Michigan Canoeing Trip
Kobak on Flat Water - 1997

I like all kinds of paddling from class-V whitewater to Sea Kayaking and even flat water canoeing. The main ingredients that I look for are scenic areas, clean water and lack of large numbers of paddlers.

I thought for a change I would canoe with Peggy. Now that it was finally getting hot in Cleveland we decided to head North. I realized it has been 28 years since we had paddled these Northwest Michigan rivers, so I expected lots of changes. They had seemed a bit crowded to me at that time.

We hadn't done much planning, didn't have any river guides but I remembered that the Pine River was fast and clean. We stopped at the Michigan tourist info. on our way north and found a brochure on a canoe livery on the Pine River. The map showed access points and campgrounds. It was to be our guide for the week.

We were going up on June 30th and planned to stay over the Fourth of July weekend, we expected the worst. We picked Silver Creek State Forest Campground which was right on the Pine River. It was great. Not full yet, small with only 19 wooded campsites.

We had about an inch of rain that night, but the sandy soil conditions kept the runoff to a minimum. The river got cloudy and came up about 6". The map showed the upper most put-in, Edgett's Bridge was a 5 hour paddle down to our camp. near Walker bridge. We drove to the put-in threw my bike into the canoe for a shuttle back to the put-in. Keeping the bike with us allowed us the luxury of going as far as we wished without having to make a planned destination. There are plenty of access points and the livery map showed all the connecting roads.

The river is only about 15' wide and passes mostly forested areas. The water was fast and much maneuvering was required to get around the fallen trees and low hanging branches. We saw Deer, Otter and a family of Mergansers. There were very few cottages. The trip back to our campsite took us 3 1/2 hrs rather then the 5 hrs advertised. There were no other paddlers, however this was a Tuesday. It only took me 45 min. to bike back to the put-in.

The next morning it looked like rain but we decide to head down stream from our camp until Peterson's bridge. This section had a few more access points and we passed a group of boy scouts who were doing a three day canoe camp. We were planning the same distance for one day.

At the Lincoln access we saw signs saying that a permit was required to canoe below this point. We stopped at the access but there was no explanation of where or how you were to get these permits. It turns out you are supposed to pick these up at a ranger station 30 mi. away or write ahead for the free permit. We proceeded anyway. When we neared Dobson bridge, after a three hours, it started to rain. We decided to call it a day and I biked back to camp to complete the shuttle. The cool drizzle stopped before I got back. Another 45 min. bike shuttle. I love these Two-fer trips, Canoeing and Bicycling. Peggy loved reading her book waiting for me to return.

The weather turned drizzly and cool so we stayed in and read books the next day. We also rested our sore muscles. Canoeing takes different muscles than kayaking. When the rain stopped I decided to try a little mountain biking. The map in the camp showed a trail which follows the river downstream to Lincoln bridge, then back up the other side of the river and back to the camp. I should have looked for the bridge that was supposed to get me back to camp first. After biking 5 mi. the trail ended next to the river directly across from my campsite. The river was too deep to wade and too cold to swim. I couldn't believe they took out the bridge and didn't bother marking the map or continuing the trail to the main road at Walker bridge. I tried various game paths but other then scaring up a lot of deer I kept running into impassable swamps. I finally found a dirt road that was taking me miles away from the river but hopefully back to the main road. I was lucky enough to run into a group of campers who explained how to get back to my camp. It only added 4 miles to my ride but at least I made it back without being hopelessly lost.

Since we completed all but the last section of the Pine we decided to look for another nearby river. We had paddled the Little Manistee on that same trip 28 years ago, but I had no idea of where the access points were. We drove past the river and saw no liveries so we proceeded to the Pere Marquette River 20 mi. away in Baldwin. I inquired at Ivan's Canoe Livery about what was the best section to paddle. They were quite helpful and even provided me with a free permit so I could legally paddle the river. Even though it was July 4th the cool cloudy weather kept other paddlers away. They recommended that we begin at Bowman's bridge National Forest Campground and go to Upper Branch Bridge. This way we could run Rainbow Rapids.

The river was slightly larger than the Pine and until we got to Rainbow landing we saw no other paddlers. At Rainbow Landing several canoes and rafts were putting in. Rafts?, maybe there really were rapids. Naw, we past one slightly faster moving area with a few riffles, and that was it. Maybe at lower water there are rapids here as you drag over the shallow bottom.

The bike ride back from Upper Bridge was all on paved road but still took about 40 minutes. The map provided by Ivan's said the trip was 20 miles and would take 4 1/2 hours. It took us 3 and the river wasn't that fast moving for us to have gone 20 mi. It had many more summer homes but was still a nice river. These clear spring fed rivers run all summer long. Stacks of canoes at all the landings indicate that they are quite popular on the weekends. I don't know what the Nat'l Forest people limit the canoe traffic to, but it probably gets crowded.

On Saturday, we decided to stay off the rivers and try some trail biking. About 10 mi. away there was the White Pine Multi-Use Trail which runs from Reed City to Cadillac. We decided to start at Tustin which is the mid point. We decided to bike to Cadillac and return making for a nice 25 mi. flat gravel trail ride. There is a interesting free museum in Tustin, however it is only open on Saturdays. We saw a couple of other groups of bikers, but considering that this was the 4th of July weekend it was basically deserted. The trail isn't quite as smooth as the Yough trail but is very scenic and we saw a Porcupine, grouse, deer and lots of turtles.

The trip into Cadillac was worth it since we found a new ice cream shop on Main Street that had the best rich ice cream. The day was getting warm but the breeze across the large lake in Cadillac kept the city temperatures lower.

When we got back to our camp I met some private paddlers taking out by our site. I was able to get information from them about the Little Manistee River. Their description matched what I remembered. It was a narrow, fast, log jammed, rip snorting little river. There was a Nat'l forest campsite at the put-in. It was only 25 mi. away but we decided to break camp on Sunday morning and drive there so we wouldn't have to drive back that afternoon.

When we got to Bear Trap NF Camp, it was emptying out, so there were plenty of empty camp sites. I found another family of paddlers who gave me a map of the area and which showed me access and shuttle roads. They said they had only dumped three times on the first stretch but were afraid to run the next stretch between 9mi and 6 mi. bridges. It was supposed to be the hardest river on the Lower Peninsula and drops 15'/mi.

They looked incredulous as we threw our bike into the canoe and paddled away. The stretch down to 9 mi. bridge was fast but it wasn't all that difficult. Lots of cottages along the way, I guess a novice may have some trouble with the tight turns but there was a canoe livery putting boats on this stretch of the river. We only passed one canoe this day.

Peggy was nervous after hearing the story of the hard stretch of river to come. She would have preferred stopping at 9mi bridge but since we had only been paddling for two hours we pressed on.

The river picked up speed, fallen trees were numerous and we had to drag over river wide obstructions in 3-4 places. When the river really stared picking up we had to do some hard back-ferrying to snake our way around the fallen trees. We came around one particularly difficult stretch and saw three girls on shore watching. They shouted as we past that we were the first ones that weekend to make it past without hitting the trees. We relaxed a little. and so did the river. Still plenty of deadfall but the current slowed making the maneuvering much easier.

After two hours of paddling we reached 6 mile bridge, Peggy finally breathing a sigh of relief and exclaimed, "That wasn't so bad, I like the fast water".

The bike shuttle back was not as easy. The roads were very soft and sandy. It was only 9 mi. but it took me almost 50 minutes and it felt like I was going up hill the entire way.

A great week, beautiful clean rivers, lots of canoeing and biking. What more could you ask for!

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