Start one mile south of Alanson and rent a pontoon boat from Ryde Marina (9088 Marina Dr., 231-347-8273), on the shores of Crooked Lake. The game plan: plenty of idling and puttering around as you cruise the Inland Waterway, a 45-mile chain of three rivers, two locks and four lakes that flows all the way to Lake Huron. Commence the lollygagging with an easy amble through Pickerel Channel, then head north through Crooked Lake and Crooked River toward Alanson. Summer cabins and worn driftwood pillars decorate the shoreline as you mosey the boat to the public dock and picnic area.
Park the pontoon here, then climb the gentle bluff toward town. Check out the photos and artifacts at the Inland Water Route Museum (6217 River St., iwrhs.com) for a quick history lesson, then duck into Dutch Oven Bakery (US 31 N., 231-548-2231, dutchoven.com) for picnic goodies — sandwiches made to order, plus a dizzying array of sweets.
From Alanson it’s about a four-hour ride to Cheboygan, a popular landing place for overnight boaters. If you’ve only got the day, though, make Burt Lake your destination. A shallow sandbar, public park and boat ramp make Maple Bay, five minutes from Crooked River’s mouth, a favorite local hangout. Beach-goers can also cruise to Burt Lake State Park (6635 State Park Dr., Indian River, 231-238-9392), half an hour from Crooked River at the southern tip of the lake. Throw the anchor in and toss a towel out on the bow–then jump in, lie out, snack and repeat.
Quick bite: Pauly’s Home Cookin’ in Alanson is a sweet little diner that dishes up breakfast all day, plus fresh Mackinac whitefish daily. (7529 Burr Ave., 231-548-6543)
Fact: Native Americans were the first to appreciate the Inland Waterway. It enabled them to travel from Lake Michigan to Lake Huron without having to battle treacherous waters around Waugoshance Point. Archeological studies have turned up traces of dozens of Indian encampments along the shores of the Inland Waterway, some of them dating back 3,000 years.