For the rivers it doesn’t much matter whether you’re paddling a canoe or a shorter kayak, local canoe liveries have cleared away debris so you can be fairly certain that you can make the trip without a portage. Access can be found at numerous places, often the work of the US Forest Service or the DNR, which will have provided parking, picnic tables, and outhouses at the landings.
Of the two major rivers the Manistee has a gentler flow – though there is the occasional sweeper or rocky fast section, most novice paddlers will be able to handle it. Recreational paddlers, who prefer quicker water start about Lucas Bridge and continue down to Baxter Bridge. Below that point the current slows, but the land continues to be wild. Starting at Lucas Road, for the nearly sixty miles of river frontage to the village of Mesick, cottages are rarely seen. It is just miles of unbroken forest with the high banks below Baxter Bridge and along the upper reaches of the river offering a spectacular backdrop especially when tinged with autumn colored foliage. Those looking to camp have the Old Grade Campground near US 131 and the Baxter Bridge Campground. On warm summer days you’ll share the river with happy downstream travelers on tubes or rafts.
Just past the Mesick, the river widens as it begins to form Hodenpyl Reservoir. Hodenpyl and Tippy Dam create large backwaters reservoirs, however, sandwiched between the dams lies a fast running section of the river that is popular with local paddlers. Launch below Hodenpyl Dam put your paddle in the water enjoy the ride until you pull in at Red Bridge several hours later.
Beyond Red Bridge lies the Tippy Dam Backwater. During the summer, you’ll share it with motor boats, but the many islands and narrow channels can quickly make this large body of water seem like a hideaway for a canoe or kayak. Overnight camping is available for those who procure a campsite registration from the U.S. Forest Service.
Tippy Dam Backwater
The Tippy Dam Backwater is also the endpoint for the Pine River. Upstream this river moves with authority as it possesses one of the fastest average flows of any Lower Peninsula River. In the 1970s more than 2000 canoes a week were on the river. To keep the river from being loved to death, the U.S. Forest instituted a permit system for using the river from May 15 to September 10. Permits from the Forest Service can be obtained online.
Travelers on the river will see few cottages as the Pine has been designated part of the Natural Rivers Program, meaning that all development must be at least a quarter mile from the river. Though the river will be a test for the beginning paddler throughout its length, the challenge increases in the sections above and below Peterson Bridge where there are some light rapids. For those looking for overnight stays, three campgrounds – Silver Creek, Lincoln Bridge, and Peterson Bridge – , are available. And if you have time to slow it down and do some fishing, this is prime water for trout.
Lakes are no longer the exclusive domain of the motorboats. In recent years kayaks have been appearing in greater numbers. Early mornings or in the evenings, when the motorized craft are resting in boat hoists, is a great time to be out in a kayak.
Those looking to explore quiet water should try Big Cove in the southwest end of Lake Mitchell. With its expanse of marshland shoreline, it’s a haven for herons, ducks, geese, and if you look up, you may glimpse an eagle.
For those looking for long tours, the canal connecting Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell makes it possible to explore more than 3700 acres of lake. If lakes are your passion, there’s public access launches at a half-dozen lakes in the Cadillac area. Certainly one of the most interesting is Olga Lake lying in a remote section of the Huron-Manistee National Forest, southwest of Cadillac. This wilderness flooding is a haven for water fowl and boasts an active beaver colony.
With so many waterways to explore, it’s not surprising that those who love paddle sports are finding their way to the Cadillac Area.