Our first overnight canoe trip of the season took place May 1st - 2nd, which I'm finding to be a great time to paddle here in southern Michigan. The weather is mild, the bugs are minimal, and most importantly, we usually get the river all to ourselves! We planned this trip with the intention of introducing some new paddlers to overnight camping. The pre-requestites for our trip were:
For the most part, the Chippewa was an excellent fit for these conditions. With only a two-hour drive to the river, we were allowed an easy Saturday morning start that had us on the river by mid-morning.
We used Chippewa River Outfitters to spot canoes and give us tips for the trip. The gentleman who drove us to our put-in point was eager to share stories of drunk college kids and their shenanigans (and injuries), which made me wonder if summertime or early Fall trips down the river might be a bit more crowded and chaotic. We put in at the Winn Road bridge, the access to which was little more than a steep trail alongside of a fairly busy road. There was enough space for our three canoes, but not a whole lot more. We were quick to load up, snap a few pictures, and head on our way!
This river served as an important lesson regarding my canoe. A person sitting on the middle bench is a HORRIBLE idea. When you pair a fully loaded canoe with three passengers, none of whom were skinny as sticks (myself included!), and have a third person high up on a bench, tips are inevitable. Before this trip, I had never capsized on an overnight trip. After this trip, I got to add three tips to my list of experiences. We found the Chippewa to be more shallow than anticipated, and with the river flowing at a good clip and a few boulders and bottom rubs, that was that. Thank goodness the drybags worked like a charm and gear and food stayed dry!
The river itself is lovely. There's a real mix of homes and natural areas, and throughout the trip we marveled at the sheer number of turtles residing on the river. There was lots of scraping along the bottom, and with our heavy canoe, plenty of spots for me to hop out and drag the boat out of shallow sand/gravel bars. In fact, the shallow nature of this river really surprised me in early May, but apparently we had a dry Spring. Again, with three people loaded in the boat, I'm sure I had a different perspective (and challenges) than the others.
We spent the night at Deerfield County Park, which has a canoe landing and designated campsites. The beauty of this site lies in the fact that the only way access it is via canoe or a 1 mile hike, and therefore, no car campers or trailers in site! The park charges $20 per site (which will accommodate up to 4 non-family members) and were made via the park office in advance. We were told that a ranger would come down to check us in and possibly collect $3/boat fee (as we did not use livery boats), but we never saw site of any ranger, so one more fee avoided. The campsite included a water pump and wonderfully clean pit toilets, which is always a nice luxury while camping. Throughout our stay park visitors hiked and jogged along a trail that ran along the front of our sites, but they certainly were not a nuisance.
Several hours after settling in and hitting the hay, a large storm rolled into the area and we had solid rain up through breakfast time. My Taj 3 tent served me well yet again as my friend and I stayed high and dry the entire night. In fact, I've had excellent success with both of my REI tents when it comes to rain, and for this I'm thankful! We enjoyed breakfast beneath Hike & Paddle's usual ingenious tarp setup, and by the time we were ready to tear down camp, the rain had fortunately let up.
Day two of paddling was gorgeous and only entailed one tip. The river grew wider and deeper at this section, and like the first day, the scenery was interesting and beautiful. Major highlights of this day's paddle were passing beneath a covered bridge and suspended walking bridges (part of the county park, I assume), and a first for our paddling trips - paddling through a golf course! There was one section in which we had to paddle through an old gravel pit, and the prospect of tipping in deep water was hardly appealing. Fortunately we made it through without incident and all was well.
By lunchtime we had reached Chippewa River Outfitter's takeout point, which I was not terribly impressed with. There was a fair hike back to the livery, and after picking up our vehicle and trailer, there was still a trying hike up a steep path and to the side of a busy road. We loaded quickly and without problems, and then it was off for a well-earned feast at the local McDonalds.
The Chippewa was a new experience that I would gladly repeat with friends, provided that the river is high enough and my canoe's cargo is limited. For a one-night trip, the paddle length is fantastic (6 hrs on day one, about 3.5 hours on day two), and the folks at Chippewa River Outfitters are personable and easy to work with. Despite the tips, a great trip!
Deerfield County Park Campground
Primitive Camping, Pit Toilet, Water Pump
$20 per campsite (up to 4 non-related campers, 2 tent max)
$20 per boat livery spotting fee
127 North to Mt. Pleasant
"Canoeing Michigan Rivers," by Jerry Dennis and Craig Date
"Paddling Michigan" by Kevin Hillstrom and Laurie Collier Hillstrom