Kayaking (Photo: Woods and Waters)

Disconnect From Technology And Reconnect With Nature

Kayaking the Les Cheneaux Islands

Nestled in Michigan’s Eastern Upper Peninsula, the Les Cheneaux Islands offers a serene Lake Huron retreat.

Les Cheneaux, pronounced “lay shh-know,” is French for “the channels” and aptly describes the intricate network of bays and sheltered waterways that characterize this picturesque archipelago. With approximately 36 islands scattered along the shoreline between the towns of Cedarville and Hessel, the Les Cheneaux Islands are renowned for their natural beauty. A haven for wildlife and outdoor enthusiasts alike, the area offers a wide range of recreational activities, such as boating, fishing, hiking, and, most notably, kayaking.

One couple deeply connected to the Les Cheneaux Islands are Sue and Brian Bakkila. After falling in love with the area during a week-long stay in Hessel nearly 20 years ago, Sue and Brian began spending as much free time there as they could and are currently the proud owners and operators of Woods and Waters, offering guided kayak trips around the Les Cheneaux islands.

Kayaking (Photo by Tim Keen)
Kayaking (Photo by Tim Keen)

Committed to ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience, Woods and Waters’ tours vary in duration and intensity, from two-hour introductory paddles to multi-day adventures allowing guests to choose the experience that best suits their preferences and abilities. The “Little Dipper” tour provides an ideal introduction to kayaking, and as Sue Bakkila adds, “these tours are great for the ‘paddle-curious.’” Sunset and Full Moon tours offer a magical experience paddling beneath the evening sky. And for those seeking a more personalized adventure, their curated “Perfect Day” custom trips, complete with a Les Cheneaux Culinary School chef-prepared picnic lunch, allow for time spent on the water at your own pace. It might include swimming, rock hunting, a short hike at a nature preserve, or perhaps even a post-lunch nap. As one of their guides says, “We have nowhere to be and all day to get there.”

In addition to individual guided tours, Woods and Waters offer guided group trips, women’s retreats, and full-service overnight camping trips on Government Island—the archipelago’s only public island. They also provide adaptive paddling experiences to ensure everyone can explore the beauty of the Les Cheneaux Islands.

Woods and Waters group trip (Photo: Woods and Waters)
Woods and Waters group trip (Photo: Woods and Waters)

Of course, water safety is a top priority when enjoying the Great Lakes. Whether you’re new to kayaking or looking to sharpen your skills, Woods & Waters also offers lessons. Bakkila explains that these kayak lessons build an excellent foundation for continued self-improvement and practice for beginners and intermediate paddlers and can be tailored to cover specific skills such as self-rescues.

As with any type of activity, having the right equipment is essential. For navigating the unpredictable waters of Lake Huron, Bakkila recommends using a sea kayak for paddling Les Cheneaux and cautions that, unlike typical recreational-style kayaks, these longer boats make a paddling experience in Les Cheneaux immensely more enjoyable. While self-guided trips are possible for experienced paddlers, she encourages visitors planning a paddle in the area to stop by their shop, “We are always willing to share our knowledge of the islands and help plan the best trip possible. As local experts, we want to ensure that everyone makes good choices for the weather conditions and type of adventure they seek.”

Kayaking (Photo: Woods and Waters)
Kayaking (Photo: Woods and Waters)

While the natural beauty experienced during a kayaking trip is undoubtedly a highlight of any visit to the Les Cheneaux Islands, there is much more to discover beyond the water. The islands are steeped in history, with remnants of the French fur trade and Native American heritage visible throughout the region. Paddlers tracing the shoreline will also encounter a blend of cottages and architecturally-inspired boathouses – some modern, and many dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. Although the Les Cheneaux Island Antique Wooden Boatshow and Festival of Arts draws crowds and dozens of wooden boats every August, the abundance of these classic wooden boats in the region means that visitors can enjoy them anytime.

In addition to historical attractions, the area offers abundant recreational activities and points of interest, from hiking along the scenic North Country Trail, indulging in a farm-to-table dinner at the nearby Les Cheneaux Culinary School, savoring a homecooked meal at the Yooperman Restaurant, to sampling craft cocktails at the Les Cheneaux Distillery. Nearby points of interest, such as the Father Marquette National Memorial and the Native American Museum in St Ignace, offer additional options for exploration and adventure.

Whether seeking a peaceful escape or an action-packed adventure, the Les Cheneaux Islands have something for everyone. Kayaking the Les Cheneaux Islands is an experience like no other, offering a perfect blend of natural beauty, outdoor adventure, and historical intrigue. With the guidance of experts like Sue and Brian Bakkila and the staff at Woods and Waters, visitors can embark on a journey of discovery through this gem of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. For Sue Bakkila, the most rewarding aspect of their business is building relationships, sharing experiences, and sharing stories with their guests, “it’s about more than just kayaking—it’s about connecting with nature and creating memories that will last a lifetime.”

Plan your kayaking adventure in the Les Cheneaux Islands today and reconnect with nature in this tranquil paradise.

TOP PHOTO: Kayaking (Photo: Woods and Waters)

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