Sturgeon River, Wolverine MI
Guided Winter Rafting trips are offered on two of our superb northern rivers, the Jordan and the Sturgeon. What an amazing way to enjoy our streams outside of the traditional paddling season! On the Jordan, Melanie & Dan at Jordan Valley Outfitters (in East Jordan) can take you on a guided trip, while on the Sturgeon, Big Bear Adventures (in Indian River) and Sturgeon River Paddlesports (in Wolverine) can serve as your tour guides. It was Sturgeon River Paddlesports and its owner, our old friend Jamie, that we chose for our winter rafting expedition down the Sturgeon. Jamie and his pal Rick were the guides for each of our two rafts, 5 of us in each raft.
The Sturgeon is (along with the Little Manistee) the fastest river in the Lower Peninsula, with a peak gradient drop of 14' per mile. The stretch of the river where the trip takes place is through a gorgeous, ancient forest.
It was a thrilling 90 minutes, winding our way down the narrow stream, steering around and sometimes bouncing off of fallen trees and other debris before us. Paddling for the paying customers is fairly minimal - a difficult thing to get used to for river veterans - only paddling in unison when directed by our guides.
However, with Jamie and Rick in control of your voyage, this allows you to focus on the gorgeous snow-covered scenery, while their expert steering is sprinkled with humor and stories of the area. In Jamie's 18 years, and Rick's 12 years, of guided winter raft trips, no customer has ever fallen into the Sturgeon - good to know when you're going downstream in the dead of winter.
Out of 10 friends who participated in this January excursion, all 10 expressed a resounding "YES!" when asked if they'd like to do this again. The Sturgeon River Paddlesports website is www.sturgeonriverpaddlesports.com or call Jamie at 231-525-6878.
Little Manistee River, Manistee MI
A little less than an hour south of Honor we paddled a 6-mile stretch of the Little Manistee River. Some folks brought their own boats and some rented theirs from Ryan at his Manistee Paddlesport Adventures livery on the N side of Manistee. The 6-mile journey, ending 20 minutes east of town, runs from the 9 Mile Bridge launch to the 6 Mile Bridge take-out, and is a 2 hour blast, a fine word that combines “Blatz” and “Pabst”.
The L.M. is fun & challenging. It’s tied with the slightly-wider Sturgeon as the fastest river in the Lower Peninsula, both with a peak gradient drop of 14’ per mile. You paddle through a fast current on a narrow riverbed with plenty of rapids on L.M., but it's not the rapids that pose the biggest challenge in navigating this river, but rather it's the strong current that wants to push you into the debris fields on the wide side of the tight bends. River depth is, generally, 1.5' to 2'. Although we’ve canoed the Little Manistee several times, during our 2017 trip, we found that relatively short, 10’ long, kayaks – sit-upons with flat-bottoms & no keels, were the best way to traverse this river. Our friend owns a kayak w/ a keel, and last year was continuously getting stuck in the shallow waters.
A little over a half-an-hour into the Little Manistee begins 24 consecutive bends of light rapids FUN! What starts out as a pleasant little run intensifies as you progress into the 24 river bends, all the while 2’ to 3’ long shadows of salmon darted beneath the kayaks. One of our kayakers felt schools of fish, 6 to 7 at a time, bouncing off the bottom of her kayak throughout this 24-bend stretch!
A favorite place of ours to stay after a day on the LM – or the nearby Pine River - is at Peterson’s Cabins & Campgrounds, on M55 one-quarter mile north of M37. Clean rooms, inexpensive, with fire rings near the cabins for evening campfires.
Kickapoo River, Ontario WI
On our way up to Minneapolis for a paddle down the Mississippi River, we stopped in the town of Ontario WI. There we visited Tony Kelbel, owner of Drifty’s Canoe Rental, and kayaked a river I wrote about in the “Canoeing & Kayaking Wisconsin” book: the beginner accessible – and unforgettable - Kickapoo River.
The Kickapoo is the longest tributary to the longest river in Wisconsin: it flows south/southwest for 130 miles and ends by merging into the 430-mile long Wisconsin River. The Kickapoo features the most beautiful rock outcroppings we’ve ever seen on a river. You paddle by 12 separate rock formations on the short 2 hour trip (6.6 miles) that begins at Drifty’s Canoes.
Millions of years ago, the valley where the Kickapoo flows today did not exist. The sandstone and shale rock formations were continuous layers that stretched across where the river valley now is. Over time, erosion cut thru these geological layers, leaving a deep valley for the Kickapoo to flow thru. Most of SW Wisconsin was untouched by glaciers during the Ice Age. It’s an area known as “unglaciated” or the “driftless region”. Glaciers deposit sediment called “drift” which would’ve flattened or eroded these outcroppings, had the glaciers not bypassed the SW corner of the state.
Although the drive to Ontario WI is a long one for folks from Michigan (9 hours from SE Michigan), the beauty of the Kickapoo creates a memory well-worth your time.
Crockery Creek, Grand Haven MI
A great wildlife viewing paddle adventure awaits you on Crockery Creek, located just a few miles east of Grand Haven, 10 minutes from Lake Michigan. The suggested site to launch is just a few feet northeast of I96 at exit 10 / Nunica. From there, we took a 4 mile float south to where Crockery Creek empties into the mighty
You find yourself meandering down Michigan's version of Loo-siana bayou country, padding beneath and around leaning branches, midstream deadwood, and plenty of trees jutting out of the water (some of this due to the early season high water levels). The frequency of the obstructions make this an enjoyable paddling challenge and not well-suited for beginners.
A herd of at least 30 deer stampeded next to us, treating us to a beautiful sight 'n sound. This was truly special, not unlike watching a scene from Lonesome Dove with Captain Call, Augustus & the boys driving a herd of horses across the prairie.
At the 1.4 mile mark, we counted 23 nests some 50' high in the trees above us, nests of the Blue Herons. While some birds stayed in the nests with their eggs, others took to the sky above, squawking their distaste for our intrusion into their lives. It was quite a sight! Since Blue Herons use the same nests for several years at a time, there is an excellent chance that this sweet wildlife viewing opportunity will be yours for some time to come.
At the 4 mile mark, the southward flowing Crockery Creek merges with the Grand River flowing from your left to right on its way to a junction with Lake Michigan. You paddle for a quarter mile across the Grand to the 118th Street DNR access site on the south side of the Grand.
Mecan River, Princeton WI
One of the sweetest little streams you'll ever float is the Mecan (ma-can) River in south central Wisconsin. The river averages a narrow 15' to 20' wide and features a deceptively quick current that slingshots you quickly around the tight turns. Plenty of deadwood and low hanging branches give you a fun run for your money. The clearance is so minimal under some of the small farm bridges that you have to squeeze under, there was a cheer for each boat that made it successfully. The stories told on the ride to our launch site by Mecan River Outfitters Godfather, Paul Harvey, were half the fun (now we know the rest of the story). The old time tavern feel of the Buckhorn Lounge in the nearby town of Princeton (you'll dig their Hillbilly Wind Chimes) does your soul good, sitting on the Buckhorn's back deck over- looking the Fox River (the Mecan flows into the Fox a little SW of Princeton). Overnight in Princeton at Ellison's Gray Lion B&B for a short walk back from a belly full of Schlitz (no PBR on tap, so a fine plan B) and pizza at the Buckhorn.
Fox River, Seney MI
The fabulous Fox River was our 4Day getaway destination. Our hosts were Northland Outfitters on M77 in Germfask, 75 minutes west of the Mackinac Bridge in the beautiful Upper Peninsula. We launched from the Fox River Overlook, about 6 paddling hours upstream from the Seney Township Campsite. Although there is no whitewater or rapids on the Fox, this is one of Michigan's most challenging streams, a narrow & fast flowing river, featuring frequent tight turns and quite a bit of deadwood to paddle around or over. The Fox is a wonderful wilderness experience! During our 4 days on the water, there was not another paddler in sight - you are deep into a wonderful seclusion. Plan to work as the logjams are plentiful, but the Fox is so spiritual and so beautiful, that you'll want to come back again & again.
There are a few day trip options on the Fox:
1. 2 hours - Fox Overlook to the Fox River State Forest Campground
2. 4 hours - Fox River S.F.C. to the Seney Township Campground
3. 6 hours - Fox Overlook to the Seney Township Campground
You can take 2 or 3 days to run the Fox from the Seney Township Campground down to Northland Outfitters in Germfask. It takes us approximately 12 hours for this stretch. There are no designated campgrounds along the way, and the only public access of any kind here is at M28 - only 20 minutes downstream from the Seney Township site.
25 minutes beyond M28, you enter the Fox River Spreads. You'll know that you're at the Spreads when the Fox splits into two smaller streams - and each of those streams splits, and then splits again. The river becomes so narrow that you can reach out and touch the brush leaning into the river from each shore. Take any one of the splits in the Spreads and know that, within 30 minutes, all of the splits will reconnect. A very cool experience!
Less than a two mile walk from the Seney Township Campground is one of our favorite taverns, Andy's Seney Bar. Located on M28 in Seney, Andy's is about 150' or so east of where the Fox River flows beneath the M28 Bridge. To quote from the classic 1985 song, "Some get there by canoe, some get there by car, they're all looking for Andy's - Andy's Seney Bar". Andy's opened in 1978, the same year that we took our first 4Day canoe trip with Northland Outfitters. An evening (or a day) at Andy's will be full of good times, with table top shuffleboard, Pabst Blue Ribbon beers, and maybe doing a shot or two of George Dickel Tennessee Whisky right along with Andy. If you do a few rounds of Dickel with Andy, and your shoes are missing the next morning, save yourself some time by looking for 'em at Andy's first.