There’s no shortage of ways to explore Traverse City’s landmark river, the Boardman. Bring your own kayak, canoe or paddleboard or choose from a wide selection of outfitters in the area.

This article was featured in the 2021 Traverse Magazine Vacation Guide. Download your free digital issue today to experience the full guide for yourself.

For many people, the Boardman holds a special place in their hearts after just one trip down its sometimes unruly, always beautiful, course. Here are a few popular spots to jump on and enjoy the river:

The Boardman’s Upper Stretches & Forks State Forest Campground 
The upper stretches of the Boardman are generally slower and lazier. A popular spot to paddle is from Shumsky Road Canoe Launch to Beitner Road. (Just below Beitner are some rapids, so be sure to watch for the spot to get out on the right, just before going under the road.) This stretch takes about 1.5 hours.

Another popular put-in is at Forks State Forest Campground on Brown Bridge Road. There are several places to pull out along the way. A long, leisurely day paddle will take you four to five hours to pull out at Shumsky Road.

Tips for Taking on The Boardman
Some stretches of the Boardman are tight and twisty, so prepare for the occasional dust-up with your partner when you have to lie flat going under an overhanging branch! Other than that, enjoy the wilds of the Boardman. Most of it is truly secluded. You won’t see many houses or people. Instead, you’ll be immersed in Michigan’s beauty with fish rising, ducks paddling and river rippling.

Easy Paddling on the Boardman River
For an easy in-town paddle, consider renting from Paddle TC at Clinch Park Marina. Paddle along the edge of the swim area on Grand Traverse Bay, heading east just a short stretch, before hooking a right into the mouth of the river. You can paddle this calm, smooth stretch of the Boardman behind the shops and restaurants of downtown before turning and floating back down.

Paddle TC’s sister company, Kayak Brewery Tours, also offers outings like the KaBrew where you can paddle and bike brewery to brewery in downtown Traverse City.

Advanced Paddling on the Boardman
Another choice for advanced paddlers is The Boardman River Experience, offered by The River Outfitters in Traverse City, running about one hour and through some rapids from Jack’s Landing to Medalie Park. (Expect to get wet!) They also rent kayaks and SUPs.

You’ll pay around $25–$30 an hour or $75–$100 for a day of kayak or SUP rentals. You also can pick between single or double kayaks and split the cost (and the blame for mishaps!) with a buddy.

Tips on What to Wear when Paddling the Boardman River

Paddle TC offers these tips on what to wear:

  • Dress for the water, not the weather.
  • Take into consideration the water temperature rather than the air temperature.
  • Layers of quick-dry clothing are ideal, and hats, sunglasses and sunscreen are highly recommended.
  • Wear sturdy, strap-on sandals or water shoes.
  • Bring, or rent, dry bags for valuables (wallet, keys, phone, etc.).
  • Always, wear a lifejacket.

Find this article and more in the 2021 issue of the Traverse Magazine Vacation Guide. If you’re not subscribed to Traverse Magazine, you can download the Vacation Guide for free.

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