboarding, there’s plenty to do on the water. If you prefer the land, they offer guided eco-interpretive hiking and introductory guided mountain biking as well!
Pictured Rocks Boat Cruises out of Munising is an authorized concessionaire of the National Park Service Department of the Interior. For over 50 years, their summer cruises have been guiding visitors to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, a top Michigan vacation spot. They offer three distinct Michigan cruises: the Regular Cruise, the Spray Falls Cruise, and the Sunset Cruise. If you are looking for unique vacation ideas, choose Pictured Rocks Cruises’ scenic boat tours as your next Michigan travel destination.
Does winter have you dreaming of shimmering summer waters of St. Ignace? If so, you’ll know that there’s nothing like a lighthouse cruise on the Straits of Mackinac. Visit multiple beacons, ride beneath the incredible Mackinac Bridge, and visit the islands and shoreline of the Straits area. It’s a boat cruise unlike any other. Shepler’s Ferry offers lighthouse cruises and other special outings, including fireworks cruises. Star Line offers sunset cruises, fireworks cruises, and other custom itineraries. St. Ignace is the perfect launch for the specialty cruise that you’re looking for!
If the idea of sailing on a schooner makes you swoon, make sure to visit Marquette. The area is home to a two-masted sailing schooner that spends its summers off the Main Pier of Mattson Lower Harbor Park. The area has a rich maritime history, with some ships offering views of Marquette’s scenic shoreline.
Located at Whitefish Point, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum has become a popular tourist destination. Museum patrons learn about the perils of maritime transport on the Great Lakes at the Whitefish Point Light Station, a Historic Site on the National Register of Historic Places. See the Whitefish Point Light Tower, in continuous operation for 155 years, which is the oldest operating lighthouse on Lake Superior.
More On-Water Adventures in West Michigan
Get out on the water with even more ships, charters, and cruises.
- 1 Adventure Company, Macatawa
- Bay Harbor Lake Marina, Bay Harbor
- Drummond Island Resort & Conference Center, Drummond Island
- Glen Craft Marina, Glen Arbor
- Grand Haven Waterfront/Musical Fountain, Grand Haven
- Insta-Launch Campground & Marina, Manistee
- Marina Grand Resort, New Buffalo
- Michigan Charter Boat Association, Statewide
- Michigan State Parks & Recreation, Statewide
- Nelson Charters, West Olive
- Northaire Resort, Bellaire
- Portage Point Resort & Marina, Onekama
- Windjammer Marina, Oden
Looking for more fun on the water? Check out the Paddlesport article and map in the 2019 West Michigan Carefree Travel Guide.