A Journey Down Traverse City’s MicroBrew Canoe Trail, With Mr. Bravo


Mr. Bravo considers the curiously fitting words painted on Right Brain Brewery as we hit the first stop on our journey down the Microbrew Canoe Trail.

Like all good notions, the Traverse City Microbrew Canoe Trail resulted from a convergence, a nexus, a confluence, a splicing of ideas, an aligning of desires, an “and” solution, not an “or” solution. Part of the impetus arose from my having recently paddled several days in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters with my son Wyatt, and canoes were still floating around in my brain. And part of it arose from a gentleman name of Mark Bravo, microbrew devotee visiting from Sacramento, who was wanting to suss out our microbrew scene, especially since I’d told him that Travel Channel chose Traverse City as one of the Top 7 Destinations in America for Microbrew Lovers.

Conversation summed up as …

Me: I think we should go canoeing.

Mr. Bravo: I would really like to check out some of those microbreweries.

A look of consternation came to Mr. Bravo’s face as he grappled with what seemed to be conflicting goals. He furrowed his brow. He stared at me without really seeing me. I could tell something important was going on in his mind. Then he asked the fateful question. “Can you canoe to any of the microbreweries?”

I thought for a moment. I looked at the ceiling while I considered the lay of the land, the shore of Boardman Lake, the turns of the Boardman River, the Union Street Dam, the bridges, the culverts, the many great and challenging obstacles to such a journey, and I counted. “Mr. Bravo, in Traverse City, you can canoe to five microbreweries.”

“We have to do that,” Mr. Bravo said, with strong and certain affirmation. And we paused to consider the weight of that decision.

And so the Traverse City Microbrew Canoe Trail was born. We slid our canoe into the river at the YMCA south of Boardman Lake on a Monday afternoon. (I strongly recommend Monday for this effort.) and followed the sparkling, flowing waters to the microbreweries of Traverse City. In order, Right Brain, Filling Station, Ferment, North Peak, Mackinaw Brewing. The pictures below tell the tale.

Important note: For safety, we always wore our life jackets and we opted for the low-alcohol brews, half-pint size. I recommend this approach for any who choose to follow the Traverse City Microbrew Canoe Trail.

 Mr. Bravo draws a bead on Right Brain Brewery, rising on a bluff across the waters.


Mr. Bravo scales the bluff via a treacherous washout.


What the?…In Right Brain, we meet a couple from Minnesota’s Twin Cities, Woodbury to be precise, who were CYCLING to the various microbreweries. For obvious reasons, we felt a kinship. In Traverse City, driving to microbreweries is SO 20th century. 


Seeking a safe landing, Mr. Bravo scopes the shore with binoculars near stop No. 2, the Filling Station.


Mesmerized by his goal, Mr. Bravo strides boldly across the landscape, a solid belief in his purpose, to the door of the Filling Station, housed in a former train station.


Mr. Bravo discovers that the Microbrew Canoe Trail can sometimes be a contemplative journey of solitude, especially on a Monday afternoon at 3 in late October. Good thing the Filling Station has lovely space with good brews and great flatbread pizza to ease the loneliness.


One of the best menu items in Traverse City today: the Filling Station’s flatbread with prosciutto, pear, shallots and more. Yow was this tasty–perhaps enhanced by the arduousness of our journey. As legendary explorer Ernest Shackleton wrote (when quoting his ship’s cook), “hunger makes a fine sauce.” 

Pressing on, we return to the water. We leave Boardman Lake and follow the Boardman River as it resumes its course north. Railroad bridge foreground, sweet sorta-new pedestrian bridge in background (thanks to TART Trails–GO TART TRAILS!)


Mr. Bravo pauses his paddle, savoring the moment as we glide the calm waters beneath Cass Street Bridge, Union Street Dam in the distance.

We portage the canoe over the Union Street Dam, leave it onshore by the old library and then walk two blocks south on Union Street to Traverse City’s newest microbrewery, Brewery Ferment.


Mr. Jones, the brewer at Brewery Ferment. He and his sister opened the establishment just a couple / few weeks before we stopped by on our quest. In case you are wondering, that gate there is not intended to keep him in the basement, it’s to prevent people from falling down the stairs.


Airy light in Brewery Ferment, here glowing in the tasty product and reflecting in the flawless tabletop.


Me, soaked. 

At this point I must explain something. The Microbrew Canoe Trail is fraught with hazard, as has by now been clearly established. And this came fully into focus as we beached to visit North Peak. Mr. Bravo,  though the conceiver of a great and noble canoe idea—the Microbrew Canoe Trail—is sadly a very inexperienced canoer. In fact, he had only canoed once before in his entire life (in California, he tells me, you just don’t see canoes). So I did not adequately explain what happens when the person in front of the canoe gets out at shore and then lifts the front of the boat to beach it. If there’s still somebody in back, the canoe will flip. This is in fact what happened, and I went completely underwater. (The dunking explains why there are very few photos after this point, all taken by Mr. Bravo himself–my camera temporarily disabled by the immersion.)

So, I climbed out of the river and stood on shore in the 58-degree air and looked at the apologetic Mr. Bravo. We had an important decision to make, and we had to make it fast. “We cannot let this obstacle interfere with our journey,” I said—a point to which he quickly agreed, and we headed off for North Peak. At North Peak, the hostess looked me over from head to toe, and I felt the need to explain. I said, “Mr. Bravo just tipped the canoe over and I got all wet, can you tell?” And she said, “Uh, yeah, you can tell.”

So Mr. Bravo and I went to the bar, standing so as not to get a barstool seat wet and watching as a puddle pooled at my feet. We ordered up a seasonal brew. It was tasty. I waited for the tremors of hypothermia to set in, but that did not happen.

We ventured back to the canoe, shoved off and a few hundred yards further, beached again to visit our final destination, Mackinaw Brewing. We ordered a microbrew and took our waiter’s sage advice, offered after we explained our mission: “Since this is your last stop, you can safely go with the full pint.” We toasted our success and then asked the bartender to call a cab, which ferried me back to the car, and I then drove back to town (about a 5-minute drive). Mr. Bravo and I then tied the canoe on top, and we drove away. 

The Traverse City Microbrew Canoe Trail took us about 4 hours to complete at a leisurely pace.

A young waiter at Mackinaw Brewing listens in awe and disbelief to my tales from the Traverse City Microbrew Canoe Trail. 


Also see …

Cold Weather Paddling Tips

Three Quiet Lakes to Paddle

Buying Tips for Fishing Kayaks 


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