Explore crystal-clear waters like never before. This paddle in Elk Rapids is a stunning, can’t-miss adventure.

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It’s my perspective above Elk Lake that I so enjoy as I dip my paddle into the water. Sun-bleached, bark-less trees rest on the lake’s floor, crisscrossed on top of one another. The pale green, Caribbean-colored water is so clear that I have a hard time distinguishing depth—are the trees below mere inches away, or many feet?

Elk Lake has 28 miles of shoreline to explore, making it a stand-up paddle boarder’s dream. It’s also a part of the Chain of Lakes, connecting to Torch Lake in the east, and on its west end, the east arm of the Grand Traverse Bay. The Elk Rapids Marina on Bridge Street is a perfect launch location, nestled in the village of Elk Rapids, about 20 miles north of Traverse City. (Tip: Bayfront Beach & Bike on River Street has half-day or full-day rentals.)

SUPs come in all types of lengths and widths, including rigid fiberglass and epoxy combinations and inflatables. Some have keels, fins and foot holes for more stability. Recreational basic boards are between 10 to 12 feet long and 32 to 34 inches wide. Inflatables come in a bag and are easy to store if you’re short on room. In addition to recreational boards, paddles can uplevel with race boards or surf-style boards. Some folks even take them touring, paddling down rivers for multiple days and strapping their gear on top with bungies.

The first time you stand up on your board, it’s kind of like being on a ladder—you must keep your feet reasonably stationary or risk falling. Good balance is an advantage, but stand-up paddleboarding is also a good way to build better balance and core strength.

I start out kneeling, then slowly raise my body upright, using my feet, spread apart to balance. It’s probably a good idea, once you get away from the dock, to rock your board until you fall off, to calculate its range and how far you can push it.

Local paddleboard expert Matt Mulligan says, “If you’re worried about getting wet on a paddleboard, you have no business being on it. If you look up, you stay up. If you look down, you go down.” That being said, wear your bathing suit or synthetic clothing and leave your wallet and phone on shore, just in case (or invest in a dry bag to keep your phone safe). Fortunately, inland Elk Lake warms up early compared to Lake Michigan, so going for an impromptu dip is actually enjoyable.

I paddle past the small marina, duck under the bridge and out into Elk Lake, which is about one to two miles wide and nine miles long. Elk Lake is an oligotrophic lake, which means it has low biological productivity, is nutrient poor and has abundant dissolved oxygen throughout its depths, making aquatic plants uncommon. The high level of calcium carbonate gives the water its beautiful emerald green color in the summer and the ability to see down to the quiet underwater forest. Those drowned trees date back to 1874, a time when a thriving sawmill was operating in the village.

It’s this scenery and the easy accessibility that make Elk Lake so special to me. And being just a few minutes from downtown Elk Rapid’s restaurants and boutiques is the icing on top. Take your time and enjoy the paddle.

Elk Lake in Elk Rapids

Photo by MyNorth Staff

Photo(s) by Dave Weidner