MyNorth News Service

(Press Release provided by Traverse City Tourism)

TRAVERSE CITY: Most small-town festivals last more than a day. But a group of riparian communities in Northern Michigan are putting on a kayaking festival this fall that also lasts for 40 miles. The Paddle Antrim Festival is a perfect Northern Michigan event for those who love the Northern Michigan outdoors as well as boating and paddling.

The two-day Paddle Antrim Festival, scheduled for September 18-19, is actually a leisurely trip through four waterside villages in the Chain of Lakes region of Antrim County, just northeast of Traverse City – an area that has some of the loveliest scenery in the state but is rarely seen in its entirety.

The festival is being organized by Paddle Antrim, a nonprofit group founded in 2014 to promote paddle sports as a way to preserve and enhance the region’s water quality and encourage economic growth. According to the group’s executive director, Deana Jerdee, the idea is to increase appreciation for the region’s unique waterways by bringing kayakers face-to-face with their beauty.

Marked by steep hills and long, twisting valleys, Antrim’s glacier-carved highlands still have much of the rugged charm that led Ernest Hemingway to call it “the last good country.”  Looping back and forth through this landscape, the Chain of Lakes is a 75-mile waterway of 14 narrow lakes, linked together in a sinuous chain from the high drumlins above Ellsworth to the sandy beaches of Grand Traverse Bay.

Several of the larger lakes — Torch Lake and Elk Lake in particular — are considered among the most beautiful in the world, and the region has long been a favorite destination for boaters and fishermen. Most travelers experience the lakes in fleeting, unconnected glimpses from the road, but the new festival is designed to give paddlers a chance to experience it intimately by promoting a different way of touring: by “water trail.”

Water trails (sometimes known as “blueways”) are the aquatic version of hiking or cycling trails – they’re routes on rivers, lakes, bays and other waterways, designed with small non-motorized boats in mind. They usually include well-developed access points, and tend to be located near spots of significant historical or scenic interest. And it helps if there are also nearby amenities like restaurants, hotels and campgrounds.

Michigan has dozens of these water-based trail systems – 2,485 miles of trails on its Great Lakes coastline and another 1,384 miles of trails on inland waterways. The Chain of Lakes is actually part of a proposed trail that will also include the coast of East Grand Traverse Bay from Elk Rapids to Old Mission.

The two-day noncompetitive event will take participants down this series of connected waterways and through the towns that line its banks. On the first day, they will start in the village of Ellsworth, pass through Central Lake and meander through numerous small inland lakes on the 16-mile route to Bellaire. The next morning, paddlers continue for 27 miles through the larger lakes of the Lower Chain – including Torch Lake’s dazzling turquoise waters – to Elk Rapids, on the shore of East Grand Traverse Bay.

Kayakers are free to travel the entire route or select one of the two days.

The tour concept was actually developed several years ago by a popular Bellaire microbrewery, Short’s Brewing, which created a similar water tour called the “Short’s to Short’s Paddle” linking its original brewpub to its bottling facility in Elk Rapids. Short’s and its distributor, Imperial Beverage, are a major sponsor of the new festival.

But Paddle Antrim’s Jerdee sees the tour as a way to promote the towns and villages that lie along the shores of each lake and to help them see themselves as part of a larger, interdependent system.

“We’ve been focused on getting the communities involved, and they’ve put together all kinds of events for the paddlers,” she said.  “In Ellsworth, there’s a wonderful breakfast in Community Park, in Central Lake paddlers can stop to relax with a free bagged lunch.  Bellaire is putting on a block party at Richardi Park on Friday night with refreshments and music, and there’s going to be a big Final Celebration on Saturday night in downtown Elk Rapids.”

Early registration for the full two-day event is $72; for a single day, the cost is $45. More information on Paddle Antrim and the Festival is available at or by calling (231) 492-0171.

More Northern Michigan Paddling

Paddling the Manistee River

Crossing Lake Michigan on Paddleboards

Nick Murray of TC Surfski in Suttons Bay
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Photo(s) by Traverse City Tourism