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Michigan Canoeing

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I passed through Michigan last June on the way back to Maryland from Montana. On the road, I saw many vehicles with canoes on top. It's interesting looking country, and seeing all those canoes made me think I need to make a return trip to Michigan, this time bringing a boat.

I have two guidebooks: Canoeing in Michigan by Dennis and Date, and Weekend Canoeing in Michigan by Fletcher. I like Fletchers style of matching each described river with a nearby tavern. I'm thinking of organizing the trip by first selecting taverns, then canoeing the river Fletcher has it paired to.

What's the best time of the season to canoe Michigan? I can handle Class I and II whitewater, but I have given up hunting whitewater, and I'm not really looking for that. Therefore, water levels not that critical, so long as I don't have to get out and drag the boat. I don't mind lakes, but prefer rivers. When to go?
 
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Chip I have paddled many many river miles in Michigan. Denis and Date's book is awesome and usually very accurate. I am familiar with Fletcher but bring my own beer so cant share the good local taverns. Michigan does have a ton of excellent breweries and pubs. Season wise it sort of depends on likes and dislikes and where in Michigan you want to go. Many of the UP rivers are highly dependent on snow melt and precipitation for majority of flow volume. Less so in Eastern UP and more so Western UP. Lower peninsula rivers likely have adequate flow all year. Mosquitos and fly's all have a season and can be really bad but usually are not. I suppose that depends on your definition of bad. After mid August depending on local weather bugs are often no issue. My favorite season is usually September. The waters warm, airs warm, bugs gone. I hate the heat but if you like it then late July through mid August is hottest and usually driest.

Rivers to choose from I would have to ask if you want to do multiple days on one river or day trip a bunch of rivers. Depending on time and taste I can recommend many choices. There is some white water but usually you need high flow volumes in spring and mostly in Western UP though there are a few places with short sections even in Lower peninsula. I have been paddling these rivers for over 30 years and know many very well. I have a fair bit of data on times and distences and would be more then happy to share. It might be easier to chat over phone but can try to answer questions if anyone wants to know about paddling Michigan. I am sure there are a few other Michigan Paddlers here who have much to share also. There are lots of cool places to explore and dpending on taste and tripping style I am sure we could give you a pleathora of good option to fill your time.
 
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I’m interested. Are there any multi day trips that are less traveled and go through wilderness?
 
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Craig Lake is nice, along with McCormick Wilderness, and Big Island Wilderness if you want to inland lake paddle. During the season you will likely see others but can surly feel remote and alone and have lakes all to your self.

Erica wilderness is rather subjective. I am not sure I have ever been to what I consider wilderness.. Michigan does offer a lot of forested public land to explore. There is a long list of rivers that could be multi day trips. Four excellent rivers that will definetly have people and possibly lots of people on certain sections are the Pine, Pere Marquette, Manistee, and Au Sable. They all allow multiple day paddles and they are quite wonderful. Off season basically Memorial Day to Labor Day you can often have no one or few others. Much less people look at the Pigeon River it has a few pull overs but quite wilderness like and wonderful multi day paddles. The Big South Branch of the Pere Marquette is another multiple day paddle that does seem to gather a number of pull overs or around. Depending on distances covered there are many rivers. The main branch and South branch of White, Litte Muskegon, Flat, Chippewa, Betsie, Boardmen, Two Hearted, Muskegon, Fox, Carp, Black, Rifle. etc etc. There are a lot of rivers in Michgan. Some more wilderness then others. Day trips I would recomend the Sturgeon, Jordan, and Boyne rivers. A longer UP river I haven't paddled but usually has sufficient flow all year is the Tahquamenon River.
 
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Two Hearted made famous by the Hemingway short story (though I believe he was really talking about the Fox from what I have read). Is very nice and ends at a Lake Superior campground. The campground owner will shuttle and there are two sections to run. It was many years ago but the top section was so clogged with logjams we quit counting after 15. Not much fun. Second section was wide open all the way to the lake. Hope the owners are still there and running shuttles but as I say it was many years ago. This would only be a day paddle.
 
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Thanks, Steve and Foxy. I’ll do some reading on these.
 
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Hey Chip, what kind of experience do you envision? Long days of paddling? Pretty easy downstream floats? Tent or car camping? Motels?

I like going upstream first, then coming back downstream. I can recommend some good long day paddles in SW Michigan if you like and I'd be happy to take you out. In Ann Arbor the Huron River from Hudson Mills to Delhi Rapids is a lovely, easy 8 mile stretch and there are lots of good restaurants in AA.

In southern Michigan we've had many weeks of great paddling weather already; there's really no "bad" time other than Jan/Feb.
 
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Stevet your recollection of the Two Hearted still stands accurate. Rainbow Cabins is what they are called. Not sure if same owner or if they still shuttle. The upper section is filled with log jams. I have found that if the water is high there are less portages, pull overs etc but low water can be tough going and I have pretty high tolerance for pull overs. The lower section is nice but in 2012 there was a large fire that devastated the area but it is coming back but still looks very different. When you get to the Lake Superior shoreline take some time to look for Agates, and yooperlites and all the other pretty rocks on the beaches.
 
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Thanks everyone! You have given me plenty to chew on.

My initial question was "when to go." I think Foxy O indicates early in the season for water, September for nice weather and it's always less crowded. One year I went to the Apostles in September and found most things closed. But, days later in Ely, the outfitters were working, and do they work in Michigan, too? When I passed through UP last year it was late June and I don't have nightmares about the bugs, and I thinking I'm leaning towards June.

One of my favorite feelings comes from the sound of the car door clicking closed as I leave the car behind. Driving is awesome but comes with a certain, necessary level of complications. On the water, the pleasure of feeling the paddle in the water makes complications fade away. That's a long way of saying I favor multi-day paddling trips.

For multi-day trips, the guidebooks first point to the Au Sable and the Manistee. These river descriptions have appeal. However, the only place I've ever visited in the LP is Detroit, so I kind of have an impression of the LP based on that. It was specifically the UP that made me want to return to Michigan, so I've got a prejudice going. How crowded are the Au Sable and Manistee rivers and are they worth the billing they get?
 
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Hey Chip, what kind of experience do you envision? Long days of paddling? Pretty easy downstream floats? Tent or car camping? Motels?

I like going upstream first, then coming back downstream. I can recommend some good long day paddles in SW Michigan if you like and I'd be happy to take you out. In Ann Arbor the Huron River from Hudson Mills to Delhi Rapids is a lovely, easy 8 mile stretch and there are lots of good restaurants in AA.

In southern Michigan we've had many weeks of great paddling weather already; there's really no "bad" time other than Jan/Feb.
My buddy and I often go 7 hours, but believe me, we aren't paddling hard when we do that. In fact, we actively seek ways to slow down. I'm usually good for 5 hours at a reasonable pace. I can do more, but it becomes uncomfortable.

I often paddle upstream, but when touristing, would prefer downstream just because I'll get to see more of the river that way. On upstream paddles, I do enjoy the different view on the way back, and the speed of the return trip. And I love the no-shuttle part. I used to pole rivers, too, both round trips and downstream. My local rivers don't favor poling, so it's been a while since I've done that.

I'll definitely want to take up your Huron River offer. Assuming I schedule dates, I'll try to find the PM function. I appreciate the offer. Sounds like fun.
 
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I lived in Charlevoix for 4 years back in the late 90s and early 2000s. I canoed many of the smaller rivers mostly for fly fishing. There are beautiful little rivers all over. The Jordan River is a spring fed small river and a beautiful paddle. The upper Manistee River and the AuSable are both great but the AuSable is a tuber river so September would be the time. It’s been a long time but I have fond memories of the canoeing in northern Michigan, Charlevoix is north of Traverse City and is a beautiful area.
 
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I grew up in Charlevoix, and now currently live in Traverse City. A lot of good places have been mentioned already, but we have plenty of rivers and inland lakes. Both great for fishing and paddling. The Jordan has always been a fun river, cold but feels good on a hot summers day. It’s a locals hot spot, for good reasons though.

Be warned, poor timing Can result in traffic jams full of drunk Bro’s on the Platte, Betsie, Jordan (buffalo pirates here), Au Sable, Bear, and lower Boardman. From Boardman Lk to West Bay (Lk Michigan) there are several brewery tours by kayak and often clog the river. But it’s not the section you wanna paddle anyways. I had three black bears between my canoe and two fly fisherman on the upper stretch last summer.

Grass river is neat. Also where the Chain-O-Lakes water trail is. Something like 100 miles of paddling through 12 lakes. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll catch Kid Rock at the sandbar in Torch Lake
 
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PS. The lower stretch of the Two Hearted (Bells Two Hearted beer mandatory for full effect) is really neat. The beach is great, plenty of personal space, and plenty of wild blueberries on the NCT stretch there. The drive back is dusty and 15 miles feels like 55. Cool spot though!
 
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PS. The lower stretch of the Two Hearted (Bells Two Hearted beer mandatory for full effect) is really neat. The beach is great, plenty of personal space, and plenty of wild blueberries on the NCT stretch there. The drive back is dusty and 15 miles feels like 55. Cool spot though!
I camped at the upper big two hearted river once and it was a tangle of one obstruction after another. I can’t speak to the lower parts.
 
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I've encountered a couple health issues, one which will involve surgery in late May that comes with a "no lifting more than 10 pounds" recovery. So, reality check, I'm not going to plan a Michigan trip for June. I hope to go in September, if I can 1) recover, and 2) wait that long. I am pretty psyched about paddling possibilities in Michigan.

Health issues have me reflecting on recent CT threads about aging, and about the OT Tripper. I'm wondering if I'll ever carry the Tripper again. Time will tell.

I've been focused on Michigan rivers, but it dawned on me there are a lot of lakes in Michigan. On-line mapping shows that most of the lakes are surrounded by roads, which, in the east, usually means lake shores lined with camps and cottages. Still can be nice paddling, but it's not what I prefer.

I looked at Craig Lake State Park, which seems an exception. There are several lakes in the Park, and my mapping doesn't show any connections or roads. Can a paddler get into the remote lakes like Crooked Lake, which looks like it would be interesting to paddle?
 
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That is too bad about the surgery. I hope it all goes well. I think September will be a better season anyway. There is a portage easily identified from Craig Lake to Crooked Lake. There is some paddling along the Peshekee River too. I think it may be possible to paddle out north end of Craig Lake and paddle back up stream coming out of Crooked Lake and portage back to Craig. Could be a real pain but might be cool. Distances arn't too far if it sucks. Craig Lake is very nice with lots of beautiful campsites. Another cool lake area to explore is Big Island Wilderness.

In regards to Au sable and Manistee Rivers. I am biased and hope some folks who love the Au Sable can add a more whole review. I have not paddled the Au Sable and the reason is that paddlers are required to stay at campgrounds along the way due to no dispersed camping. Limiting camping does help to preserve the forest but takes away from my nature experience. The Manistee and Au Sable have sections that you will encounters tubers or rented canoes but it is usually nice weather weekends. The week days are usually pretty quite. I usually get a couple good laughs as I pass by because tubes move slow. The Manistee is very nice with lots of public lands and lots of campgrounds and dispersed camping. How long are you planning on going? If you have the time I would start up by Deward and work my way to Old 131 State Forest Campground Baxter Bridge.

Not sure of your expeience with the Great Lakes but West coast of Michigan LP and the North coast of Michigan's UP have some real special places to see and explore if you want a taste of Michigan. As I think about it most of the coast line of Michigan is pretty special.
 
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