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Elk Rapids, Michigan Delights Those Who Happen By

Welcome to Elk Rapids

Tucked between the cool blues of Grand Traverse Bay and Elk Lake, Elk Rapids, Michigan, is a small-town escape complete with a side of beachy bliss.

Once a bustling 1800s lumber town, Elk Rapids has reinvented itself into a laid-back haven full of old-school charm and I have the privilege of sharing with you. (I like to think of it as Traverse City‘s little sidekick that doesn’t get overrun by the Cherry Festival.)

Elk Rapids Veterans Park Beach

My roots are in this little slice of heaven – my mom and dad grew up here and I have a place here now.

Now, it’s your turn to discover and experience Elk Rapids!

Things to do in Elk Rapids Old Dock River Street - VanderWeide

Downtown Elk Rapids – River Street

Let’s start in downtown.

River Street in Elk Rapids is the main street. It’s lined with restaurants, shops, and even an old Art Deco movie theater. There’s a corner drug store tucked between clothing shops and eateries, too.

Behind facades that have stood for over 100 years, you’ll find antique stores, a cool little toy store, a fun WORD LOVE store, and Nifty Things, where you can discover silly items and fun treasures you won’t find on the internet.

And, Wednesday nights in the summertime are extra special with Evenings on River Street.

Stroll Some of our Favorite Stores on River Street

On the list of places you can’t miss:

– Corner Drugs 154 River St – kids toys, sweatshirts, mugs, pharmacy & more

– Nifty Things 144 River St – gift shop with unique finds, lake-themed decor

– Bayfront Beach & Bike 130 River St – bike & watersports shop with rentals, gear, corn hole boards, e-bikes. Great service!

– River Street Dog 114 River St – cutest little pet shop!

– Word Love 103 River St – fun gift store with great atmosphere & unique word-themed items

– Stoney Cabin Toys 115 River St – gem of a toy store with curated items. delightful staff

– Wildflower Soapworks 117 River St – huge variety of artistically made soaps, lotions, etc. handmade

– Golden Hill Farms 131 River St – lovely assortment of botanical & gift items for the home

– Nature Connection 137 River St – all sorts of this & that, with a nature theme. unique gifts. candy. love it!

– Blue Owl Antiques145 River St – small, expertly curated antiques store with nostalgia to the max

– Harbor Antique Mall 201 River St – large antique spot with a little bit of everything from days gone by. lots to explore!

And about that Art Deco movie theatre?

Elk Rapids Cinema is a timeless gem that was saved by the community. With its glow-in-the-dark ceiling and cry room, they just don’t make them like this anymore. Today, the movie house still shows matinees and evening flicks that people line up for. 205 River Street.

Just beyond the theater, the park and beach call you to explore!

Elk Rapids Beaches & Parks

Northern Michigan is spoiled when it comes to choices for beaches and parks. There are just so many darn good options.

Depending on what you’re looking for, Elk Rapids would like to throw its hat into the ring.

Hunting for Petoskey stones? Just soaking up the sun? Want a secluded respite or a sand bar you can boat to that isn’t Torch Lake? These beaches are the hidden gems you didn’t know you needed.

Sand bar at Veterans Memorial Park Elk Rapids BEach
Veterans Memorial Park

Veterans Memorial Park

410 River Street – Just down the street from downtown shops, where the river runs into the bay, this park features a playground, grassy areas with picnic and a huge sandy beach. This is what most people think of when they think “beach in Elk Rapids.”

Bring your tubes and float the little lazy river. With tables and grills, tennis, pickleball, basketball & volleyball courts, plus plenty of open space, you can easily spend an afternoon here.

Elk Rapids Day Park & Walk of Art Outdoor Sculpture Walk

920 S Bayshore Dr, Elk Rapids – The slightly off-the-beaten-path Elk Rapids Day Park on Grand Traverse Bay features a unique combination of beach and woods.

It includes an outdoor sculpture park “Art Rapids”, hiking trails, and a pavilion. The park also has several picnic tables and grills scattered throughout.

Dam Beach & Fishing Park

Located behind the power dam – Hidden in plain sight, the Dam Beach is a favorite spot for locals and visitors to slip away, while anglers cast their lines behind the dam.

Rotary Park & Pavilion

Home to the giant swan, Elk Rapids Rotary Park isn’t for swimming, but you’ll find the farmers market here on Fridays, people launching their kayaks, and the park undergoing an extreme makeover as a key trailhead for the Chain of Lakes Water Trail. Located north of the Elk Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce building on the east side of U.S. 31

Old Bathing Beach

N Bayshore Dr, Elk Rapids, MI 49629 – This beautiful little sandy bottom beach is a gem where you might find beach glass or Petoskey stones. It has a few picnic tables, a porta potty, and a small parking lot, and it’s not far from Short’s Pull Barn. The water at this swimming spot gets deep faster than Veterans Memorial Park.

Old Bathing Beach Elk Rapids
Old Bathing Beach in Elk Rapids

Wilcox Palmer Shah Preserve

N Bayshore Dr, Elk Rapids, MI 49629 – Just a few miles north of Elk Rapids on Lake Michigan is the Wilcox Palmer Shah Preserve. It’s a pretty area with clear water and a sandy, secluded beach. Note: Parking is limited, and be sure to watch out for poison ivy.

Maple Bay Natural Area

Maple Bay Natural Area, just a few miles outside of Elk Rapids, is prized for its shoreline, sandbar, hiking paths and community garden. Covering 400 acres and with a historic farmhouse, cedar woods, and a beautiful half-mile beach along East Grand Traverse Bay, this hidden gem is a must-visit.

Boating & Paddling in Elk Rapids

Paddling in Elk Rapids

If you’re into kayaking or paddleboarding, Elk Rapids might just be the center of the world.

paddling elk rapids - paddle antrim
📷 courtesy Paddle Antrim

The Chain of Lakes Water Trail, the only state-designated water trail in Northern Michigan, spans over 100 miles and culminates in Elk Rapids. Along the way, it features 84 signed water access sites, several of which are in Elk Rapids.

paddling in elk rapids -📷 courtesy Paddle Antrim

Plus, Paddle Antrim, a nonprofit organization based in downtown Elk Rapids, holds paddling events and classes on the Chain of Lakes Water Trail throughout the season. 

PS – Bayfront Beach & Bike (130 River St Elk Rapids, MI 49628) is the place to go for SUP, kayak, and lazy river rentals.

Kayak Launch sites Elk Rapids area

Elk Rapids Area Water Access Sites

Rotary Park: Key trailhead slated for improvements. On Elk Lake, just across the road from River Street.

Bridge Street Access

Elk Rapids Dam Beach Water Access

North Beach Water Access

Milton Township Waterfront Park

Bussa Road Access

Elk Lake DNR Access

Milton Township Annex

Boating in Elk Rapids

Getting out on the lake is a top priority for most visitors, whether you’re looking to whether you’re looking to go sailing, kayaking, or paddleboarding, motor through the Chain-o-Lakes to the Torch Lake Sand bar, or get out fishing on the Big Lake.

Fortunately, when it comes to boating and water activities, Elk Rapids shines.

Maple Bay Natural Area Traverse City
Maple Bay Natural Area

Home to multiple marinas and boat launches, Elk Rapids lets you easily experience boating on Lake Michigan, Elk Lake and Elk River.

With over 200 slips and shopping dockage, Elk Rapids Grace Memorial Harbor offers respite for those traveling Lake Michigan, plus access to the Upper Harbor (Elk Lake). Laundry, fuel, and showers are just some of the amenities here.

Elk Rapids Grace Memorial Harbor Marina - VanderWeide
Elk Rapids Grace Memorial Harbor Marina

 Elk Rapids Marina
118 Bridge St, Elk Rapids, MI 49629
Find pontoon boat rentals, a gas dock, and a fantastic hangout place at this high-end handy convenience stop. We enjoy the outdoor lawn games and ping pong tables. Tasty food truck offerings compliment the DAM Shop’s menu of refreshing frozen mixed drinks.
Grace Memorial Harbor
With over 200 slips and shopping dockage, they offer respite for those traveling Lake Michigan, plus access to the Upper Harbor (Elk Lake). Laundry, fuel, and showers are just some of the amenities here.

Elk Rapids Harbor Days Festival & Fireworks

All About Harbor Days

Everyone should join the fun at the Harbor Days Festival! This year, Harbor Days is happening from July 31 – August 3, 2024.

Harbor Days Parade Elk Rapids Michigan - - VanderWeide

This lively four-day event at the beginning of August is organized by the community and celebrates Elk Rapids’ history as a water town.

Be on the lookout for a parade, midway carnival, fun events like the fireman’s battle, live music, arts and crafts show, food trucks, and yes, fireworks.

Elk Rapids Harbor Days Playing in the River - VanderWeide
Elk Rapids Harbor Days

Paddle Races & Harbor Run: The 5K run/walk & 10K run are typically held on Saturday morning. Paddle Harbor Day paddle board races on Elk River happen in the afternoon.

Harbor Day Parade: Held at noon on the Saturday of Harbor Days. Lots of candy and smiles. August 3, 2024

Boat Lighting Contest At dusk on August 3. Right before the fireworks on Saturday night, there’s a boat lighting contest in the Harbor. Check to see if the shuttle is running between the high school and downtown because parking can get tricky.

Fireworks: 10 PM on Saturday, Aug 3, 2024. The Zambelli International Fireworks are a show not to be missed. Veteran’s Memorial Park is an ideal viewing location.

More Fun Things to do at Harbor Days

Harbor Days is full of even more fun events like the Penny Scramble, where kids go wild unearthing pennies buried in the sand. The Fireman’s Waterball Battle is my personal favorite, with local heroes getting soaked duking it out in Veteran’s Park.

And for the cuteness factor, you gotta see the critters at the Pet Show and the tiny tots ‘racing’ in the Diaper Derby and Toddler Trot.

The 2024 schedule is jam-packed and includes things like a cornhole tournament, sand sculpture contest, a dinghy parade, a swan race, and kids games.

What’s Going on in Elk Rapids in 2024?

More Events to Know About:

Friday Morning Farmers Market

Rotary Park (by the big swam) – Vendors from near and far 13 bring seasonal fruits and vegetables, baked goods, cheese, flowers and more. website

8 AM – NOON, June 7 – October 4, 2024

Elk Rapids Farmers Market

Save Wednesdays for Evenings on River Street

In late June and July, Wednesday evenings are special in Elk Rapids.

River Street comes alive with live music, restaurant specials, and family activities.

It’s a chill street party where the whole community gathers to enjoy the summer nights and you can just show up and enjoy.

6 – 9 PM, June 26 – July 31 in 2024.

Village of Elk Rapids Clock in downtown

Harbor Days in early August

Harbor Days Festival!

July 31 – August 3, 2024

fireworks elk rapids harbor days

DateEventTimeLocation
Saturday, May 25ER Arts & Craft Show10 AM – 4 PMDowntown River Street, Elk Rapids
Saturday, June 1Art Beat Art Walk10 AM – 5 PM3 art galleries in ER
Saturday, June 8CLASSIC Car & Truck Show
Antique, Classic & Wooden Boat Show
Nature Fest
11 AM – 1 PM
10 AM – 3 PM
11 AM – 1 PM
Downtown River Street, Elk Rapids
Elk Rapids Marina
Veteran’s Memorial Park
Saturday, June 8Short’s Fest 2024 *free, live music11 AM – 10 PMShort’s Brewing Company – Pull Barn
211 Industrial Park
Saturday, June 15Father’s Day on the Farm10 AM – 5 PMMyrtle & Maude’s
Sunday, June 16Amvets Fish Fry5:30 – 7 PMAmvets Post 114, 410 Bridge Street Elk Rapids
Thursday, June 27Free Fishing Expo4 – 6 PMElk Rapids Harbor Pavilion
Sunday, June 30Harbor Summer Concert Series7 – 9 PMGrace Memorial Harbor
Saturday, July 6Harbor Summer Concert Series7 – 9 PMGrace Memorial Harbor
Saturday, July 13ER Arts & Craft Show10 AM – 4 PMRiver Street Elk Rapids
Tuesday, July 16Amvets Fish Fry5:30 – 7 PMAmvets Post 114, 410 Bridge Street Elk Rapids
Sunday, July 21Harbor Summer Concert Series7 – 9 PMGrace Memorial Harbor
Thursday, August 1Kanin Wren’s Taylor Swift Experience7 PMElk Rapids Town Hall
August 1 – 3 Arnold’s Amusement Carnival4 – 10 PM Thur
3 – 11 PM Fri
12 – 11 PM Sat
Downtown ER
Saturday, August 3Harbor Days Fireworks10 PMElk Rapids
Sunday, August 4Harbor Summer Concert Series7 – 9 PMGrace Memorial Harbor
Friday, Aug 16Amvets Fish Fry5:30 – 7 PMAmvets Post 114, 410 Bridge Street Elk Rapids
Saturday, August 17Harbor Summer Concert Series7 – 9 PMGrace Memorial Harbor
Saturday, August 31ER Arts & Craft Show10 AM – 4 PMRiver Street Elk Rapids
Saturday, September 14Paddle Antrim Festival Final Bash3 – 8 PMShort’s Pull Barn

Elk Rapids Restaurants & Watering Holes

Grab a Bite. And a Drink

For such a small village, Elk Rapids offers a surprisingly wide selection of dining options and drinking establishments.

Where to Eat & Drink in Elk Rapids

Foundry Craft Grillery

151 River St – Get the killer pretzel bites and the famous Greasy Monkey burger and really good fries, all paired with top-notch craft cocktails. Pooch-friendly patio.

Foundry Craft Grillery Restaurant in Elk Rapids

Chef Charles

147 River St – For pizza, we like Chef Charles on River Street (thick crust, bold flavors).

Cellar 152 Pub and Provisions

152 River St – Unwind with cocktails, draft beer, and wine and a variety of meals and desserts at this cozy spot right on River Street. Live music on the back deck.

The Dam Shop Food Truck and Bar

Treat yourself to a mouthwatering array of options, from burgers and tacos to breakfast, smoothies, and coffee. Enjoy lawn games and even arrive by boat!

Town Club

133 River St dishes out the comforts of home without the dishes. Burgers, fries, and ice-cold drinks—kick back with time-tested classics.

Pearls New Orleans Kitchen

Gator bites, crawfish, and jalapeño cornbread that pops with every bite. Throw back a Louisiana beer and let the good times roll! 617 Ames St

The Flour Pot

108 River St – Irresistible donuts, pastries and coffee. Get there before they sell out. The fritters are to die for! website

Happy Camper Coffee Co

212 River St – Clever coffee drinks, nibbles and other food that will have you feeling happy. Overlooks the river in a lovely cafe setting.

Townline Ciderworks

11595 US-31 S, Williamsburg, MI 49690 – Turn left on the dirt road by the fruit stand and and hit up Townline Ciderworks. Order the cider sampler and get a few of the tasty tacos from the on-site food truck.

Townline Cider works Elk Rapids MI
Townline Ciderworks

Ethanology

127 Ames St – Ethanology (a craft distillery) is sure bet when it comes to cocktails. Their creative drinks are made with locally sourced ingredients and are beyond and delicious. Sit in the loft and play games, enjoy a charcuterie board, or take a tour. Dogs are allowed on the patio.

Short’s Brewing Pull Barn

211 Industiral Park Drive – An all-time favorite is Short’s Brewing Company Elk Rapids Pull Barn, a production brewery without a kitchen, but often featuring food trucks on site. The outdoor eating area is vibing with fairy lights, yard games, and even has a sandbox for kids. Their restaurant location is in Bellaire.

Find More Fun at the Golf Course, Art Experiences, Library & More

Art and Connection – Gathering spaces, free arts and cultural workshops, local artist retail.

Elk Rapids Library

Myrtle and Maude’s – 10981 Elk Lake Road Williamsburg, MI 49690 – Michigan goods, vintage, wagon farm tours, kids play area, home decor.

Twisted Fish Gallery – 10443 South Bayshore Dr, Elk Rapids MI – Casual and fine art, also a lovely sculpture garden.

Elk Rapids Golf Course – 9 holes just a minute away from downtown. on Elk Lake.

Guntzviller’s Taxidermy and Spirit of the Woods Museum

And- shoot the “chute” in the river! When the water levels are just right, you can float the chute. It’s a blast! The water levels have been too high recently, but my last look in mid-May, the water levels seemed to be shaping up for a year where the chute might be available again. Fingers crossed!

Things to do in Elk Rapids Michigan - the chute
The “chute” in Elk Rapids

Map of Elk Rapids

Zoom in on the map to find your next stop in Elk Rapids!

What’s Your Favorite thing to do in Elk Rapids?

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Melody VanderWeide

INFJ. Mom of 3. Idea chaser-People believer-Inspiration seeker. Together we make GR amazing – Let’s go!

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