Paddle Antrim Festival

Let’s Paddle!

SEPTEMBER 17-18, 2021

The Paddle Antrim Festival celebrates the amazing waterways and communities of Northern Michigan. The Festival, always the second weekend after Labor Day, includes a two-day paddle event through the Chain of Lakes Water Trail in Antrim County. This choose your own adventure paddle provides the opportunity for you to paddle one or both days and decide how far to travel. There are exits strategically placed along the route so you may go anywhere from 7 miles to all 42 miles.

We look forward to welcoming paddlers to the Chain of Lakes Water Trail for the 6th Paddle Antrim Festival on September 17-18, 2021.  The Festival will look a little different this year and registration will be limited to 150 paddlers at this time. Your safety and the safety of our staff and volunteers is very important to us. Due to COVID-19, we will be complying with all CDC, State, and local guidelines (e.g. masks and social distancing). Details and updates will be provided via email to all participants.


  • 5:30 pm-7:30 pm – Ellsworth River Park – Paddler Check-in, boat drop off, and boat wash station open.


  • 8:30 am-9:30 am – Ellsworth River Park – Paddler Check-in. 
  • 9:30 am – Ellsworth River Park – Safety brief. All paddlers must be in attendance.
  • 9:45 am – Launch!
  • Central Lake’s Thurston Park – Lunch for paddlers who purchased during registration.
  • 1:15 – All paddlers who intend to paddle to Bellaire must be past the Central Lake Checkpoint.
  • 2:00 pm -5:00 pm – Bellaire Richardi Park – Block Party


  • 6:45 am -7:45 am – Ohio Street Launch – Paddler Check-in. Breakfast for those who purchased with registration.
  • 7:45 am – Ohio Street Launch – Safety brief. All paddlers must attend, even those who paddled Friday.
  • 8:00 am – Launch! We will launch paddlers who are going past checkpoint 1 first. A bagged lunch will be provided for paddlers who purchased it during registration (please have a drybag to store until you are ready to eat).
  • 4:00 pm – After 4PM paddlers must exit at the next checkpoint they come to.
  • 3:00-9:00 – Join us at Short’s Pull Barn to celebrate!

Meal Options

Don’t want to worry about meals? No problem! Breakfast and lunches can be provided but must be added during registration. If you don’t register for meals, make sure to bring enough food to replace all those calories you burn while paddling, there aren’t places along the route to grab food. 

Friday Lunch – Wraps with a side will be available.

Saturday Breakfast – Burritos and coffee will be available.

Saturday Lunch – Wraps with trail mix and an apple will be available. Lunches will be provided at the beginning launch to eat along the route. Please bring a dry bag (or large ziplock) to keep your lunch dry.

For paddlers exiting Day 2 at Checkpoint #1, the Dockside Restaurant will open early so feel free to stop in once you are off the water!

Shuttle Service

Shuttle service will be available for people, no boats. When you register, identify where you are going to end your paddle. That is the location you will drop off your vehicle the morning you paddle (times/locations below). Shuttle buses will pick up passengers and drive you to the launch.  This way your vehicle is waiting for you when you get off the water.  You must drop off your boat/equipment at the launch prior to taking the shuttle.  All shuttle passengers must pre-register for shuttle service with registration to ensure enough seating. 

DAY 1:

Checkpoint 2: Richardi Park parking lot – 8:30 am you may need to park along street

Checkpoint 1: Central Lake Thurston Park Pavilion near playground – 8:45 am – parking is along street

DAY 2:

Checkpoint 5 Elk Rapids Rotary Park – 6:30 am – Park in parking lot by Swan Statue (not launch)

Checkpoints 3 & 4: Torch River Bridge DNR Parking lot  – 6:55 am – Recreation Passport required

Checkpoint 2: Alden Safe Harbor parking lot – 7:05 am – Few spots, parking is along streets

Checkpoint 1: Dockside Restaurant – 7:20 am– Park in spaces away from restaurant and water, along roadway


We will provide refillable jugs of fresh local water at all the checkpoints along the route! Make sure to bring a water bottle!


Check out our lodging section for great places to stay. Many of these local businesses offer great specials to paddlers during the event.  

Equipment and Rental Accessories

Check out our outfitters section to find out where you can rent a boat locally or pick up any last minute paddling supplies. Paddles and Pedals in Bellaire is the only rental place locally we are aware of who has boats which meet our safety requirements to go past Checkpoint 1 on Day 2. 

Boat Wash Station

We will have a mobile boat washing station at check-in and exit on Day 1. In an effort to safeguard against invasive species, Paddle Antrim is requiring that either:

  1. A) Participants have their paddle crafts and equipment washed and inspected at the check-in by staff and mobile boat washing unit. OR
  2. B) assure with officials at registration that their watercraft and equipment have not been in another body of water for 10 or more days. OR
  3. C) their watercraft and equipment have been power washed with hot water.

Coming Soon.


Paddling Route

Friday:  Begin in Ellsworth and travel 7 miles through four small lakes to the first checkpoint in Central Lake, a great spot to get out and stretch. For those who continue, it’s another 8 miles through Intermediate Lake to Bellaire.  Time to complete the entire route averages 4-7 hours.

Saturday: Begin in Bellaire  and travel 9 miles to the first checkpoint, Dockside Restaurant’s Beach. For those whose boat meets the additional criteria, you can continue and travel up to 27 miles to Elk Rapids.  There are 3 additional checkpoints along the way (#2 Alden at 14 miles, #3 Torch River Bridge at 17 miles & #4 Chippewa Trail at 21 miles) where paddlers can end their day to make it a perfect adventure for them.  To complete the entire route, paddlers must stay focused and paddling averages 8-10 hours to complete the entire route, depending on ability and conditions.  The first 9 miles are calmer waters but after the first checkpoint the route includes larger lakes and a lake crossing which requires a higher skill level.  Choose the best adventure for you and your ability and feel free to end your paddle at any checkpoint, this is not a race!

Festival Map


Possible Paddling Experiences

These paddling experiences are just to give you an idea of the possibilities this event can provide and we encourage paddlers to choose the experience that is right for them. Paddlers should always paddle with someone and can always exit at any checkpoint along the route.  Whichever day or route is chosen, paddlers can participate in the local events all weekend long.

Beginner: For new paddlers or those looking for a shorter relaxed route, consider registering for Friday and exiting the first checkpoint in Central Lake for a total of 7 miles. Note: For many recreational paddle boarders, 7 miles will be a long distance. 

Intermediate: Both days offer great intermediate routes. On Friday, the entire 15 mile route is considered an intermediate level paddle. On Saturday, paddling to the first checkpoint (9 miles) is a great intermediate route. After the first checkpoint, your boat must meet the additional criteria and you should consider the day’s conditions as waves are common once going past the first checkpoint and entering Torch Lake.

Advanced: The entire 42 miles over the two days is no small feat and the names of all those who complete the entire route are recognized on the “Hall of Fame”. On Day 2, after mile 9, paddlers can expect waves and wind for the remaining paddle, which includes a lake crossing for the final six miles. All paddlers should have self-rescue skills and proper safety equipment including but not limited to: flotation/airtight bulkheads, bilge pump, paddle float, spray skirt with wet exit experience, and a signaling device.

Community Parties – Due to COVID-19 guidelines/direction from CDC, State, and local health organizations, our community celebrations may not look like they have in the past but we look forward to gathering and celebrating with new and old friends. 

Kickoff Party

Thursday – Ellsworth River Park – 5:30-8:00 pm – Drop off your boat, check-in and stay to enjoy a relaxing evening with fellow paddlers.  

Block Party

Friday – Bellaire Richardi Park – 2:00-5:00 pm – After paddling, paddlers can stay and join us for some fun in Richardi Park.  The Bellaire Chamber of Commerce will host a great block party with fun outdoor games and live music to celebrate a great first day on the water.  

Final Bash

Saturday – Elk Rapids – 3:00 – 9:00 pm – Whether you paddled hard, helped someone else paddle, or if you just enjoy a good time, join us for the Final Bash on Saturday in Elk Rapids at Short’s Brewing Company’s Pull Barn.  This great time is open to all paddlers, friends, and the local community.  There will be the finest beers/ciders, great food and live music. We will also recognize our “Hall of Fame” paddlers who completed the entire route both days at 6:30pm. 

  1. HAVE FUN!
  2. All participants must be 18 years or older and in proper physical condition to participate.
  3. All types of people-powered kayaks, canoes, paddle boards, and surfskis will be allowed for Day 1 and also Day 2 up to Checkpoint 1. All crafts must exit at Checkpoint 1 on Day 2 if additional criteria are not met.
  4. To continue past Checkpoint 1 on Day 2 the boat must be one of the following. Each craft will be inspected for compliance, please feel free to contact us if you have questions on your specific boat.
    A. A kayak with water-tight bulkheads in the bow and the stern and a minimum length of 12 feet. Positive secured flotation is allowed in lieu of bulkheads  but may be subject to demonstrating ability to displace enough water to complete a deep-water re-entry. (For flotation bag examples, click here
    B. A sit on top kayak with a minimum length of 12 feet.
    C. A surfski with a minimum length of 12 feet. A boat leash is required.
    D. A paddle board with a minimum length of 12 feet. A leash is required.
  5. A US Coast Guard approved inherently buoyant vest-style personal flotation device (PFD, i.e. life jacket) must be properly worn at all times. No inflatable or belt style life jackets are allowed.
  6. PADDLER SAFETY IS VERY IMPORTANT TO US! A whistle, flares, or other signaling device is required. We recommended paddlers have the ability to do some form of kayak remount or self-rescue. Spray skirts are recommended but only if you are skilled in doing a wet exit while wearing one. Paddlers should never paddle alone, especially in large or rough bodies of waters.
  7. All paddlers must attend the safety briefing prior to the paddle and follow the designated course.
  8. No alcohol will be allowed on the water.  Paddlers who consume alcohol before or during, including at checkpoints, will not be allowed to continue.  There will be great festivities to celebrate at once you are off the water!
  9. No pets are allowed.
  10. Paddle Antrim reserves the right to change the route or remove any paddler from the event due to any safety concerns. 
  11. Refunds for registration can be requested up to September 1st. Refunds will be 100% minus $15 service fee. Registrations cancellations made after September 1st will be given the choice of donating their fees to Paddle Antrim or transferring the registration to 2022. Transfer of registrations to another individual may be requested anytime. 
  12. In the event that State or local COVID-19 restrictions prevent holding the Paddle Antrim Festival, registrants will be given the choice of receiving a refund, transferring their registration to 2022 or donating their fees to Paddle Antrim. Donations are tax deductible and will be used to support Paddle Antrim’s mission to support water trail  infrastructure and stewardship of our waterways. 

Online shop coming soon….

Thank you to all of our amazing 2021 Wavemaker sponsors! Their sponsorship is key to being able to host such an amazing event and raise money to protect our waterways! Please take a moment to thank these great folks for making this all happen!


Thank you to all of our amazing volunteers. Executing this festival takes a village and we wouldn’t be able to do it without your help.

Interested in becoming a volunteer? Please take a moment to fill out our Volunteer Form or contact us at

Click below to see Our great photos from the 2019 Paddle Antrim Festival

View Photos

Click below to read the Paddle Antrim Festival’s frequently asked questions

Read FAQs