My first indication that our two-day trip on the Huron was going to be a bit of a chore should have dawned upon me when I called the Huron-Clinton Metroparks to get an overnight parking permit. At first, there was a bit of confusion, something along the lines of "You want to do what? Overnight canoe trip? Leaving a car overnight?"
Not a good sign. I explained my desire to leave a car at our takeout point, Huron Meadows Metropark, and that it would need to stay there overnight. After working out the details and obtaining the free permit (I had already bought the $20 annual parking permit for all Huron-Clinton Metroparks), I had to pick up the permit at the metroparks main office at Hudson Mills. I must note that every ranger I spoke with from the metroparks was beyond helpful and polite, and when I asked the ranger who gave me the permit if folks attempted this overnighter on the Huron all that often, she responded with an amused "No."
Friday night was spent camping at our put-in point at the Proud Lake State Recreation Area. We were not impressed with the campgrounds. Being the spoiled rotten paddlers that we are and the sort of folks that much prefer pulling up on uninhabited state land and making a campsite of our own, these drive-in campgrounds always seem to leave a bad taste in out mouths with the slew of trailers, RVs, and crowded surroundings. We enjoy referring to the worst of the worst as the "refugee camps", but again, we are wilderness brats and just need to get over ourselves. The Proud Lake campground fit into this category, but had nice bathrooms and gave us a suitable spot to rest our heads and gear up for what would soon become a test in patience.
After spotting vehicles, leaving one upriver at Proud Lake (we needed the state park permit to park there permits are required EVERYWHERE on the Huron) and one downriver at Huron Meadows Metropark, we were off. Before putting in at the Heavner Canoe Livery at Proud Lake, we were informed that the river was impassible at 1-96 due to construction on the bridge. According to the livery, paddlers could not get beneath the bridge and would have to be portaged around the area. After haggling with the livery for a bit, we settled on $40 to pick up four paddlers, one canoe, and two kayaks on Kent Lake, portage us around 1-96, and drop us off in the Island Lake State Recreation Area. This was an unexpected cost that had us a bit displeased, but once on the river, our cares began to melt away.
The first bit of the river was wide and slow, but had a fair current that kept us moving along at a decent pace. The river continued to widen and slow in the backwaters of Millford Dam, giving us our first stretch of some hard paddling against the wind, which chose to blow in our faces all day. The Millford Dam portage is a breeze, complete with very nice boat rollers that takes one easily up and over the dam. Certainly a testament to the efforts made by those who want to promote recreational paddling on the Huron.
The river continued to be slow-going past the dam, and the worst leg of our trip came as we entered the headwaters of Kent Lake. Though we knew we had some open water paddling ahead of us, with the wind whipping up a surface current towards us, the paddle was absolutely brutal. Aforementioned boyfriend suffered the worst fatigue and frustration out of us all, and our two other companions my dear friends who join me on nearly every paddling trip are soon to be wed felt the agony of it all. I felt particularly bad for my friend Mary, who was still nursing a broken wrist what a trooper! We were overjoyed to find the small park/picnic spot where we would be meeting the folks from Heavner Canoe. After wolfing down a well-earned lunch, we were promptly met by the livery's van and trailer.
Though their service was prompt, we did have difficulties with the livery staff, and in particular, the driver of the van who seemed to have no idea where we wanted to put back in and no idea where the vehicle with the boats was behind us. It got to the point where I had abandon politeness and say, "Hey were putting in at this point, but were not letting you go until the boats are here with us. We cannot continue downriver without the boats to carry us and our gear."
This logic finally seemed to register with our driver, and after a few cell phone calls and a wait, out boats arrived. We were on the river for no more than an hour before we came upon our campsite for the evening.
The campsite was, beyond a doubt, the highlight of this trip. Despite all the trials it took us to get there, the campsite, which is in Island Lake State Recreation Area and is restricted to canoe access only, was GORGEOUS! The two sites were incredibly clean, the pit toilet was spotless, and the kind ranger that checked us in even noted that every time he cleared out a dead tree, he took the wood to the site so paddlers would have firewood waiting for them. It was worth every penny of the $8 we paid to camp there for the night. The woods around us were covered in trillium and trout lily, and even in early May, the two guys and I decided to brave the Hurons chilly waters and had a refreshing swim after our long day. I would almost do a shorter first day of the trip just to get to this site and get to camp there once again, and I cant praise it highly enough.
Our second day started with stunning scenery through the rest of Island Lake State Recreation Area. This was by far the prettiest stretch of our trip and even had a bit of that "Up North" feel to it. As we continued, the river began to widen, until it reached the point that its high waters turned into wide floodplains. Navigating this stretch was tricky, as we often lost sight of where the river ran. We paddled through trees, through flooded meadows, and got the sense that we were navigating through some odd bayou. There were times when we even got turned around and had to back track just to find our way back to some moving water! Eventually, after lots of flatwater paddling in places that were never meant for paddling, we found US-23 and knew that we were almost done.
Eventually, we reached Huron Meadows Metropark, where the takeout was an ordeal in itself. I'm not sure if we were at the right spot that they claim to be the canoe takeout point, but we ended up hauling our boats up a high embankment and then lugging them across a large lawn to our cars. Way more work than we like, especially after two days of strenuous paddling.
All in all, it is probably not a stretch I'd do again, though I might consider it if we limited it to the all-too-short stretch through Island Lake State Recreation Area. We definitely learned a thing or two on this trip, most notably, the lesson that patience truly is a virtue!
Canoe-Only campground at Island Lake Recreation Area
One Canoe, Two Recreational Kayaks
Parking permits required at both state recreation areas and Huron-Clinton Metroparks
Canoeing Michigan Rivers, by Jerry Dennis and Craig Date
Paddling Michigan by Kevin Hillstrom and Laurie Collier Hillstrom