Paddle through Traverse City’s urban arteries on the beautiful Boardman River.

Wide and slow in its lower stretches, the skinny water near the Boardman River’s headwaters provides a deceptively technical and quick-paced paddle. I like to head for the upper stretches that often get overlooked.

While numerous take-outs along the Boardman River allow for brief excursions, set aside a few hours for a more immersive experience. Paddling from Forks State Forest Campground on Brown Bridge Road down to Shumsky Road (the launch is adjacent to the campground) is a 4.5-hour trip with a blend of scenery and water conditions to keep paddlers engaged but not exhausted.

Embarking from the tight oxbows of this upper stretch, the water slips past cedar canopy and sweepers before shooting through culverts just past Ranch Rudolf. From here, the stream continues its lively pace, skimming over the gravel shoals of Scheck’s Place State Forest Campground and slipping under the serpentine Brown Bridge Road a second time. Downstream, the current curtails, the river widens and the riparian woodlands give way to a vast grassland. Formerly Brown Bridge Pond, the receded waters have exposed an open prairie similar to the grassland trout streams of Montana and Wyoming.

The Boardman heads under Brown Bridge Road one final time, churning beneath the traffic of Garfield, and from here on out, it’s pure Northern Michigan. The banks are hemmed in with cedars, spruce, tag alders and dogwood. The generous width and slower flow of the river make for a relaxing drift during the final hour of the voyage. Watch for the launch/ take-out on the right, just downstream of Shumsky Road, to avoid overshooting your destination

Andrew VanDrie writes from Traverse City. 

Safety Tips

  • Always wear a life jacket.
  • Secure all items to the canoe’s gunwales or crossbar to prevent a downstream yard sale if your craft capsizes.
  • Take proper time and precaution when navigating tight corners.
  • Place the more experienced paddler in the rear of the canoe.
  • Tuck provisions in a dry bag. Sandwiches (especially a Mary’s Kitchen Port Gobbler) always boost morale.

Photo(s) by Andrew Vandrie