You really haven’t “done” the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore unless you’ve floated the Platte River. For those visiting the area, the thought of floating a river on an inner tube might sound crazy. They’ve never done it. They’ve never thought of doing it. But, as they say, when in Rome…

The Platte River stretches nearly 30 miles, starting at Long Lake in Traverse City and flowing out into Lake Michigan near Honor. The best stretch to float is the Lower Platte, starting just below the bridge on M22 at Riverside Canoes near Honor. You can bring your own boat, tube or kayak, or rent from Riverside Canoes. (Rates start at $9 for 1 hour or $16 for 2 hours.) 

The river is often packed on weekends in the summer. Expect to make friends! If you want solitude, consider an early morning paddle or a weekday for less congestion. 

You’ll need to have a car at the end to get everyone back to the start, so don’t forget to allow time and plans for that. You’ll need two drivers and two cars. Or you can purchase Riverside’s shuttle service.

Kayaking on the Platte River


The long float
 

The float from the M22 bridge (or Riverside Canoes) out to Lake Michigan is considered the “long” float and takes between 2 to 3 hours. If you’re paddling a canoe or kayak, you can travel at a faster pace. If you’re in a tube, expect the float to take much longer. The current in the Platte is so mild that a strong headwind might push your tube back up the river! 

The best option, regardless of your float, is to consider it a day trip with lots of stops for swimming and snacking along the way. The water temps in the summer can reach 80 degrees, so a summer day on the Platte is often comfortable and warm. 

The river bottom is mostly sandy and the water shallow. But be sure to stop and enjoy the deep corners on the river by jumping in (there are plenty of people on the river, so you’ll find the hot spots right away!) for a swim. There are also a few sandy spots to shore up and take a break at. And, for the adventurous in your group, be sure to sneak down a river cut through the reeds for some exploring. (Don’t worry, all the cuts dump back into the river, and your group will be quickly reunited!)

The long float takes you through Loon Lake. You can hug the shore or you can cut through the middle of the little lake (this takes a little more brass—you are well over your head and can’t see the bottom—little ones need their life jackets). 

You’ll need to have a car at the end to get everyone back to the start, so don’t forget to allow time and plans for that. You’ll need two drivers and two cars. Or you can purchase Riverside’s shuttle service.

 

The short float
 

A shorter float option is to put in at El Dorado Boat Launch on Lake Michigan Road, a little farther down the river. If you have your own equipment, you can drop your goods at El Dorado, then have your most robust participant drive up and park a car at Lake Township Park before hiking back to El Dorado to set sail. The walk won’t be long, maybe 10 to 15 minutes. Then you’ll have your car waiting for you at the end, stocked with a cooler of drinks and food of course! 

A tube float from El Dorado park takes about two hours, often a perfect length for a group with a wide variety of ages to accommodate. If you’re paddling a boat, it is probably too short – less than an hour.

Tubing on the Platte River
 

The end
 

The river ends at where the Platte meets Lake Michigan. On one side is the river and Lake Township Park…on the other is Lake Michigan and Platte Point Beach. Kids can play on the sand dunes along the warm waters of the river before hiking over to the Lake Michigan side and dipping into the chilly waters of the Great Lakes. The mouth of the river also serves as a boat launch and becomes deep and fast, so be sure to avoid the area by coming to shore to hike over to Lake Michigan. Bonus: There are restroom facilities at Lake Township Park.
 


Other tips:
 

  • Consider bringing an extra tube to float your cooler in. You’ll definitely want a cold drink along the way, along with snacks.
  • The access points mentioned here are located inside the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which requires a pass ( $25 weekly or $45 annual ) for anywhere within its borders. This pass allows you access to all areas within the park including its parking lots (including roadside parking when lots are full). The park does not offer daily passes.
  • The Lake Township parking lot at the end of the river requires a $5 fee, first-come, first-served and is usually full by 11 a.m.
  • Pets are allowed on the river, but they are not allowed in Lake Township Park or at the beach at the end. 
  • Car keys, wallets and phones are lost every year from pockets on the Platte. Be sure to think ahead on how you can carry your valuables. You might consider a dry bag secured to your tube or putting one person in charge of the car keys, leaving the rest of technology locked in your car for the day.
  • Glass containers are prohibited in the Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore.
     

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