Day 24: Kayaking the Grand

This blog entry was written by fellow blogger Karie Luidens, a Grand Rapidian-turned-Seattleite. Hope you enjoy it!

Growing up in New York, I never gave much thought to what goes on in West Michigan, but once I ended up living in Grand Rapids I realized how much there was to love. Farmers markets! Art events! Breweries and bike paths! I’d been living in the city for four years when my brother came to visit, and by then I was eager to show off my new hometown with a whirlwind tour of my favorite spots.

When I asked him what he’d like to see first, though, he asked if we could do something on the water. I hesitated—not much experience there. Happily, a quick search of our local options brought me to Grand River Kayak and Canoe. We clicked through their website together, picked a tour to book, and were able to hit the river just a few hours later!

Grand River Kayak and Canoe is run by Matt Clouse and has an inventory of eight kayaks and four canoes to rent. They offer several different itineraries, but regardless of which one you choose, you’ll find Matt at the designated launch point to get you started. He’ll set you afloat in the current, then drive his eight-passenger van down to the pick-up point, where he’ll scoop you out and give you a lift back to your car.


The process couldn’t have gone more smoothly for my brother and me. Matt met us in Ah-Nab-Awen Park at the time we booked and provided all the equipment we needed, from life vests to waterproof storage for smaller items to, of course, the kayaks and paddles. After a quick fitting and tutorial, he helped us step into our watercraft and push off from the grassy banks. That was that! Away we drifted.

There’s nothing quite like an afternoon of kayaking. For those who haven’t given it a whirl, imagine the best elements of a good bike ride: fresh air whips through your hair as you roll along at a speed your legs alone can’t attain. You perch comfortably on an apparatus that lets you steer and set your own pace. In other words, it’s a perfect way to soak in some sights while getting a little light exercise.


On the Grand River that exercise is particularly light: it flows smoothly and steadily, with just enough force to pull you along even if you take a break from paddling. Larger bodies of water are often rife with choppy waves, criss-crossing currents, and buffeting winds that force kayakers to work double-time with their upper bodies. Not so here—despite the city’s name, there aren’t actually any rapids in Grand Rapids. This may change going forward if the non-profit Grand Rapids Whitewater succeeds in restoring some whitewater to the Grand by modifying the dams upriver of the city. For now, though, the water that flows past the Grand Rapids Public Museum and under the famous blue bridge is clear, tame, and easily navigated by novices.


My brother and I appreciated that this easy flow freed us up to admire our surroundings. The first portion of our expedition took us through a wide canyon of glassy skyscrapers. The hotels and offices of the Grand Rapids downtown form a lovely skyline when viewed on land, but seen from the water they took on an extra level of drama, both towering overhead and reaching down to meet us through their rippling reflections. The scene was urban through and through.

Before too long, though, buildings gave way to trees. The traffic faded as the river carried us beyond city limits into the greenery of Hopewell Indian Mounds Park. Here, deciduous woodlands lined the river’s edge on either side; the only sounds were shifting leaves, bird calls, and the slap and splash of our own paddles. It was remarkable how quickly we seemed to leave civilization behind as the Grand River’s gentle curves obscured the view behind and ahead of us. We didn’t think to pack a picnic, but if you brought along some sandwiches, now would be the perfect time to sit back in your boat and enjoy a snack. If you’re looking for more of a challenge, of course, you can continue to put your back into it and propel yourself along more swiftly. This is your trip—you can set the pace.


After about an hour and a half of pleasant paddling, we rounded the last bend and saw the dock that Matt had described for us before we launched. There he was, right on schedule, awaiting our arrival. He waved us over and helped us step onto dry land and drag our boats up behind us. Before we knew it he was whisking us back up into the downtown area to drop us by my car. They really have it down to a science, saving you any extra hassle and freeing you up to enjoy the rest of your afternoon in the downtown area.

As for us, we’d worked up just enough of an appetite to go enjoy a burger at HopCat a few blocks away, rounding out an excellent day of enjoying what the city has to offer.

If you’re interested in having your own adventure with Grand River Kayak and Canoe, visit their website.

To read more of Karie’s work, check her out at www.karieluidens.com.