Ottawa National Forest

Paddling
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The water resources play an important role in the natural appeal of the Ottawa National Forest. In addition to many miles of Lake Superior shoreline, the forest contains many lakes, both large and small, and a wide variety of rivers and streams that provide canoeing and kayaking opportunities. Some of the waterfalls are small, tucked away into quiet corners of the forest that whisper across rocks and fall into little pools where brook trout rise to feed. Other waterfalls roar as they drop 40 feet and more churning and spraying mist into the air as they gouge into the bedrock that provides the base for all that beauty and power.

The Ottawa National Forest has over 500 lakes and 1,800 miles of streams. Two distinct kinds of canoeing, separated by Michigan Highway 28, are available in the Ottawa National Forest. The area lying south of M-28 is relatively flat with hundreds of small lakes dotting the countryside. The rivers are mostly flat water with moderate current to small rapids and deliver a relaxing canoeing experience. By contrast, the area north of M-28 is rugged with many high hills and ridges. Rivers in this area are beginning their mighty descent to Lake Superior and offer fast water, rock ledges, and waterfalls—most assuredly, an adventurous ride. Spring finds the rivers are at their highest and fastest. However, the Presque Isle, Ontonagon, Paint, and Brule rivers generally have ample flow for canoeing all year long. During spring run-off, the rivers of the Ottawa flow fast and furious, and once quiet waters can become potentially dangerous torrents. However, by the time the summer canoeing season arrives, rivers may be so low that canoeing is nearly impossible. The following rivers generally have ample flow for canoeing through the year.

Black River

Mileage of floatable/canoeable river: 9.8 miles. Blackjack Mountain Parking Area to Moore Street, 3.4 miles: Moore Street to Hedberg Road, 1 mile; Hedberg Road to Narrows Wayside, 5.4 miles. Canoeing is not recommended beyond this point.
Outfitters/liveries available: None in immediate area, nearest are South Branch Canoes, Presque Isle, WI, and Sylvania Outfitters, Watersmeet, MI.
Type of available riverside scenic sites and facilities: Road access and parking Blackjack Mountain Ski Area; Moore Street Bridge; Hedberg Road Bridge; County Road 513 Narrows wayside area; Copper Peak Ski Flying Hill (County Road 513). Great Conglomerate, Gorge/Potawatomi, Sandstone and Rainbow Falls scenic areas, Black River Harbor picnic area/Lake Superior, North Country National Scenic trail parallels river near Copper Peak Ski Flying Hill to Black River Harbor (County Road 513).
Resort/Lodging facilities: Bessemer, Wakefield, Ironwood, Forest Service Campground at Black River Harbor.
High flow periods, low flow or other hazards: High flow periods spring runoff, May-June, low flow and other hazards in a dry summer, August-September.
Classification of rapids: Class I-II canoe stream, short rapids on headwater portage.
Species of fish present: Good brook trout fishing, some browns on headwater portion Blackjack to Narrows.
Description of adjacent countryside: Relatively dissected country—river runs in fairly pronounced narrow stream valley, opens out in areas to flat terrain. Vegetation generally hardwood/hemlock with some spruce, fir, aspen, cedar. stream flow generally good but wider flat portions over conglomerate rock shallow and shoaly during low water. Portion from Narrows Wayside down is not recommended because of numerous unnamed rapids and 7 major waterfalls—essentially not runnable.

Presque Isle River
Both the West and South branches offer relatively slow moving water. Put in off of Forest Road 8100 at the Teal canoe landing on the West Branch north of the Henry Lake campground, or on the South Branch south of Hawk Lake 1/2 mile west of M-64 at the Mallard canoe landing on Forest Road 8100. The branches join south of Marenisco. The trip from there has a long portage at Yondota Falls. Bring your rod for trout and northern pike. Canoeing north of M-28 is not recommended.

Mileage of floatable/canoeable river: 17 miles. Highway 64, Presque Isle Flowage to Highway 64 bridge, Marenisco, 3 miles; Highway 64 bridge Marenisco to US-2, 1 mile; US-2 - Yondota Falls, 3 miles; Yondota Falls -M-28, 10 miles.
Outfitters/liveries available: None in immediate area, nearest are South Branch Canoes, Presque Isle, WI - 9 miles, and Sylvania Outfitters, Watersmeet, MI - 26 miles.
Type of available riverside facilities: State wayside area, State Highway 64, 2 miles south of Marenisco, MI. Road access and roadside parking - Highway 64 bridge, Marenisco, Ml; US-2 bridge, Marenisco, MI; Yondota Falls bridge and portage 2 1/2 road miles north of Marenisco, MI; Mine Road Steel Bridge 3 1/2 road miles north of Marenisco, MI; State Highway M-28 bridge 8 road miles northeast of Wakefield, MI- 10 road miles east of Bergland, MI.
High flow periods, low flow or other hazards: High flow periods - spring runoff, May-June. Low flow and ocher hazards in a dry summer, August-September.
Classification of rapids: Class I-II canoe stream headwaters to M-28 north Class II-III and some IV waters as you get closer to South Boundary Road. Numerous falls Camp 4 area, South Boundary require portage.
Species of fish present: Good brook trout, walleye, pike, steelhead salmon at mouth below Manabezho Falls - Lake Superior.
Description of adjacent countryside: Relatively wide flat stream, some small rapids up to M-28. Land is generally low; spruce, fir, aspen with hardwoods on ridges coming down to stream in places. Upper portion M-28 north to Camp 4 South Boundary, more stream gradient pronounced banks on both sides, swift current, rapids and falls on upper portion toward South Boundary. Upper portion for experienced canoeists only. Headwaters M-28 south to Marenisco, flat, shallow and shoaly sections during low water, dry summer.

South Branch Presque Isle River

Mileage of floatable/canoeable river: 4.2 miles. Mallard canoe landing on Forest Service road 8100, Presque Isle Flowage Dam to wayside area M-64, 4.2 miles. Some narrow tag alder shallow shoal sections.
Outfitter/liveries available: South Branch Canoes, Presque Isle, WI, Sylvania Outfitters, Watersmeet, MI - 35 miles.
Types of available riverside facilities: motels in Presque Isle, WI; National Forest campgrounds - (Henry, Moosehead Lake); Canoe landings and parking (Stateline, Forest Service road 8100, Mallard canoe landing, state wayside); parking, picnic facilities and pit toilets - M-64, 2 miles south of Marenisco, MI.
High flow periods, low flow or other hazards: High flow periods, spring runoff, May-June; low flow and other hazards - August-September, dry summer.
Classification of rapids: Class I canoe stream - flat, relatively slow moving water, no rapids, some shallow shoal areas on upper portion.
Species of fish present: Fair brook trout fishing upper portion. Pike, walleye, smallmouth bass in Presque Isle Flowage.
Description of adjacent countryside: Relatively flat country; mixed spruce, fir aspen with hardwoods on high ground and ridges in some cases coming down to the stream. Stream banks low, flat, marshy towards the flowage.

West Branch Presque Isle River

Mileage of floatable/canoeable river: 7.8 miles. Teal canoe landing on Forest Service Road 8100 to Merganser canoe landing off of Forest Service Road 8300, *2.6 miles. Merganser canoe landing (Forest Service Road 8300) to wayside area at Presque Isle Flowage Dam. Dam to M-64, 2 miles south of Marenisco, 5.2 miles.
*Some small narrow tag alder - shallow shoal sections.
Outfitters/liveries available: None in immediate area; nearest - South Branch Canoes, Presque Isle, WI - 10 miles; Sylvania Outfitters, Watersmeet, MI - 30 miles.
Type of available riverside facilities: Henry Lake Campground, 0.5 miles south of canoe landing on FS Road 8100; canoe landing and parking area - FS Road 8100 and FS Road 8300 Merganser canoe landing; parking, picnic and pit toilet facilities at Presque Isle Flowage Dam - State Highway 64, 2 miles south of Marenisco, MI.
High flow periods, low flow or other hazards: High flow periods - spring runoff, May-June; low flow/other hazards in a dry summer, August-September.
Classification of rapids: Class I canoe stream - no rapids.
Species of fish present: Fair brook trout fishing - upper portions. Pike, walleye, smallmouth bass in Presque Isle Flowage.
Descriptions of adjacent countryside: Relatively flat country; mixed spruce, fir, aspen with hardwoods on ridges and in some cases coming down to the stream. Stream banks low, flat and marshy towards the flowage.

East Branch Presque Isle River

Mileage of floatable/canoeable river: 10.6 miles. County Road 525 (Pomeroy) to Mazenac Road, 3.6 miles; Mazenac Road to Main Presque Isle River, 7 miles. There are narrow tag alder - shallow shoal sections throughout entire length of the east branch. The east branch meets the main branch 1 mile downstream from State Highway 64 and Presque Isle Flowage.
Outfitters/liveries available: None in immediate area, nearest are South Branch Canoes, Presque Isle, WI, 7 miles, and Sylvania Outfitters, Watersmeet, MI, 30 miles.
Type of available riverside facilities: Road access points - roadside parking. National Forest campgrounds, Moosehead Lake, Pomeroy Lake, 1.5-2 miles.
High flow periods, low flow or other hazards: High flow periods - spring runoff, May-June; low flow and other hazards - dry summer, August-September.
Classification of rapids: Class I canoe stream, no rapids - headwater narrow; shallow in places with shoal.
Species of fish present: Good brook trout stream - some browns, pike and walleye where it joins with the West and South branches to form the main Presque Isle River below State Highway 64 and the dam on the flowage.
Description of adjacent countryside: Relatively flat country; mixed spruce, fir, aspen with hardwoods on higher ground and ridges in some cases coming down to the stream. Stream banks more pronounced, but with marshy sections where it flattens out; stream has more gradient.

Brule River
This river flows between Michigan end Wisconsin and was used by early traders and surveyors. This river section begins at the State Line Historical Site at the south end of Brule Lake, and ends at the Pentoga Road bridge. It is approximately 13 miles from the M-73 bridge to the M-189 bridge and an additional 12 miles from this point to the Pentoga bridge. There are some shallow rapids and good trout fishing. The Nicolet National Forest has a campground at Nelma, Wisconsin, where the Brule passes under M-73. The Brule joins the Menominee River that in turn continues to Green Bay on Lake Michigan.

Mileage of floatable/canoeable river: 25 miles. Highway 73 Bridge to Highway 189 Bridge. 13 miles; Highway 189 Bridge to Pentoga Bridge, 12 miles.
Outfitters/liveries available: None in immediate area.
Type of available riverside facilities: Access at the Brule River Campground just south of the M-73 bridge on the Wisconsin side. Vehicles may be parked in the campground, but do not block camping spurs. Campground has rustic facilities: picnic tables, fire rings, well with hand pump and outdoor toilets.
High flow periods: Before May 15 - not for beginners.
Low flow or other hazards: Rapids and old logging dams.
Classification of rapids: Class I and II. Expect some bumping on river bottom during low flow conditions. Generally holds summer water level better than other streams in the area, especially down river from M-189.
Species of fish present: Brook trout, brown trout. Warm water fishing below US-2 bridge.
Description of adjacent countryside: Northern hardwoods and mixed conifer.

Paint River

Mileage of floatable/canoeable river: 5.3 miles Paint River Forks Campground to Block House Campground, 5.3 miles.
Outfitters/liveries available: None
Type of available riverside facilities: Paint River Forks Campground, with 4 rustic campsites available, is located on County Road 657, 1 mile west of Gibbs City. Take Highway 2 to Gibbs City Road (County Road 653) just west of Iron River, then north on County 653 to County 657. Blockhouse Campground, with 3 rustic campsites has no drinking water available. To reach the Blockhouse Campground, drive north on County Road 653 past Gibbs City about 4.5 miles to Forest Road 2180, then take Forest Road 2180 approximately 4 miles to the campground.
High flow periods: May 1 - May 15.
Low flow or other hazards: Shallow riffles and a few large rocks rate Class I in the upper 5 miles. Some scraping and bumping should be expected in the summer.
Species of fish present: Brook trout in the upper reaches, brown, rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, northern pike, and walleye in the backwaters.
Description of adjacent countryside: Northern hardwoods.
The Paint River continues for another 33 canoeable miles. A guidebook should be consulted for information on launch and take out points, and rapids which include Upper and Lower Hemlock (Class II-III), Crystal Falls Dam Rapids (Class I-II) and Horse Race Rapids (not runnable).

North Branch Paint River

Mileage of floatable/canoeable river: 12.5 miles. Forest Highway 16 to Forest Road 2152, 5.5 miles; Forest Road 2152 to Paint River Forks Campground, 7 miles.
Outfitters/liveries available: None
Type of available riverside facilities: Access and limited parking at pull-off on Forest Highway 16. Access point and limited parking off woods road on south side of river at Forest Road 2152 crossing. Paint River Campground is located where the North and South Branches meet. The campground has 4 sites with rustic facilities available: tent pads, picnic tables, fire rings, outdoor toilets and well with hand pump.
High flow periods: May 1 - May 15
Low flow or other hazards: Canoeable below Forest Road 2152 during average summers. Some portaging around man-made and beaver dams may be necessary even during peak flow periods.
Classification of rapids: Class I
Species of fish present: Brook trout, brown trout.
Description of adjacent countryside: A mixture of conifers and northern hardwoods.

South Branch Paint River
Put in on the South Branch, 4.5 miles north of US-2 on Forest Highway 16 or on the North Branch 9 miles north of US-2 on Forest Highway 16. The branches meet at the Paint River Forks campground. Trout fishing is good and the trip is easy until you leave the Ottawa National Forest. For information on conditions of the Paint River east of the Ottawa National Forest, contact the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Crystal Falls, MI 49920, (906) 875-6622.

Mileage of floatable/canoeable river: 18.5 miles. Forest Highway 16 to Forest Road 3270, 3.5 miles; Forest Road 3270 to Forest Road 3470, 7 miles; Forest Road 3470 to Paint River Forks Campground, 8 miles.
Outfitters/liveries available: None
Type of available riverside facilities: Two unimproved boat landings are located off of Forest Hwy. 16 where the road crosses the river. One is about 1/2 mile north and the other 4 1/4 miles north of US Hwy. 2 on Forest Hwy. 16. Paint River Forks Campground provides 4 rustic campsites with picnic tables, fire rings, outdoor toilets and a well with hand pump.
High flow periods: May 1 - May 15
Low flow or other hazards: Canoeable below Forest Highway 16 during average summers, except dry periods. Expect scraping and bumping during summer.
Classification of rapids: Class I
Species of fish present: Brook trout, brown trout
Description of adjacent countryside: Conifer and northern hardwoods.

Sturgeon River

Mileage of floatable/canoeable river: 27 miles. (East Forest Boundary to North Forest Boundary).
Outfitters/liveries available: None
Type of available riverside facilities: National Forest Sturgeon River Campground; bridge on Forest Road 2200, which is 5 miles north of Sidnaw, MI; bridge on Forest Road 2270, which is 14 miles north of Sidnaw, MI; and the Pricket Lake boat launch, Pricket Dam canoe access.
High flow periods: April 15 - June 1. Normally, high flow can also occur during heavy rainfall periods throughout the summer months.
Low flow or other hazards: Most of the river is not canoeable any other time during the year due to multiple natural hazards - large, heavy rocks throughout the river, treacherous falls, and rock outcroppings.
High flow hazards: Period of high flow can occur throughout the summer months with heavy rainfall. Please be aware as this situation can be very dangerous.
Classification of rapids: 15% Class IV; 50% Class III; 20% Class II; 15% Class I.
Species of fish present: Brown trout, rainbow trout, brook trout
Description of adjacent countryside: Majority is a very rugged and wild area, scattered with northern hardwood and conifer trees. The hilly terrain is interlaced with cliffs, bluffs and scenic views. The river flows through the Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness.

Ontonagon River
This 24-mile stretch of the river begins with access on US-45 at the Military Hill bridge with ample parking available. Three miles downstream a second landing site provides access at the Victoria Road gauging station. The river is canoeable throughout the summer with high water in the spring and fall providing the best canoeing for the more experienced canoeist. A boat landing at the Ontonagon Harbor is available near Lake Superior. Fish for brook, rainbow, and steelhead trout, northern, and walleye.

Mileage of floatable/canoeable river: 24 miles. Approximately 3 miles from Military Hill bridge access to Victoria Road bridge at gauging station (access); approximately 21 miles from Victoria Road bridge to Ontonagon. Water level on this section of the Ontonagon River is canoeable any time of year with high water in spring and fall providing the best canoeing.
Outfitters/liveries available: None
Type of available riverside facilities: A state wayside is located at the Military Hill bridge with picnic tables and toilet facilities. A boat landing is located at Ontonagon Marina near Lake Superior.
High flow periods: During spring runoff (April to early June), after storms, late fall.
Classification of rapids: Class I and II at Irish and Grand Rapids.
Species of fish present: Brook, rainbow and steelhead trout, northern, walleye.
Description of adjacent countryside: Steep banks present on both sides of river rising to 200 feet above the river in places with some intermittent flat or gently sloping ground. Most of the shoreline is forested with hardwoods, spruce/fir, hemlock and aspen. Most of the river's edge is privately owned timber land with a small portion bordering National Forest land.

East Branch Ontonagon River

Mileage of floatable/canoeable river: 15.5 miles (Onion Creek to Middle Branch).
Outfitters/liveries available. Sylvania Outfitters, Watersmeet, MI.
Type of available riverside facilities: Bridge on Forest Road 1180, which is 8 miles south of Mass City, MI; Bridge 5.5 miles south of Mass City (gauging station); Military Bridge on Highway 45 (roadside park), which is 11 miles north of Bruce Crossing.
High flow periods: April 15 - June (recommended travel only during high flow periods.)
Low flow or other hazards: This river is only canoeable in the northern-most portions of the Forest. The remaining sections are impassable due to down trees, beaver dams, thick vegetation and long rock stretches.
Classification of rapids: 5% Class IV; 25% Class III; 55% Class II and 15% Class I.
Species of fish present: Rainbow trout, brook trout, Brown trout.
Description of adjacent countryside: Large variety of vegetative types - from marsh meadows to upland hardwoods. Northern segments have increasingly steep terrain. Most of the countryside is remote and wild.

Middle Branch Ontonagon River
Canoe access and parking is available at a Forest Service wayside in the town of Watersmeet where US-45 crosses the river. A portage is necessary at Mex-i-min-e falls which is approximately 9 miles down the river before Burned Dam campground. The rest of the trip to Bond Falls Flowage has moderate rapids and quiet pools for fishing. There are approximately 11 additional miles to Bond Falls Flowage. Just about any kind of native fish can be caught from the campground to Bond Falls Flowage.

Mileage of floatable/canoeable river: 23 miles. From Forest Road 6110 (Russes Road) 3 miles west of Watersmeet, MI to Bond Falls Flowage.
Outfitters/liveries available: Sylvania Outfitters, Watersmeet, MI.
Type of available riverside facilities: Canoe access and parking is available at a Forest Service wayside in the town of Watersmeet where US-45 crosses the river. A state boat landing with a toilet is located 1 mile east of Watersmeet on Old US-2 and can be used as an entry point. Burned Dam Campground is located at Mex-i-min-e Falls off Forest Road 4500. The campground is approximately 10 miles east of Watersmeet and contains 5 camping units with picnic tables, grills and toilets. At Forest Road 5250 the river passes through the old town of Interior which contains good dispersed camping areas. Bond Falls is located at the NW corner of Bond Falls Flowage. The site contains a boat landing, a small store, a picnic area, and a private campground. The Flowage is an excellent fishery for walleye and northern.
High flow period: Month of May.
Hazards: None except for Mex-i-min-e Falls which must be portaged. There are no major rapids and the river is suitable for intermediate canoers year-round.
Species of fish present: Brook, rainbow and brown trout to Mex-i-min-e Falls. Smallmouth bass, northern, walleye, musky and crappie from Mex-i-min-e Falls to Bond Falls Flowage.
Classification of rapids: Class I-II
Additional information: Adjacent timber is balsam, aspen, and pine. Land west of Mex-i-min-e Falls is very flat but becomes hillier north of falls.
Printed materials, videos and general program information on 'Leave No Trace' land ethics may be obtained by calling 800-332-4100. For more information call 1-800-562-1201 (toll free in Michigan and 715 area code).

West Branch Ontonagon River

Mileage of floatable/canoeable river: 6.5 miles. 4.5 miles from junction with South Branch to reservoir and 2 miles on reservoir. The rest of the river is heavily influenced by a dam operated by U.P. Power Company. Water level is usually too low to canoe. When water is released from the dam it comes suddenly. When the dam is closed the flow stops just as suddenly.
Outfitters/liveries available: None
Type of available riverside facilities: No prepared sites.
High flow periods: May and after storms. Approximately 2 miles west of the reservoir and at the reservoir entrance, turbulence is present during periods of high water. These two areas are not recommended for beginners or open canoes (Class II-III rapids).
Low flow/other hazards: Mud slides - flashy water conditions.
Classification of rapids: Class I-II except two areas mentioned above.
Species of fish present: Mostly warm water fish - walleye; also trout in the spring.
Description of adjacent countryside: West bank is high - sometimes clay, and sometimes rock escarpment rising more than 200 feet above the river. The east bank is flat or gently sloping with mostly heavy clay soils. Most of the shoreline is forested. Hardwoods, balsam fir, and aspen predominate. Vehicle access to the river is only available at M-28 and on the Norwich Road.

South Branch Ontonagon River
This 25.3-mile river stretch begins at the M-28 bridge in Ewen and ends at the Victoria Dam. These are the only available access sites. Rapids located within the last 2 miles can be very difficult during medium to high water.

Mileage of floatable/canoeable river: 25.3 miles. Ewen to West Branch, 18.8 miles; West Branch to Reservoir Landing, 6.5.
Outfitters/liveries available: Yes Ewen and Paulding.
Type of available riverside facilities: Canoe landing at the M-28 bridge in Ewen.
High flow periods: May and after thunderstorms.
Low flow or other hazards: About two miles west of the reservoir and just at the entrance to the reservoir there is turbulence during periods of high water. These two spots are not recommended for beginners or open canoes (Class II-III rapids). They are both visible in advance, allowing time to pull to the side and walk canoe alongside the river's edge.
Classification of rapids: Class I-II except for two areas mentioned above.
Species of fish present: Mostly warm water fish such as walleye.
Description of adjacent countryside: South of Ewen the river is fairly wide and slow, flowing mostly through spruce swamps and marshes. North of Ewen the river changes to a narrower channel with a rocky bottom. It flows alongside farms close to Ewen and then extensive forests for most of its northern portion. Sucker Creek is narrow with heavy tag alder hanging over the banks.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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