Whether you own a boat or want to rent one, here’s the inside scoop on how to navigate Michigan’s Inland Waterway from Petoskey to Cheboygan.

Consider the North’s Inland Waterway your ticket to ride. A 40-mile stretch of interconnected lakes and rivers running from Pickerel Lake, just east of Petoskey, to Lake Huron’s shores in Cheboygan, the inland waterway is the longest continuous water route in the state. The best way to melt into its sleepy summertime pace: a lazy drift—water lapping, line trolling—as you putter away the day.

Things to know if you’re bringing your own boat—information courtesy of the Indian River Regional Chamber of Commerce:

  • Can handle boats up to 65 feet long (18-foot beam) with up to a 5-foot draft, though navigation on the Crooked River generally limits boats to 25 feet.
  • Bridges along the way that do not open include the Lincoln Avenue bridge with a vertical clearance of 20 feet, M-33 bridge at 16.7 feet, M-27 bridge with a clearance of 14.7 feet, and the M-68 bridge with a 16-foot clearance.
  • The Alanson Swing Bridge on the Crooked River is the world’s smallest operating swing bridge.

Don’t own a boat? Don’t worry. Pontoons, fishing boats, ski boats, kayaks and canoes are available to rent at various marinas along the waterway. Some to try: Indian River Marina (231-238-9373); The Landings on Indian River (231-238-9955); or Alanson’s Ryde Marine (231-347-8273).

Fishing, swimming, sunning and nature watching are usually the main events on the waterway, but set aside time to come ashore in some of the quaint towns along its way: Indian River, Alanson and Cheboygan offer opportunities for food, cocktails and shopping. If you’re looking to get in a little extra legwork, anchor offshore at Burt Lake State Park, where you can strut your sea legs on a mile-long walk in the woods.

Want to learn more about the history of this famed waterway, upon which steamboats carried pleasure-seeking Victorian passengers at the turn of the century, and as many as 50 Native American encampments called home in the last 3,000 years? You’ll find the whole story, plus artifacts and photos, at the Inland Waterway Museum in Alanson.

Northern Michigan Boating

Photo(s) by Kelly Rewa