The first river in Michigan to be named a National Wild and Scenic River, the 33-mile Jordan River is clear, clean and cold—about 55 degrees at the height of summer. It surges through the Jordan Valley, an 18,000-acre chunk of the Mackinaw State Forest that has been protected from drilling and development since the late 1990s.
Rising from springs just north of Mancelona, the river’s main stem is fed by several trickling tributaries, the largest of which are Green River and Deer Creek. The Jordan twists and bends its way southwest and then north to Lake Charlevoix, coursing through a corridor of red maple, white ash, basswood, beech and birch trees—a perfect palette for September shutterbugs, especially against the evergreen clusters of spruce and cedar hugging the river’s banks.
Picturesque surroundings notwithstanding, the Jordan River, a blue-ribbon trout stream, is most famous for its fish. Folks angling for brookies like to cast their lines from the headwaters near the junction of U.S. 131 and C-32, downstream to Chestonia. The lower section of the river is a favorite hangout for browns—some 20+ inches—and, every spring and fall, steelhead and salmon that swim to spawning beds from Lake Michigan. Hikers with fishing rods can access the river at several spots along the Jordan Valley Trail; for access by car, there’s Mount Bliss Road, Jordan River Road, Graves Crossing, Penny Bridge Road and Old Bridge Road.