Paddle Northern Michigan's Pristine Waters

The Chain of Lakes Water Trail, in northwest Michigan, is a 100+ mile inland water trail made up of 12 lakes and interconnected rivers which flow into the East Grand Traverse Bay of Lake Michigan. The Chain of Lakes is divided into the Upper Chain and Lower Chain, separated by a dam in the Village of Bellaire. This water trail is diverse with both small and large lakes, connected by meandering rivers, creating opportunities for all levels of paddlers to enjoy. The water trail connects people to the natural environment as well as vibrant communities. Whether kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding or fishing, there are opportunities for all to explore.

Plan Your Trip


Routes are categorized by skill level. This recommended skill level is based on the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Water Trail Handbook (2018).

  • BEGINNER – Routes with minimum hazards suitable for new paddlers with new to basic skills. These routes are in small inland lakes with little or no current, no portages required, and normally limited waves. Access sites are typically every 3-4 miles.
  • INTERMEDIATE – Routes suitable for paddlers with some boat control skills, self-recovery skills and stamina. Paddlers should have the expectation of moderate waves when windy. Portages may be required. Access sites are typically every 3-8 miles.
  • ADVANCED – Routes suitable with paddlers whose skills include advance paddling, self-rescue, risk management, navigation, and stamina. Routes may include open water crossings and areas where landing is dangerous due to shoreline conditions. There is potential for high waves from wind and encountering motorized boat traffic. Portages may be required. Access sites may be up to twelve miles apart, with only emergency access sites and rest stops available within those twelve miles.


  • TRAILHEADS – Trailheads are primary access sites that have a suitable launch, parking and restrooms. Many have other amenities such as trash, potable water, and picnic areas.
  • ALTERNATE ACCESS SITES – Alternate access sites have a suitable launch and at least some legal parking along a public roadway.
  • EMERGENCY ACCESS SITES – Emergency access sites are public access sites that are not maintained for entry/exit from the water and do not provide parking.
  • REST STOPS – Rest stops are places where it is permissible to land a paddle craft, but not a place where a road is readily accessible.