Paddle This Quiet Stretch of the Manistee River

Quiet up-river stretches of the Manistee River make ideal waters for an easy, beautiful and doable day of paddling in Northern Michigan.

A blissfully sunny Saturday is enough motivation to hoist that kayak out of storage and sweep out the cobwebs. Coordinate with some pals and head over to the Manistee River for a choose-your-own-adventure day of paddling.

With wide streams, sand bottoms and numerous access points, it’s no wonder the Big Man is a popular thoroughfare for paddlers. Head north of M72, near Grayling, to find several miles of navigable skinny water that often go overlooked by the clanking aluminum flotillas. Set an early alarm to enjoy a tranquil dawn paddle and get a jump on the canoe caravans. This section of river is quietly remarkable with an easy current, elusive but present wildlife, and forested banks that create seclusion.

Round up at least one friend for a spotter car that preferably can haul watercraft. Drop the spotter vehicle at M72 and then motor up to Cameron Road or 612 Bridge to embark. Cameron downriver offers a five-and-a-half-hour float, and 612 comes in at approximately four hours. For fly fishermen wanting to drift, head south of the M72 bridge and pull out at Hole-in-the-Wall launch or Yellow Trees launch. These sections are artificial flies only.

While paddling the Manistee, be sure to steer wide around turns to avoid colliding with downed brush and trees. If you do encounter a logjam, do not grab onto tree limbs, as this will quickly turn the kayak and cause it to capsize. If you find yourself upended (happens to even the best paddlers) gather your articles and dignity, guide your craft to the nearest bank and flip it upside down. With assistance, first tip the bow up, then the stern in a see-saw motion to drain as much water as possible.

Pack a soft cooler (it will stuff easier into the kayak/canoe) loaded with provisions. A few bottles of water are a necessity for hydrating during summer paddling. For a simple yet satisfying shore lunch, pick up a Turkey Gobbler from Mary’s Kitchen Port, in Traverse City, some shelled peanuts and a crisp apple. Sneak in a can of Bell’s Two Hearted, and your picnic is a streamside dream.

In addition to victuals, a bottle of 30SPF sunscreen is a must, and a can of bug dope is well advised. Some other handy amenities would be a large sponge for mopping up inside the kayak and a dry-bag to keep less water-resistant items (i.e. cameras, phones) functioning. Stowing a set of dry clothes in the waiting shuttle car is also prudent and a wonderful reprieve from a wet bathing suit.

Load up the kayaks, venture out, and push into the gentle current of the Manistee River to welcome and reacquaint yourself with Michigan summer.

Equipment recommendation: Keep keys, wallets and phones high and dry with the SealLine Baja Dry Bag. Sizes from 10- to 55-liter storage, the versatile and relatively inexpensive roll-top bags are guaranteed to prevent your essentials from getting waterlogged. Check local gear shops first.

Read: 5 Days Paddling the Manistee River (Camping + Fishing Tips, Too)


Northern Michigan Outdoors