Situated amid the rolling hills, hardwood forests, and crystal clear lakes of northwestern Michigan, Kalkaska offers a quintessential small town escape.
Located about 30 miles southeast of Traverse City, this rural community has under 3,000 residents who proudly embrace the town’s charming character and natural surroundings. Yet Kalkaska has more to offer than just outdoor activities.
This list of the top things to do will guide you to the very best that Kalkaska has to offer across all four seasons. From examining centuries-old logging artifacts to cheering under the Friday night lights at a high school football game, Kalkaska reveals the heart of small town living.
Its welcoming community and wealth of outdoor adventure beckons you to come experience an authentic taste of northern Michigan life.
1. Paddle the Rapid River
One of the top things to do in Kalkaska is paddling the Rapid River. This designated “Natural River” winds through 48 miles of stunning scenery, ideal for kayaking and canoeing.
The most popular section starts from Chase Bridge to the take-out at Rainbow Jim Bridge, spanning over 14 miles. Along the peaceful waters, you’ll pass towering pines, rock outcroppings, and even a replica Native American wigwam village.
2. Hike the Shore to Shore Trail
Spanning over 200 miles across northern Michigan, the Shore to Shore Trail connects Lake Huron to Lake Michigan.
One of the most popular segments runs from Kalkaska to Traverse City, offering a peaceful wooded hike or bike ride. Along this 16 mile stretch, the trail winds through the beautiful Pere Marquette State Forest.
3. Disc Golf at Brown Bridge Quiet Area
Boasting one of Michigan’s top disc golf courses, the Brown Bridge Quiet Area offers exciting play through the wooded terrain.
This challenging 18-hole course wraps around Bond Creek with tons of birdies, challenging shots, and ace opportunities along the way. The quiet area also has hiking and biking trails.
4. Explore the Kalkaska Winter Sports Complex
This extensive recreational area just outside of Kalkaska offers fun year-round activities. In winter, enjoy groomed cross-country ski trails, downhill tubing, ice skating, and more. Other seasons offer hiking, mountain biking, disc golf, basketball, sand volleyball, and a dog park.
5. Go Fishing on Lake Skegemog
Known as a top fishing lake, Skegemog Lake spans over 2,000 acres with plentiful populations of smallmouth bass, northern pike, walleye, and panfish. Join a guided fishing trip or cast from the public boat launch near Kalkaska town for a day filled with catching.
6. Ride the Trails at The Rock
Mountain bikers of all skill levels can hit the scenic wooded trails at The Rock just outside Kalkaska. This extensive trail network has over 25 miles of cross country routes for every rider, from smooth beginner loops to the expert boulder drops on Misery.
7. Hike the Glacial Hills Pathway
For scenic hiking just outside of town, head to the Glacial Hills Pathway and Natural Area. This extensive trail network has 7 miles of looped hiking and biking trails past glacial terrain, hardwood forest, and wildflowers. Interpretive signs explain the unique landscape.
8. Go Blueberry Picking
Get your fill of fresh blueberries at Blueberry Patch Farm, located a short drive east of Kalkaska. Pick your own berries in the summer or visit for hayrides, corn maze, pumpkin patch, and more come autumn. Enjoy a homemade pie and bakery on site too!
9. Cheer on the Kalkaska Lakers
Catch an exciting football game under the Friday night lights at this small town field. The Kalkaska High School Lakers are a central part of the community. Grab some hot concessions and sit in the stands to support the hometown team!
10. Go Snowmobiling on Groomed Trails
With over 140 inches of snow per year, Kalkaska is a prime area for snowmobiling. Ride the groomed trails of the Kalkaska Winter Sports Complex or head farther north to trail systems like the Jordan Valley Pathway for incredible snow-covered scenery.
11. View the National Trout Festival Parade
Each April, Kalkaska hosts the National Trout Festival to celebrate the importance of trout fishing in the community. Highlights include a fun fishing contest, carnival rides, art fair, and a lively parade down Main Street with floats and marching bands.
12. Tour the Historic Kalkaska Village
At this outdoor museum, you can explore reconstructed buildings showcasing life in 19th century Kalkaska. See the general store, schoolhouse, train depot, sheriff’s office, church, mills, and more. Costumed interpreters demonstrate traditional skills and trades.
13. Camp at the Kalkaska RV Park & Campground
This highly rated campground south of downtown Kalkaska offers cozy cabins, full hook-up RV sites, and tent camping. Amenities include a swimming pond, wifi, recreation hall, trails, and proximity to Rapid River access.
14. Swim & Splash at Kaliseum Recreation Center
Address: 1900 Fairgrounds Rd, Kalkaska, MI 49646
Cool off on hot summer days at Kaliseum, the community recreation center and indoor water park. Features include lap and leisure pools, waterslides, current channel, diving boards, and kiddie areas.
15. Try a Pastie from Ed’s Apples
Sample an Upper Peninsula specialty at Ed’s Apples roadside stand just south of Kalkaska. Grab a handheld pastie stuffed with meat, potatoes, and veggies. They also have fresh apples, doughnuts, fudge, and cider.
16. Paddle Kalamazoo Lake
This peaceful 740 acre lake just northeast of Kalkaska is perfect for an afternoon paddle. Rent a kayak or canoe and cruise the calm waters, keeping an eye out for loons and other water birds. A public access site is located on Reeds Rd.
17. Grab a Sweet Treat at Marge’s Donut Den
No trip to Kalkaska is complete without stopping at this beloved donut shop and bakery. Their made-from-scratch donuts, pies, cookies, and cinnamon rolls are locally famous.
18. Picnic at Kaliseum Veterans Memorial Park
Adjacent to the recreation center, this community park has picnic tables, grills, playground, paddleboat rentals on the pond, basketball court, and volleyball. The Veterans Memorial honors local fallen soldiers.
19. Cross-Country Ski at the Vasa Pathway
Groomed cross-country ski trails loop through this extensive recreation area just outside Kalkaska. Warm up by the fire with hot cocoa afterwards! The Vasa Pathway also has hiking and mountain biking.
20. See a Show at the Historic State Theatre
This beautifully restored move theater in downtown Kalkaska dates back to 1941. Today, it hosts movies, concerts, live performances, and community events in an elegant setting with Art Deco architecture.
With its pristine rivers, scenic trails, and charming small town community, Kalkaska offers the quintessential northern Michigan getaway.
Beyond the wealth of recreation, taking the time to stroll downtown invites you to embrace the welcoming pace of small town living. The surrounding countryside delights with quaint farm stands overflowing with just-picked apples and roadside antique stores promising hidden treasures.
Whenever you choose to visit Kalkaska, you’ll find open arms, open trails, and endless opportunities to embrace the pastoral joys of northern Michigan.