Northern Michigan’s Inland Waterway

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By Published On: October 24, 2022Categories: Latest ArticlesTags: , , , , ,

Three rivers, four lakes, one inland waterway, and Indian River is at the heart of it. Michigan’s Inland Waterway is a series of rivers, lakes, locks, and channels that interconnect to form a water trail that allows you to go from Lake Huron to within 10 miles of Lake Michigan without leaving the water. Those who love being out on the water for fishing and boating will find so much to do on this water trail.

This guide will provide the closest places to rent or launch a boat and suggest places to stay and eat near each part of the Inland Waterway while you make Indian River your base camp.

So let’s start exploring from Indian River and work our way from there in both directions.

Image from the Air of the Indian River Going Toward Mullett Lake

The Indian River Going Toward Mullett Lake

Indian River

The village of Indian River is the namesake of the river of the same name that flows through the center of Indian River. The river connects Burt Lake with Mullett Lake, making up part of the Inland Waterway.

Howe Marine for Boat Rentals Near Burt Lake State Park

Howe Marine for Boat Rentals Near Burt Lake State Park

Where to Rent a Boat

Howe Marine is the perfect place to rent a watercraft and cruise down the Indian River to one of the lakes. The marina works on old wooden boats, which makes it a fun place to check out. Then, rent a pontoon boat and head to Burt Lake for a stunning sunset. As a full-service marina, you can get gas or your engine repaired by factory-trained and certified technicians.

The Landings on Indian River

The Landings on Indian River also rents pontoon boats and fishing boats. Also, a full-service marina, if you need to gas up or get some oil, they can help you with that. Are you going on a fishing trip? They have bait and tackle. Once you’re back from your fishing trip, they also offer a fish cleaning house.

Where to Launch a Boat on the Inland Waterway

If you own a boat and want to get out on the Inland Waterway, The Landings has launch facilities with 20 and 40-foot boat slips.

You’ll also find a public access site at Marina Park, operated by Tuscarora Township, where you can launch a boat in the center of the Inland Waterway and head east to Mullet Lake or west to Burt Lake.

In this same area, you’ll discover a staging area and a shopper’s dock at the mouth of the Little Sturgeon next to the launch ramp, where they also have overflow parking at Marina Park.

If you’re a kayaker, the Little Sturgeon River, next to Marina Park, features a kayak launching ramp. Marina Park is within walking distance of downtown Indian River.

Another boat launch option is a small public ramp at the end of Witt Street, which works for small boats. However, the parking lot there is small.

Where to Stay

The Landings, located between Mullet Lake and Burt Lake, is the perfect place to stay if you own a boat, as each cabin rental includes a free boat slip.

Rooms at the Waterway Inn Near Burt Lake State Park

Rooms at the Waterway Inn 

Another motel within walking distance from Howe Marine, about 1.2 miles, is the Waterway Inn. The Waterway Inn features 11 rooms and five mobile homes. Most rooms have a gas fireplace that’s perfect for a chilly day. In the evenings, you’ll find guests gathering and socializing around the fire pit. The parking lot at the Waterway Inn offers plenty of room for those with a boat trailer.

The Waterway Inn is also within walking distance of downtown Indian River where you’ll find several good places for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

For more places to stay in Indian River, here’s a link to the accommodations Member Directory.

Hot Chocolate at Christopher's Cafe

Hot Chocolate at Christopher’s Cafe

Where to Eat

Standing the test of time, Christopher’s Cafe has been serving meals in Indian River for more than 75 years. The café offers both breakfast and lunch all day.

Drost’s Chocolate is the perfect stop for ice cream on a warm summer evening. You’ll also find handmade chocolates, fudge, and candies like toffee and caramel.

Check out other places to eat in Indian River in this article.

From Indian River, you can move west toward Burt Lake or east toward Mullet Lake. Let’s first look at the amenities around Burt Lake and west.

Heading West

Burt Lake

Burt Lake, the fourth largest lake in Michigan, covers 17, 393 acres with a maximum depth of 73 feet. The lake is 10 miles long and five miles wide.

Where to Rent a Boat on the Inland Waterway

You can rent boats at Howe Marine and The Landings on Indian River and then reach Burt Lake through the Indian River. You can rent a kayak at Burt Lake State Park. The Inland Waterway’s beauty is that you can get to all parts of it without taking your boat out of the water.

Ariel View of Veteran's Pier and DeVoe Beach

Ariel View of Veteran’s Pier and DeVoe Beach

Where to Launch a Boat

One access point is DeVoe Beach, located on the northwest side of Indian River, west of downtown. You’ll find the universally accessible, barrier-free fishing Veterans Pier, where you can cast a line. With benches along the pier, it’s the perfect place to sit, relax and watch the sunset.

Burt Lake State Park, located south of downtown, features more than 2,000 feet of sandy shoreline – including a dog beach. Inside Burt Lake, you can go angling for various fish, including varieties of bass, crappie, bullhead, and trout.

They also have the Maple Bay access point near Brutus if you want to launch a boat on Burt Lake. The launch, located next to the campground, also offers excellent parking for boaters.

Where to Eat

Wilson’s Rivers Edge Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, including scratch-made soups and pies. You won’t walk away hungry from their all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet.

For more places to eat in Indian River, check out this article.

Where to Stay

Stargate Motel is within walking distance of Burt Lake State Park. The motel offers reasonably-priced family accommodations that include one and two-room motel rooms and two-bedroom vacation rentals. Boat owners won’t have any issues parking their boats in the parking lot. There’s plenty of room for boats and their trailers.

Moving from Burt Lake down the Crooked River, you’ll arrive in Alanson. As you enter the town via the Inland Waterway, you’ll need to traverse the Crooked River Lock, a clam-shell type lock.

To research other places to stay in Indian River, here’s a link to the Member Directory at Stay Indian River.

Crooked River

Inland Water Route Museum

Alanson is a village situated on the Crooked River, about 10 miles north of Petoskey. Easily reached via U.S. Route 31 or Michigan-68, you can also get there by boat through the Inland Waterway. If you find the Inland Waterway fascinating, you’ll want to visit the Inland Water Route Museum.

The museum is a fun stop to learn more about Michigan’s Inland Waterway history. Plan to spend about an hour at this air-conditioned and handicapped-accessible building. They feature photos and artifacts about each town along the water, including Cheboygan, Topinabee, Indian River, Alanson, Ponshewaing, Oden, and Conway. They also have early history exhibits in logging, railroads, and accommodations. Unfortunately, their hours vary by season, and they close mid-December through mid-April.

Where to Launch a Boat

The museum is only two minutes down River Street from the Public Boat Parking near the Alanson Swing Bridge.

Crooked Lake

Crooked Lake, typically considered the starting point or ending point of the Inland Waterway, has two small towns, Oden and Conway. The Oden State Fish Hatchery and Michigan Fisheries Visitors Center are fun places to explore with children. The hatchery raises brown trout and rainbow trout.

They have a restored railcar with exhibits about Michigan Fisheries that start the tour. Then you’ll head to the stream viewing chamber, where you can view fish in their natural habitat below the water. After that, the interpreter will take you to the feeding ponds where you can feed the fish. The final stop is the Oden State Fish Hatchery, where you can check out the brood stock building, the production raceways, and the incubation nursery. This tour is a fun stop for adults as well as kids.

Where to Launch a Boat

A popular Crooked Lake access ramp is the township ramp and parking area off US-31 near Conway.

Pickerel Lake

Pickerel Lake is smaller than the others, spanning 1, 080 acres with a maximum depth of 70 feet. The lake is 1.8 miles long and 1.1 miles wide. To reach Pickerel Lake via the Inland Waterway, you must travel through Crooked Lake.

Where to Launch a Boat

The DNR offers a small gravel access ramp on Pickerel Lake.

After your trip on the Inland Waterway to Pickerel Lake and the adjoining areas, head back to Indian River and get ready to head east on the Inland Waterway toward Cheboygan.

Heading East

If you start at Indian River and travel east through the Inland Waterway, you’ll reach Mullet Lake first before traveling down the Cheboygan River and reaching Lake Huron.

The Indian River Flying Toward the Wetlands and Mullett Lake

The Indian River Flying Toward the Wetlands and Mullett Lake

Mullett Lake

Mullett Lake, the fifth largest lake in Michigan, spans 17, 360 acres and is 145 feet deep at its deepest. At 10 miles long and four miles wide, you’ll find lots of space for recreation on the water.

Where to Rent a Boat

If you’re looking to top the state record for the largest Lake Sturgeon caught in Michigan, you can rent a pontoon boat at Indian River Sports Center. Mullett Lake is great for recreational water sports, including fishing, water skiing, and boating. If you want to get out on the water and have some fun on a jet-ski, Indian River Sports Center also rents those.

Where to Launch a Boat

You’ll find public boat launches in the village of Topinabee, a few miles north of Indian River, and at Aloha State Park in Cheboygan, about 15 miles north of Topinabee.

Chicken Wrap at Breakers

Chicken Wrap at Breakers

Where to Eat on the Inland Waterway

Breakers, located across the street from the public boat launch in Topinabee, is an easy place to arrive via the Inland Waterway. Arriving by boat, jet-ski, or water plane, is just as easy as by car or snowmobile. Spring through autumn, plan to dine on the patio, and you’ll enjoy the view of Mullet Lake. They have a complete pizza menu and offer prime rib on Saturdays.

A perfect stop for breakfast or lunch is Café Noka, within walking distance of the launch. For those early risers, they open for breakfast at 7:00 a.m.

Where to Stay

You’ll find a modern campground at Aloha State Park.

Cheboygan River

Cheboygan, situated on the Cheboygan River and Lake Huron, is the easternmost point on your trip along the Inland Waterway from Indian River. You can easily travel from Indian River and spend the day in Cheboygan by docking on the river and walking less than a block to downtown Cheboygan for shopping or getting a meal before heading back to Indian River. Docking on the river is free for those stopping by Cheboygan to experience all downtown offers.

Where to Launch a Boat

The Forks, off Straits Highway, south of Cheboygan, offers adequate parking making it an excellent place to launch a boat on the Cheboygan River.

Pier M33 is a private area that offers boat slips on the Cheboygan River for daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonal rates.

Where to Eat

Pier M33 is convenient to dock your boat and eat at the restaurant. The restaurant is right on the water with an award-winning chef. That’s the perfect combination while you’re exploring the Inland Waterway.

Cheboygan Brewing Company is another place you can walk to after docking on the river. The team at Cheboygan Brewing draws their inspiration for craft beer from the great outdoors, so you’ll find a Tree Love Lo-Cal IPA and a Lighthouse Amber with a nod to the local Cheboygan lighthouses.

After your trip on the Inland Waterway to Cheboygan, head back to Indian River and explore all that Indian River has to offer.

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