The World Famous Inland Waterway
“The Inland Route is not only one of Northern Michigan’s greatest attractions, but it is one of the most picturesque, and the only boat trip of its kind to be found on the American continent. Go where you will, wander where you may, you will find nothing that surpasses the scenic grandeur of this chain of lakes and rivers”
–“Where to Spend the Summer,” ca. 1902
Deeply rooted in Northern Michigan’s past as well as its present and future, the Inland Waterway is unlike anything in the world. Put simply, it is a trip through three rivers and three lakes that takes the boater on an inland journey of fresh, pure and clean water, gorgeous scenery, and majestic wildlife. While many homes dot the route, so too do wetlands, swamps, and many areas of undisturbed beauty. It is not unusual to see fish jumping, hear loons singing, or observe a mighty bald eagle as you ply the route.
Native Americans were the first to use the Inland Waterway. For centuries the area’s Chippewa (Ojibwa) and Ottawa (Adawe) Indians used the route for transportation and trade. The route provided an ideal alternative to get from the west side of the northern Lower Peninsula to the east, thereby avoiding dangerous Waugoshance Point and the unpredictable Straits of Mackinac. A sizable number of temporary and more permanent encampments also popped up along the route, verified by archeological research at numerous sites along the way.
With the influx of Europeans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Inland Waterway was used by fur trappers collecting pelts for the booming fur trade in Europe. Natives too collected furs, trading them for provisions from Fort Michilimackinac (and later Fort Mackinac). Furs from this region were sent to John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company warehouse on Mackinac Island and thence overseas.
As the fur trade waned in the middle of the nineteenth century, the area’s economy turned to the vast expanses of virgin white pine. It was lumber that would cause the region to grow, and the Inland Waterway proved an idea artery to get men and materials into the interior of Northern Michigan. Here they would fell the mighty trees and float them downriver for processing. But the Inland Waterway was not used exclusively for business.
Pleasure cruises have been popular on the Inland Waterway since the 1880s. Day trips on large steamers were once common, carrying vacationers to a variety of hotels, summer homes, and clubs. These vessels were part of the destination itself, featuring fine furnishings and live bands playing on board for the listening pleasure of their guests. Most of the larger hotels and resorts offered social activities, fine meals, bowling, billiards, or other pastimes. But perhaps the most important activity was enjoying the natural surroundings while relaxing with friends away from the hustle and bustle of the workaday world. Everyone from locals to vice presidents once enjoyed the beauty of an Inland Waterway voyage.
While the large steamers of yesteryear may be gone, the ability to relax and enjoy lazy days on the water are not.
Starting in Cheboygan, the route begins by going up the beautiful Cheboygan River and into chilly Mullett Lake. From here, venture into the serene beauty of Indian River and into Burt Lake. Next, enter the aptly named Crooked River and into Crooked Lake. The route touches the communities of Cheboygan, Mullett Lake, Aloha, Topinabee, Indian River, Alanson, Ponshewaing, Oden, and Conway. At the end of the route you will be at the west end of the lake and will have traversed approximately 40 miles.
Cheboygan is the ideal place to begin your Inland Route adventure. Launching your boat is easy, either above or below the Cheboygan River Lock. Stay in one of our motels, either on the river (with dock space available for your vessel), or at one of our other fine motels just off the waterway. Dining is available alongside the river as well. Outside of town, there are numerous places to stop for a bite to eat or to get something to quench your thirst. Topinabee, Indian River, and Alanson all have dockside dining options available.
The Inland Waterway must be experienced to be appreciated. Its uniqueness and natural beauty are unsurpassed – and no interconnected system of lakes and rivers exists like it anywhere in the world. This is what boating is meant to be!
To get started planning your Inland Waterway cruise, click here.