Michigan Kayak Trips: The Pine River Offers Challenges, Beautiful Scenery
After a summer of kayaking the Flat River many times, we were looking to paddle different Michigan rivers that presented more of a challenge. In early October we headed north to Wexford County and Manistee County to tackle a nine-mile stretch of the Pine River from Peterson Bridge to Low Bridge. This trip challenged us quite a bit (it’s a paddle, not a “float”) but rewarded with stunning scenery of untouched forest, high sand banks, and clean water. This trip taught us a lot about being prepared, and that October may not have been the best time or this trip.
The Pine River is so popular during summer months that a permit is required from Memorial Day to Labor Day each year. After seeing how crowded the Platte River can get with tubes and party groups, it’s easy to support this decision and the efforts to keep the river clean. If you are looking to paddle the Pine during this time period, your best bet is working with an outfitter like Pine River Paddlesports or Bosman Canoe Rental.
We launched our kayaks from the Peterson Bridge parking area (across the river from the campground) and staged a second vehicle at the Low Bridge parking area. Both of these parking areas are part of the Huron-Manistee National Forest and a small fee is charged for a parking permit/day-use pass. This is one of fastest-flowing rivers in Michigan, and there are plenty of obstacles to paddle around.
If you are looking for a river with a lot of straight sections, this is not it. The Pine River seems to never stop curving as you paddle it, and around each bend you will find trees, rocks, and rapids to navigate. You will want to make sure you are very comfortable with your watercraft and are prepared to do a lot of paddling and steering. Nine miles seems like a long distance to cover, but it flies by thanks to the speed of the Pine River.
We only saw a handful of other kayakers on the day we went out, and it’s not hard to see why. Temperatures were in the low 40s with steady but light rain coming down. Due to the weather conditions and an unfortunate tipping of my kayak as I got stuck in a tree obstacle, we advise packing a change of clothes in a dry bag and dressing in layers. We had all gotten a bit wet even before I tipped, and I am thankful we had enough dry clothes to prevent my mishap from turning out worse.
Despite the fast pace of the river there still plenty of places to pull off and take a break so you can eat or hydrate. We watched this YouTube video before our trip (18:50-18:55 was where I tipped), which helped prepare us for the sections of rapids and downed trees that we were going to encounter. You can see a full map of the river on the Pine River Paddlesports page.
Even after doing half of this trip wet and cold, it was still one of our favorite trips. This Pine River kayak trip was a great challenge after easy summer floats and we felt like we had accomplished something after we finished. This is definitely a trip we want to do again in warmer weather!
A Michigan Legal Milestones plaque at the Peterson Bridge launch site lets visitors know of the important role the Pine River played in determining public access to public water: “On a pleasant May morning in 1925, Gideon Gerhardt stepped into the Pine River near here to do a little trout fishing. That act triggered one of the most important public water rights cases in United States history, Collins v. Gerhardt. The resulting decision affirmed the rights of the public to the use of public waters. The land surrounding Mr. Gerhardt’s chosen fishing spot was owned by Frank Collins, who brought a civil action for trespass. After a local court ruled in favor of Mr. Collins, the case reached the Michigan Supreme Court, which reversed the decision. For the majority in April 1926, Justice John S. McDonald wrote, “So long as water flows and fish swim in Pine River, the people may fish at their pleasure in any part of the stream subject only to the restraints and regulations imposed by the state.” Federal appeals kept the issue alive until 1936, but the legal principle set forth by the Michigan Supreme Court remained unshaken, and guarantees to future generations the right to the recreational use of Michigan’s rivers and streams.”