Even novice paddlers will be able to handle the gentle current on the shallow, sparkling Crystal River in Glen Arbor, so let the staff at Crystal River Outfitters (north end of town, 231-334-4420, crystalriveroutfitters.com) hook you up with a kayak or a canoe and put you in seven miles up the river from the livery at a picturesque spot where Fisher Lake narrows to become the river. Your paddle back to Glen Arbor will take from two to three hours. Once you're on the water, don't get too comfy; you'll be making an easy portage at a small dam just a bend up the river.
After the dam, watch for wildlife - the warm river waters are full of bass, sunfish and pike, and the riverbanks are home to deer, rabbits, muskrat, heron, beaver, fox and coyote. When you come to three culverts running under the road, it's time to shoot the tube. You could opt to portage, but it's more fun to point your bow at the middle of the three tubes (make sure everyone has a life vest on, fastened tightly), pull in your paddle, hunch down low and let the current whisk you through. You'll shoot out into swirling water on the other end. Paddle hard on the right to make the river's dogleg left, or you'll bump into an old logjam. But don't panic - paddlers have been shooting these culverts for more than a half-century, and the worst anyone has come out of them is wet.
The best swimming hole on the river is just downstream (you'll spot it at the end of a short dirt road). Swim, sun and snack, then push off. There's one more portage and then it's back to Crystal River Outfitters. Next door at Riverfront Pizza (231-334-3876, riverfrontpizza.com), order a shrimp Alfredo pie and eat it at a riverside table.
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Katie Holland was an intern at Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine.
Note: This article was first published in May 2007 and was updated for the web February 2008.