Whether you have a day or weekend, Northern Michigan paddling is a must. And when it comes to paddling in Northern Michigan, writer Jerry Dennis—who co-authored the classic guide Canoeing Michigan Rivers back in 1986—is pretty much the man. We asked Dennis to disclose three of his all-time favorite river trips around the North.
One-Day Paddle Trip
Pine River, from Elm Flats to Low Bridge Landing
Location: Wexford and Manistee Counties
Distance: 20.5 miles
Total trip: 6–9 hours
For a beautiful and challenging one-day paddle, Dennis says the Pine is where it’s at. Known for being a fairly difficult river, the Pine’s waters can be smooth one minute and swift the next—so come with your game face on. You’ll be rewarded when you hit the final stretch, past Peterson Bridge: show-stopping banks up to 100 feet high flank the river, creating cathedrals of pines, hardwoods, cedars and willows.
Get there: Find Elm Flats, a USFS canoe landing with parking and restrooms, off State Road about 18 miles west of Cadillac.
Overnight Paddle Trip
Manistee River, from Hodenpyl Dam to Red Bridge
Location: Manistee County
Distance: 10 miles
Total trip: 3–4 hours
The Manistee is Dennis’ “hands-down favorite” overnight trip. “You can easily do it in a day, but once you get down there, you’ll want to stay,” he says. “It’s just a gorgeous, quiet, secluded place.” This portion cuts a leisurely path through almost entirely undeveloped land; sand bars, waterfalls and trickling springs are among the treasures found here. There are also plenty of campsites along the way, thanks in part to the North Country and Manistee River Trails, which skirt the river. (Option: Either head for home in the a.m., or paddle a second day to take out at High Bridge access, about 5.5 beautiful hours downstream.)
Get there: Follow M-115 west from Mesick to Hodenpyl Dam Road, then follow the signs to the public access site.
Two-Night Paddle Trip
Paint River, from Paint River Forks Campground to Little Bull Dam
Location: Iron County
Distance: 38 miles
Total trip: 13-19 hours
Dennis considers the Paint River one of the U.P.’s most beautiful places to paddle. “The water is a lot clearer than most U.P. rivers; it isn’t stained with tannin like so many of them are,” Dennis says. This remote river has it all: stellar scenery, abundant wildlife, and a current that ranges from quiet pools to tricky whitewater. Dennis’s voice gets a little dreamy when he talks about his favorite spot to camp on the Paint: along the Hemlock Rapids. “When you camp there, you know that people have been camping there for thousands of years,” he says. “There are beautiful, gnarly old pines, and you camp under the pine needles with the rapids right there. It’s a great place.”
Get there: From Iron River, follow US-2 west, then CR-657 north and then west about 10 miles; find the Forks campground on the right.