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Au Sable River in Michigan

by  pknoerr

A self-supported trip created by pknoerr

Trip Overview

Date: May 28, 29, 30, and 31, 1998

Where: AuSable River - Grayling to Oscoda (Lake Huron)

Distance: 120 miles

Participants: Garth Greenan, Paul Knoerr, Steve and Dave Heilman.

Weather: upper 70's and Low 80's, Sunny

Whew! This was a long one. Garth and Paul had talked about conquering this monster since seeing the AuSable Marathon in 1997. Steve and Dave were very game participants. Paul picked up Jim's Sundance and dropped it at Ray's in Grayling and then shuttled to Oscoda. He met Garth there and they left Paul's car, and picked the Steve and Dave up at Five Channels Dam, and headed back to Grayling. Garth picked up pasties at Albies. We got in the river by 4:30 and headed down river. Paul and Garth's boat needed to be trimmed, as the boat was slightly bow-heavy and weight was redistributed. This helped dramatically and they paddled to Burton's landing where they stopped for dinner. The pasties were still warm and we welcomed a break. We got back on the river, as we needed to make White Pine Campground tonight. We paddled in with no real notable experiences to White Pine CG by approx. 8:30. We set up camp and soon the mosquitoes were out so we called it a night and hit the sack. Paul had a sleepless night and rolled around trying to get all the mosquitoes out of the tent.

The next morning we were up at 7:00 and we had a breakfast of oatmeal and granola bars. We packed up and were on the river by 8:00. Off we headed passing McMasters at about 9:30 and on toward Parmalee. After McMasters, Paul hit the wall realizing they should have stopped for a break. But he gathered it together and Paul and Garth got to Parmalee by 10:45. Here, Paul opened the feed bag and filled up on some much-needed food. About 20 minutes later, Steve and Dave arrived and we all relaxed for a bit. Then it was back on the river again. The river started slowing as we entered the backwaters of Mio Pond. The wind was blowing from the west, as they crossed the lake, however neither Paul nor Garth could see the "barber pole" marking the portage around the dam. They first headed for the east edge of the spillway, before finally seeing the pole between the spillway and the dam. Paul and Garth were forced to paddle quartered to the wind with the waves reflecting off the concrete face of the spillway. It was a rollyride. Reached the portage at 1:50. To help Steve and Dave locate the portage, Paul waved his paddle over his head. Dave amazed us by standing in the bow holding a plastic tarp as a makeshift sale across the lake. We portaged and then headed down to the public access at Mio for a break. Steve and Dave pulled out their stove and grilled up some � lb. burgers. After an hour and a half in Mio, Paul and Garth wanted to get on the river again so we packed back up and were on the river at 3:45. The next stretch was fast, but Paul and Garth missed several "cuts" which would have shortened paddling distance. Garth hit the wall about 4 miles above McKinley, and was pretty bummed out when we got there at about 6:30. Steve and Dave were about a half-hour behind. Garth and Paul decided to try to make it to a campground about a mile below

McKinley. We found it, and pulled off the river at about 7:00. Garth made a red beans and rice dinner, and Steve and Dave had orange roughy. We enjoyed a nice evening and a fisherman gave us two nice trout, which we cleaned for breakfast.

We woke with about half the trip behind us, but worries about completing the trip in time. We had breakfast of pancakes and packed up. Paul had to repack several times and thus they got on the river about 10 minutes after Steve and Dave, however they caught them just before entering the backwaters of Alcona Pond. Alcona is the most developed of the ponds, and Garth and Paul made quick work of the paddle. We both were having a good day of paddling. The next stretch of river was very nice, with at least nine eagles spotted. Just above Rollaway's they stopped for lunch at 1:00 and Steve and Dave showed up at 1:40. We got back on the river at 2:10 and then headed into Loud Pond. The wind was beginning to kick up from the east, just as we entered the lake section. Thank god Load is a short pond we finished the Pond approximately at 3:40, then immediately into Five Channels Pond. We found out why they called it five channels as the pond has five distinct channels alternating between paddling into the wind and paddling with a side wind. This was the last lake for Steve and Dave. Paul and Garth pulled out at the portage and walked over the dam to say goodbye to their partners. Paul and Garth continued on alone at 4:30 and headed into Cooke Pond. The wind was blowing right down the lake and they made the first pitch to an island in the middle of the lake at bout 5:30. Upon arriving the wind continued to blow harder, and Garth suggested they take a break. They donned their jackets, and waited hoping the wind would die down. After a half-hour the wind seemed to die off and they headed off across the lake. Garth seemed to get a second wind and paddled like a madman across the lake to the dam. As it looked like they would put Cooke behind them, their spirits were buoyed. They portaged around Cooke Dam at about 7:30. They found a neat campsite on top of a steep bank over looking the backwaters above Foote Pond at 7:45. They cooked up another bunch or red beans and rice and watched the sun set from their campsite.

At 4:00AM they were awakened by a big lightning storm to the south, and caught a little rain and some very strong winds. Both were hoping it would blow over for the final push. The storm passed and they went back to sleep. But at 6:45 another storm approached. This one rained very hard, but stopped by 8:00 they had a breakfast of oatmeal and granola bars and hit the river at 9:15. The biggest lake lay ahead and they started picking off segments. The lake kept going and going, and by the time they hit the main portion the wind was blowing stiffly from the west. This following sea, made for a white-knuckle paddle across the "Big Water of the lake. Both guys felt like bracing the majority of the way. We arrived at the portage at 11:50. The take out at the portage was another experience with Garth holding the boat against the platform and Paul quickly unloading the boat and bracing the boat for Garth to get out. Both were happy to have Foote behind them. Now only 11 miles remain to Oscoda.

We can almost taste it. The river is faster than the lakes, but much slower than above the lakes. We both tried paddling well, but the Foote had taken a lot out of us and we slowly demoralized as we headed down the river. We passed a few other canoeists and as we approached the limits of Oscoda we relished finishing this odyssey. We passed several people asking where we came from and felt proud to respond "Graying" As we rounded the last bend, I think back to the applause the racers received as they approached the finish line. We crossed the finish line about 2:45. We paddled down to where the river enters into lake Huron, however, a cold wind and our tired bodies prevented us from paddling into the lake. We celebrated at the municipal boat launch one of the great trips of my life. Paul went to get the car and they loaded up for the ride home. They stopped at a BK's for a "Greasy Burger" which Paul craved, before heading on the road. As they drove across the state they saw numerous trees down along the road. However, neither realized the occurrences in the western portion of the state. They got back to Grayling and Garth took Jim's boat back to GR. I drove down US-131 through Cedar Springs and saw a bunch of decorative trees down in the rest area. Then due to road construction on I-196, I cut over to Alpine. Alpine was a disaster area, and looked like a tornado had struck. The front window on the Best buy was boarded up, and the electric wires and poles were snapped off along Alpine. Damage was bad in Walker and Marne along I-96 too. With insulation everywhere and siding ripped off the warehouses. No damage was noted in Coopersville, but as I drove into Spring Lake the damage was unbelievable. Many of the large trees on Savidge had blown over and damaged houses and cars. I drove over the river on US-31, and found the police had blocked off Jackson. So I took Elliot and saw that many of the old trees in town had blown down. I cut back on 2nd and found a yard full of trees down. Final count: Portions of 15 trees were blown over in my yard and it took nearly 2 weeks to clean up, and 4 days to get electricity. But the trip was great and after a few day's both Garth and Paul wanted to plan another long canoe trip.


We used our own tandem canoes, however, rental canoes can be obtained from outfitters along the entire length of the river.


Backcountry Camping Permits are required at National Forest Campsites along the river. Please Check with the Huron National Forest. Parking permits are required for put-ins within the Huron National Forest.


From Detriot.... Head north on I-75 to Grayling, then west on M-72 to the AuSable at Ray's Canoe Livery, in downtown Grayling. From Chicago or West Michigan, head north on US-131 to M-72 and east to the AuSable River.


Canoeing Michigan Rivers, by Jerry Dennis and Craig Date is the most comprehensive book on paddling in Michigan

Trip Details

  • Trip Duration: Extended Trip
  • Sport/Activity: Kayaking, Canoeing
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)

Trip Location