Boardman’s Urban Rapids and Trails

Boardman rapids.

Highlights: The boulder loomed dark in the swirling, tumbling water. Despite paddling as hard as I could, the current yanked me into it. I teetered for a second, sure my kayak would tip over, but my boat slipped off the boulder and I continued down the Sabin rapids. Water swirled in my kayak, but the sun beat down on me, mixing the best of elements—fast water and summer heat.

Kayaking the Boardman’s Keystone and Sabin Rapids is perhaps Northern Lower Michigan’s most thrilling paddle. In the heart of Traverse City, it’s also one of the most urban, running through an open area that was once dammed and ringed by the 500-acre Boardman River Nature Center. Combined with the two-tracks and singletracks of the Boardman River Trail, it’s a unique biyaking excursion, a rugged paddle and pedal in the middle of a city.

Distance: Both the paddle and pedal are about 5 miles.

Boardman River Trail.

Difficulty: Biking: Although short, the ride is entirely on dirt two-tracks and singletracks so mountain bikes are required. The route is somewhat moderate with the occasional climb, roots to negotiate, stairs to bike around (or carry your bike up or down), and sometimes mud and water to cycle (or walk) through. Kayaking: This is one of the more difficult paddles in Northern Lower Michigan with constant rapids for about the first 3.5 miles and numerous boulders to avoid. Before kayaking, check on water levels to make sure the river isn’t running too high or low and plan to get wet if not using a spray skirt. The last 1.5 miles slows to almost flat water.

Location: Drop off the kayaks at the Beitner Park Landing on Beitner Road in Traverse City. The biking portion ends across the street at the Keystone Rapids Trailhead. Next, continue to the Grand Traverse Bay South YMCA on 3000 Racquet Club Drive. Park in the small lot near the takeout (a newer ADA-accessible landing), next to the tennis courts. Both the put-in and takeout should be easy to find on any GPS device or map.

Getting ready to paddle underneath Boardman River Trail Bridge.

Route finding: Biking: Cycle along the Boardman River Trail (BRT), found at the end of the parking lot, as it follows the river. The BRT is signed with maps and numbered posts, making it difficult to get lost. However, it’s easy to get slightly confused as the trail branches off into different loops and side-trails, but a quick study of the signed maps should keep you on the correct path, heading toward the Keystone Rapids Trailhead. The only dangerous section comes at the end when you have to cross busy Beitner Road. USE EXTREME CAUTION HERE. Kayaking: Scout out the rapids as you bike along the river. Boulders appear quickly in the rapids and you must be able to paddle around them or expect to get swamped and/or tipped into the river.

Maps and websites: PDF map is here. Also check out the information on these two sites: Traverse Trails and Grand Traverse Conservation District.

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