Michigan’s Inland Waterway: Connecting Past and Present

An announcement came last month that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources will be making an effort to increase awareness of its water trails. And why not? Michigan may not be the “land of a thousand lakes,” but it is littered with ponds, lakes, streams and rivers that cut through the untouched northern wilderness.

Cheboygan River.

One of the oldest and most historic water trails in the state is the Inland Waterway, a 40-mile series of rivers and lakes near the tip of the Lower Peninsula that can take travelers from Lake Michigan to Lake Huron, with only a few miles of portage.

Beginning at Crooked Lake in the small community of Conway—just three miles from Lake Michigan and Little Traverse Bay—the path then connects to the Crooked River, then into Burt Lake, into the Indian River, to Mullett Lake, and then the Cheboygan River ultimately travels into Lake Huron. Curious travelers also have the option of veering from the Cheboygan River onto the Black  River and into Black Lake. A map of the trail is shown below.

Michigan’s Inland Waterway.

Prior to European settlement in the 1800’s, Native Americans discovered the Inland Waterway as an alternative to the dangerous waves of Lake Michigan near the Straits of Mackinac. In 1873, the Grand Rapids & Indiana Railroad was constructed, making it easy for new tourists to discover the route.

Today, the water trail connects six communities and seven state parks. The Inland Water Route Historical Society maintains a museum in Alanson for tourists interested in learning more.


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