Kayaking Beaver Island

“Look, there’s a kayak school in the middle of Lake Michigan!” I said to my wife. We were looking for something to do for our summer vacation and I had often wondered what Beaver Island had to offer. I had seen the island on the map before and wondered what was there. So after a few web searches I discovered the Inland Seas School of Kayaking.

Operated by Ken Bruland, an ACA certified kayak instructor as well as an EMT; the Inland Seas School of Kayaking offers classes in sea kayaking from beginner to advanced skills. (Note: Ken has since retired and the school is now closed.) - Updated update... Happy Paddle is your NEW Beaver Island option for lessons and rentals. Also the Beaver Island Water Trail is now officially open.

Well after reviewing the site and the class offerings, checking availability and figuring out the logistics, we were off to Beaver Island for formal kayak training.

Beaver Island is the largest of fourteen islands that comprise the Beaver Island Archipelago. It is located 20 miles from shore and is reached either by air or by a 32 mile ferry ride from Charlevoix, Michigan.

Beaver Island is the largest island in Lake Michigan. It is 13 miles long (North to South) and varies from three to six miles wide. It is sparsely populated with about 600 year around residents. In the summer, the population reaches about double. The ferry docks in Paradise Bay in St. James or “downtown” Beaver Island.

After we arrived at Beaver Island and checked in to our hotel room, we walked around town. The first thing we noticed was how quiet it was. Despite being peak tourist season, we were far from overwhelmed with traffic. In fact, we noticed several cars with bumper sticker that read, “Slow down, this ain’t the mainland”. There are only a few touristy shops to be found. Rather the town is a collection of small businesses, marinas, and a park with a lighthouse and Coast Guard station.

The kayak shack at Inland Seas Kayak school
The kayak shack at Inland Seas Kayak school

We arrived at Inland Seas School of Kayaking the next morning for our first class. Ken Bruland met us and gave us an overview of his teaching and paddling philosophies. Learning how to kayak safely was one of my top concerns and Ken did not let me down. Being a certified EMT-Paramedic, (wilderness certified too), spent much time discussing safety both on land and on water.

Our classes began on dry land and covered topics including boat and paddle design, basic strokes and braces, clothing, safety gear, fitness and health concerns, and much more. Once this foundation was set we were introduced to our boats, Valley Avocets. We practiced edging our boats and bracing in order to learn how the boats behaved and to recognize primary stability versus secondary stability traits of the kayak. We then graduated to forward strokes and eventually we went on a short trip around the harbor. All in all it was quite thorough and a lot to assimilate in one day.

Rita practicing edging her kayak
Rita practicing edging her kayak

Our second day of classes covered advanced paddle strokes, braces, sculling, wet exits and rescues. We ventured out beyond the shelter of the harbor into Lake Michigan and even played in the wake of the Beaver Island ferry.

Our last day of instruction was a trip to Garden Island. This involved an open water crossing of about 2 miles. The trip was planned out on land using compass and charts, Ken gave us an introduction to chart navigation so we would understand the interaction between wind, current, and paddling speed in order to aim our boats in the right direction to compensate for drift.

Halfway between Beaver and Garden Islands
Halfway between Beaver and Garden Islands

On the water, we paddled out to our first destination, a buoy marking the shipping channel between Beaver Island and Garden Island. Here we rafted up, rested and Ken gave us our next landmark to set course.

We landed at Garden Island, had lunch and planned our return. When we arrived back at Beaver Island, Rita and I were quite excited as we had paddled in 2 foot waves, seen some amazing scenery, and had accomplished what we felt was quite a feat considering that this trip was our very first time on anything other than slow, shallow rivers.

When we departed from Beaver Island, we knew we were hooked on both sea kayaking and Beaver Island.



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