Four days on the water. Seventy-five miles through the Chain of Lakes. Add fabulous meals, cozy inns and someone to make sure it all comes off without a hitch and you have the Paddle the Chain Kayak Voyage. The beauty of this tour, the brainchild of Elk Rapids' Camelot Inn owner Don Weeks, is that just about anyone can do it. The voyage is certainly doable: over four days, participants have the opportunity to paddle about 36 miles of the 75-mile chain of interconnected lakes and rivers that S-stretches across Antrim County.
Weeks stands by to pick up, port and put in the kayaks at different points along the way, which he’s marked on easy-to-follow maps and a detailed itinerary, all of which are safely nestled in waterproof sleeves. Also he provides an idiot-proof arsenal: a GPS unit and a cell phone.
This kayak adventure is perfect for autumn days when the lakes are quiet and filled with migrating birds. And the delicious dinners and cozy inns are perfect after the cool days on the water.
STROKE: Five miles (about 2.5 hours) through Six Mile Lake, St. Clair Lake.
DINE: Dinner (included) is at the Rowe Inn, a hidden-in-thecountry gem considered one of Michigan’s finest restaurants.
SLEEP: The House on the Hill, sunny country farmhouse and carriage house perched on immaculate grounds overlooking St. Clair Lake in Ellsworth.
STROKE: Twelve miles (about six hours) through Ellsworth, Wilson and Benway Lakes, Green River, Hanley and Intermediate Lakes, Intermediate River.
DINE: Breakfast at The House on the Hill (included). We did lunch at Central Lake’s Brother’s Restaurant. Try the Intermediate Wrap: turkey, ham, tomatoes, red onion, artichoke hearts and Romaine with sweet onion vinaigrette. Dinner (included) is at Lulu’s, where you can protein load with hearty Northern faves like house-smoked beef brisket or explore inspired Mediterranean, Cajun and Asian dishes.
SLEEP: Bellaire’s Grand Victorian B&B, a romantic century- old inn that so pretty, it’s been pictured on Post Cereal Selects and 12 million Nabisco food products. Victorian-styled, modern convenience-appointed carriage house alsoon-site.
STROKE: Ten miles (about five hours) through Intermediate River, Lake Bellaire, Grass River, Clam Lake, Clam River,Torch Lake.
DINE: Hearty gourmet breakfast at the Grand Victorian (included). Lunch at Torch Lake’s Dockside Restaurant, a casual spot for burgers, beer and boat
watching. Dinner (included) at Elk Rapids’ Riverwalk Grill, home to snappy-casual surf ’n’ turf waterfront dining. We loved the pecan-encrusted walleye finished with a sweet jalapeño glaze. Another dining option, new in 2008, is Elk Rapids’ Siren Hall, where you’ll find fabulous modern-chic seafood fare. Guests can elect to eat at Siren Hall night three or four.
SLEEP: The Camelot Inn, tidy motel-style units, some with air conditioning and kitchenettes; one with a fireplace and Jacuzzi tub. Campfires most nights.
STROKE: Seven miles (about four hours) through Torch River, Lake Skegemog, Elk Lake, Elk River.
DINE: Fuel up on breakfast in downtown Elk Rapids—we’re nutty for Java Jones’ gourmet oatmeal (six types of organic oats, dried cherries, raisins, sunflower seeds, drizzled with honey). You’ll want to grab a to-go picnic for lunch, and Chef Charles, just down the street, serves a succulent pizza. Dinner (included) is at Pearl’s New Orleans Kitchen, a Cajun-Creole-and-Southernhospitality heaven set to Zydeco tunes. A cold Hurricane, a dozen oysters and a crawfish étouffée will treat you right.
SLEEP: The Camelot Inn.
COST: $2,000 per couple June 22 through September 9; $1,750 inspring or fall (usually mid-May to late October), taxes included. Take $300 off the price if you provide your own kayaks.