Chain of Lakes Water Trail

Chain of Lakes Water Trail


Chain of Lakes Water Trail in 2020

In 2019, Paddle Antrim completed a capital campaign to begin implementation necessary element to open the Chain of Lakes Water Trail.  In 2020, Paddle Antrim will fabricate and install signs at all access sites where a water trail agreement is in place. We will also develop a waterproof paddlers guide to provide the necessary information for paddlers while they are in the water.  An updated website will be developed to share the necessary information with paddlers and the community. After the trail is open, we will market the trail to to share this great regional asset with others in the state and the Mid-West.

Chain of Lakes Water Trail Campaign Donors

Paddle Antrim is extremely grateful to each organization, business, and individual who helped us secure the $275,000 needed to begin the implementation of the water trail in 2020.  We want to extend a special thanks to our significant donors.

$25,0000 or more
Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development
Rotary Charities of Traverse City
The Harry A. and Margaret D. Towsley Foundation
The Consumers Energy Foundation
Rosso Family Foundation

DTE Energy Foundation
Frey Foundation
Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation
Chris and Merrie Corbett

Charlevoix County Community Foundation

Shanty Creek Resorts
Bellaire DDA
Elk Rapids DDA
Dole Family Foundation
Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy
Little Traverse Conservancy
Bellaire, Village of
Sid and Esther Brown Family Foundation
Central Lake, Village of
Clearwater Township
William and Phyllis Donberg
Ellsworth, Village of
Elk Rapids, Village of
Frederick and Barbara Malpass
Richard and Kimiko Williams

Water Trail Planning & History

Paddle Antrim is a non-profit organization, founded in 2014, with a mission to protect water resources in Northern Michigan’s Chain of Lakes by using paddle sports to connect people to these waterways. Through stewardship, education, improved water trail access, and promotion of our waterways we will increase water resource protection and enhance the economic vitality of the region. We believe when people are engaged and active on the water, they will work to protect water quality from concerns such as erosion, sedimentation, and aquatic invasive species.

Paddle Antrim is leading the development of the Chain of Lakes Water Trail. Planning for the trail began in 2014. Seventeen access site owners, including units of government and non-profit organizations, have approved resolutions of support authorizing 81 access sites with routes totaling over 80 miles to be included on the water trail.

Paddle Antrim is leading the effort to create and market a new non-motorized water trail through the Chain of Lakes. We are pleased to share the Chain of Lakes Water Trail Summary and 2016 Water Trail Plan. We continue to use water trail plan as a tool with our partners, champions, and other supporters as we work to plan and install for necessary improvements to the trail and access sites as well as promotional materials.

As Paddle Antrim does not own any of the access sites, we depend on our partnerships with local government jurisdictions and non-profit organizations to help develop this trail. All of the access sites identified in the water trail plan are public access sites which have been approved by the local jurisdiction for inclusion. These sites and intermediate/advanced water trails have been identified and included on Michigan Water Trails website.  Our website has information on lodging opportunities and liveries to rent kayaks/canoes/paddleboards.

State Designated Water Trail

On December 20, 2018 Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources named the Chain of Lakes as one of the first eight state designated water trails (State’s designation announcement).  We are honored to be recognized for our commitment in developing a premier water trail.


Thanks to the generous support of the Charlevoix County Community Foundation, Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation, and the Grand Traverse Band of Chippewa and Ottawa Indians, we mapped the location of each sign and finalized sign designs for each approved access site.  Paddle Antrim is committed to the installation of signage by the end of 2020.

Universal Access Sites

We are also dedicated to developing water trail access sites that allow for universal access for all individuals. As part of the Water Trail Plan, we assessed five different access sites and proposed improvements to create universal access. In the Spring of 2017, the first universal access site was installed on the Chain of Lakes Water Trail at the Milton Township Waterfront Park in Kewadin. The Village of Bellaire has designed a universal access site for Richardi Park and is currently seeking funding for installation.  Paddle Antrim announced in October 2019 they will be working with the Village of Elk Rapids on design of a universal kayak launch at Rotary Park, with a design to be completed by the summer of 2020.  We were pleased to be working with the access site owners to improve access sites so more people can experience the water trail.

What is a Water Trail?

A water trail is a designated route along a river, lake, canal or bay specifically designed for people using small, non-motorized boats like kayaks, canoes, single sailboats or rowboats. These trails are the aquatic equivalent to a hiking trail. Water trails typically feature well-developed access and launch points, are near significant historical, environmental or cultural points of interest, and often include nearby amenities such as restaurants, hotels and campgrounds.

What Are the Benefits of Water Trails?

  • Encourage healthy lifestyles and active living by providing access to different paddling activities.
  • Foster a strong sense of community and place, providing an opportunity for social interaction and access to community amenities such as parks and downtown areas.
  • Encourage preservation and protection of local waterways.
  • Positively impact the local economy. Water trails can help attract and support tourism and new business opportunities.

Water Trail Next Steps

Paddle Antrim’s next steps include:

  • Develop partnership agreements with access site owners.
  • Prioritize trail and access site improvements.  Improvements may include better parking areas, barrier free access sites, enhanced restroom facilities, and places to clean watercraft to discourage the spread of invasive species.
  • Install signs at each approved access site where a partnership agreement is in place.
  • Seek official endorsement of public access points for inclusion in the water trail from the remaining units of government and develop additional water trail routes.
  • Develop a marketing plan for the trail.
  • Continue to work with and consider input from local units of government and other project partners to develop and maintain a premier water trail for the region.

Partnerships Working Together

Many significant shore lands have already been protected as parks and natural areas within the Chain of Lakes which are great assets for a water trail.  In 2014, the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy developed an inventory of potential access points for the water trail, as well as information on potential paddling routes and points of interest.  We appreciate being able to use this information as a foundation for the water trail plan. Our role leading the development of the water trail follows the model of many other organizations around the state and nation. We continue to work with a long list of public and private sector partners to develop the new water trail and we are grateful for their collaboration. Seventeen units of government and non-profit organizations have adopted resolutions or written letters authorizing inclusion of access sites to the water trail.  There are also many other local businesses, organizations, and individuals who have also supported and contributed to the development of the plan.

The units of government and non-profit organizations who own/manage access sites that have been approved include:

  • Antrim County
  • Banks Township
  • Bellaire, Village of
  • Central Lake Township
  • Central Lake, Village of
  • Clearwater Township
  • Ellsworth, Village of
  • Elk Rapids, Village of
  • Forest Home Township
  • Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy
  • Grass River Natural Area, Inc.
  • Helena Township
  • Kearney Township
  • Little Traverse Conservancy
  • Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
  • Milton Township
  • Torch Lake Township
  • Whitewater Township

Commitment to the Waterways

Paddle Antrim is deeply committed to the stewardship of the waterways. We are excited about the opportunity to integrate information about water quality protection and stewardship into the planning and marketing effort for the water trail. With the support of many partner organizations, we will prioritize information on invasive species and other concerns into our marketing materials.  We hope to develop and install some modest signage at strategic access points along the route that provides information about ways that recreational users can support and sustain on-going efforts to preserve and manage lands and shorelines to maintain high water quality. This includes sharing information about the on-going efforts and leadership of local watershed groups, lake associations, and others and their important water quality monitoring and protection work.