If you enjoy pub crawls and kayaks then Paddle for Pints in Traverse City has combined both of these pastimes into one and it is right up your alley! I’ve heard more and more about this over the past few years but by the time I looked it up, the weekends were fully booked and there were only a couple random weekdays left. Learning from my previous year(s) procrastination I booked early…ha, just kidding, I procrastinated again and all the weekends were fully booked. BUT, I didn’t let that stop me – I told work I needed a couple days off for something important and booked the trip with my buddy John.
We drove to Traverse City the night before and set up camp at the Traverse City State Park Campground. As with most state park campgrounds, the site is roomy and complete with a picnic table and fire pit. The park has fresh water, showers, maps, and wood for sale. Although this campground sits off the main road leading into Traverse City, there is a footbridge from the campground to the beach on East Grand Traverse Bay for safe passage to and from the grounds. The cost is just $33 for the night and it’s a quick 6-minute Uber ride (yes, Traverse City finally has Uber) to The Filling Station Microbrewery where paddlers are asked to arrive 60-90 minutes before launch time to get registered.
Not wanting to miss out on anything, we arrived at The Filling Station Microbrewery parking lot at 10:00 AM for our 11:30 AM departure. We checked in at the Paddle for Pints tent and were provided a well thought out swag bag full of awesomeness that included, well, the bag but also heavily branded fake tattoos, stickers, a bracelet, sunglasses, a t-shirt, an Ale Trail Map (just in case we got lost?) and lots of coupons for the breweries we were headed to. We thanked the staff for our swag bags then headed into the brewery.
The Filling Station is an incredibly unique location built right on the train tracks and they have embraced this theme with their beer names and throughout the building. We grabbed a table outside (which was easy being the first paddlers to arrive) and headed to the bar. Now, not only does The Filling Station Microbrewery have excellent beer but they also have top-notch food and are especially known for their brick oven pizzas. They were serving up two breakfast pizzas so we ordered the non-vegetarian option, a couple flights of beer and got to work.
Over the next hour, most of our fellow paddlers trickled in and around 11:00 AM our guide came around to gather us kayakers, so we paid our tab and walked across the railroad tracks to our kayaks to begin loading them into Boardman Lake.
After a quick briefing, we all began paddling toward the second brewery. One of our guides was on a standup paddleboard or a SUP for you SUP aficionados, which helped us easily find him. I know this doesn’t seem overly relevant one brewery in, but as the day progressed it was nice being able to easily locate this fella.
The stopping point was in about 2 feet of water so we hopped out, tied the kayaks up to a long rope and series of carabiners fastened to the base of a hill and began walking up a somewhat steep dirt hill. This hill eventually turned to pavement before arriving at Right Brain Brewery where we ordered our next flight.
As you may have guessed, Right Brain Brewery had a lot of really creative beers such as a Candy Cane Blonde Ale, Thai Peanut Brown Ale, and Lemon Creme Ale. Beyond the beers, Right Brain Brewery had plenty of games to keep customers entertained. They have a large selection of board games, arcade games, and an antique bowling game with real balls and fake pins as seen above in the bottom left of the photo.
Once our time was up at Right Brain Brewery, we hopped back in our kayaks and paddled back across Boardman Lake toward Boardman River to continue our tour to the next brewery, Rare Bird Brewpub.
As we made our way down the river, we actually paddled past the brewpub since there was no exit and up to the Union Street Dam where Paddle for Pints staff are waiting to assist us in pulling our kayaks out of the water. Once back on dry land, we walked down Union Street and hung a left on 8th Street where we found Rare Bird Brewpub.
We built up an appetite with all the paddling so we ordered a couple appetizers and you probably guessed it, another flight…but they don’t offer flights, so we settled for a few pints. The Pecorino Garlic Dusted Frites, served with both an artichoke and white truffle dip came highly recommended so we ordered that along with the Smoked Trout Dip which came with house-made tortilla chips and vegetables for dipping. Both appetizers were really good and hit the spot. Rare Bird Brewpub has a cool ambiance and most importantly, a solid air conditioner which was much needed at this point in the tour. We got our fill of cold air and food and walked back to the kayaks.
Upon arrival to our kayaks, I met this nice older woman who had gummy bears drenched in vodka and was pushing them on her fellow kayakers. Did I need a handful of these? Probably not, but when in Traverse City….
Now it’s a good thing we filled up on food because this is the part of the trip that requires the most work. We hopped back in our kayaks on the other side of the dam and paddled our way out of Boardman River into the West Arm of Grand Traverse Bay where the water can be a little choppy (sober or not). As soon as we hit the bay, we veered left and paddled along the shoreline until we arrived at Clinch Park where the paddling portion (not the pint portion) of the trip ended. Paddle for Pints staff met us to load up our kayaks and to point us in the direction of the next Brewery.
The next segment of the trip is roughly a 10-minute walk down a shadeless Grandview Parkway but if you did things right you’re probably feeling good and don’t care. The Workshop Brewing Company is a fun little place with great beer. As you enter, you’ll find a large island bar in the center of the brewery and a huge anvil mixed in with the seats which apparently you’re not supposed to sit on (live and learn). We ordered flights and made our way to the back where they have a hook and ring game, which we quickly discovered could quite easily be turned into a drinking game.
They also have real darts, which seemed dangerous at this point in the day but we took our chances anyhow. We really liked the vibe at this place and didn’t want to leave but there was one more brewery on the tour.
Monkey Fist Brewing is a bit different than the rest, as their beers are served at The Market Bar within the State Street Marketplace which is a collective eatery/adult foodcourt with a variety of restaurants, shopping, and arcade games. The walk from The Workshop Brewing Company to State Street Marketplace is about 15-minutes and takes you right through downtown (depending on your route). The Market Bar has about 16 beers on tap, 8 of which are from Monkey Fist as well as canned and bottled beer. If you’ve had enough beer, you’re in luck because they also make cocktails, many of which are from Michigan made liquor. This is where the tour ends and you’re released back into the wild to make your own decisions…
We decided to go to The Coin Slot Arcade & Taproom where, if I remember correctly, you can purchase an all day, all you can play pass that includes a beer. After an hour or so there we decided to call it quits and head back to our campsite.
Now for those astute readers out there, you likely noticed how I started strong with multiple photos for the beginning breweries. As the beers flowed and the breweries stacked up, my photog skills diminished and all we’re left with are my words and this hilarious, yet maybe not so inviting name of a restaurant at the State Street Marketplace in Traverse City – which is really not that relevant to this post.
I pulled the following directly from the Paddle for Pints confirmation email:
Parking is NOT permitted at Hull Park or The Filling Station Microbrewery. You will need to park at Hardy Parking Garage located at 303 E State Street. Parking is first-come-first-serve and in a parking garage. Parking fees are not included in your ticket price. The ending location is Monkey Fist Brewing Company, this is next to the parking garage that you parked in. A FREE shuttle run[s] from 9:00am – 1:00pm on event dates. The parking garage is located here: https://goo.gl/maps/
Paddle for Pints Tips
- Book Early (learn from my mistakes).
- Bring a CamelBak or other hydration system (you can also get water at each brewery but it’s nice to have your own).
- Waterproof Backpack. The kayaks provided are very stable but when you add booze to the mix, you never know! Someone from our group lost his phone within 3 minutes of his kayak hitting the water. Don’t be that guy.
- Bring water shoes or sturdy sandals you can walk up a few hills with. If you bring a waterproof bag, you could also bring a set of walking shoes. I use Chacos.
- Take an Uber instead of driving.
For more information, please check their website at https://paddleforpints.com/
Some of the links in this post may be affiliate links. This means any purchases you make help to support this blog at absolutely no extra cost to you. I only recommend products I personally use and feel will deliver excellent value to you. If you have questions or feedback on any of the recommended products please don’t hesitate to email me! Cameron