What a ride! This river now ranks among the top three for me among Michigan's lower peninsula rivers (the other two being the Pigeon and the Little Muskegon). Beautiful and fun best describe it.
After much time trying to find other launches, I finally put in at the Fox River Bridge on Bass Lake Road (County Road 669) just north of 8 Mile Road. There is a small park and parking area there. If I were to go again, I would put in at the Poggensee Bridge which is just upstream on River or Riverside Road (or maybe even 10 Mile Road there - street names are very unclear and changing all the time around this river). There is a little parking area just downstream of the bridge.
The first 3-4 miles of the Little Manistee from Fox Bridge are very tight and winding. After that, near the Bear Track US Forest Service Campground (which would be another good launch spot), the river widens and is suddenly filled with wildlife - beaver, river otter, turtle, birds I didn't recognize, bigger fish (including a three-foot something lying dead on the bottom - that must have been what the 8 or 10 fisherman I saw on the trip were after, as well as trout). There are an abundance of small fish, which always bring a smile to my face when they jump ahead of the boat.
Twice, I was startled by something large plunging into the water as I passed by -- something more than even a very large turtle. The wildlife continued from here to my take out at the Six Mile Bridge, which has a nice parking area just north of the bridge. This stretch is also incredibly peaceful and full of what I call "essential silence."
Throughout the journey, some basic maneuvering skill are necessary. There are several turns and downed trees, but there was always a passage cut through.
Now for the five miles from Nine Mile Bridge to Six Mile Bridge: I had long looked at but avoided the Little Manistee because of the harrowing reports on here about this stretch. Is it tough? Yes. Are there tricky parts? Yes. Did I have to portage twice? Yes. Was it a super great time? YES! You just have to be able to read the river well and put your boat in the right position. I agree that it may be one of the most challenging stretches in the Lower Peninsula, but not something to be avoided by experienced kayakers.
Did I mention that more than half of this trip was in the rain? Partly cloudy and 75 degrees at launch turned into sprinkles and then a steady shower. I image it would be even more fun on a hot sunny day.
A portajon at the park at Fox Bridge Road. That's all I saw. Probably something at Bear Track, but I didn't get out there.
Maybe to park at Bear Track - not sure. Not for the rest.
To reach Fox Bridge:
Take Bass Lake Road (County 669) south from M-55 or north from 8 Mile Road/Freesoil Road. To get to Poggensee Bridge, take the first paved road north of Fox Bridge to the west (a little less than a mile, maybe).
To get to Nine Mile Bridge (which has a nice parking area), take Campbell Road north from 8 Mile Road or take Skocelas Road south from M-55 and stay on pavement until the bridge. Six Mile Bridge Road veers off west from Skocelas Road about half-way between Nine Mile Bridge and M-55. Or for any of this you can take the unpaved road that runs along the south side of the river.
One of the reasons this river, while incredibly fun and beautiful, is lightly traveled is the difficulty of access and unreliability of various maps. I drove around a lot to try to figure things out.
I forgot my Michigan Recreational Map and had to rely on "Paddling Michigan's" small map. Don't do that. It is very inaccurate in this case (rare for this book) as far as road names and bridge names. Also, I never found the Driftwood Valley Campground, which is supposedly three miles upriver from Bear Track and a half mile down river from Poggensee Bridge. I just found online from the US Forest Service that "this site has been decommissioned and is no longer maintained." So don't look for it.