Chain of Lakes Water Trail

Water Trails

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 this planning document 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 are mapping the location of each sign and finalizing sign designs for each approved access site.  Paddle Antrim is committed to the installation of signage by 2021.

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. We were pleased to be part of this project and look forward to working with other access site owners on developing universal access sites throughout 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.