Pere Marquette in early May

by  Kevburg
  • Canoeing the Pere Marquette in May

    Canoeing the Pere Marquette in May

  • Camping at the illusive Log Mark

    Camping at the illusive Log Mark

  • White cedar

    White cedar

A self-supported trip created by Kevburg

Trip Overview

My brother and I are both retired and we like to camp. We decided to escape the COVID doldrums and go canoe camping on the Pere Marquette, Michigan's longest undammed river, a National Scenic River famous for salmon and trout fishing. Map: Our paddling times were better than listed in the brochure, but not by much.

We rented a heavy 17' Old Town Discovery, large enough to carry all of our gear, from Baldwin Canoe Rental (great place but warning - in prime time they rent 1000 canoes a day). We named it The Barge - something lighter and with no keel would have been better for this twisty river but we had a lot of cold weather gear. The $105 price included spotting our car at the takeout at Walhalla.

We encountered a group of three canoers at the M-37 put-in, at least one in his 80's. They were part of what was once a much larger group that back in the day paddled rivers north of the Soo early in the year during spring floods. Theirs were the only other canoes on the river.

Spring in Baldwin is several weeks behind us here in SE Michigan. Service berries were blooming and a few trees were just starting to bud. The flow was average for this time of year at 800 cfs and dropping. Some of the river frontage is private with houses from small cabins to palatial lodges. National Forest Land and private land were well marked. The river twists and turns with sweepers guarding most of the fast lanes. The gradient is 8 feet per mile, making for a quick current. Turns and the current keep you busy with little chance to relax.

The flood plain is narrow and the river hits the surrounding uplands at every bend. Uplands are steeply sloped sand with trees and grass. The riverbed has gravel bars that making ideal spawning beds for fish; we passed a lot of fly fishermen and in the National Forest trails pretty much line the bank. The rest of the bottom is sandy. Most bars were deep enough to float over without hitting but we scraped on a few. Water at Baldwin was clear and became slightly cloudy downstream.

The tree cover here is mostly oak punctuated by towering white pines. Later on white cedar and maple are common. There is little undergrowth so you can see quite a way once you get off the water. Waterfowl were relatively sparse.

We got to Gleason's Landing early on and it had a beautiful campground, accessible by car but tents only, with vault toilet and a disconnected pump. One family was camping there. When we ran into the same canoe party again they said they were staying at Bowman Bridge where they had a car spotted with their gear. We took them up on their kind offer to drive our gear to the campground, opting for that over bush camping. Bowman turned out to be a drive-in RV campground about 1/4 mile carry from the boat launch. Not what we had in mind but it worked out well. There were two RVs and our two canoe groups in the whole place, with infrequent car noise from a nearby road. We spent the evening talking to the canoers and the couple in the nearby RV; great people all.

That night we got a coyote serenade and the stars were brilliant. The clear skies allowed the earth's warmth to be sucked off into the void and temps dropped to the low twenties, well below forecast. Fortunately I brought two sleeping bags, a mummy from my backpacking days and a light but big Walmart special. I put the air mattress in the Walmart bag and the mummy on the mattress and wore next day's clothes to bed. Another thing that worked out well was using gasketed five gallon pails to hold our food and sleeping bags. They didn't pack tightly in the canoe but were a lot easier to deal with than dry bags.

Our water containers froze as did the campground's water hydrant. Our three friends drove our gear back to the launch where we said our goodbyes while they arranged that day's shuttle. After taking out their next stop was the Pine.

Below Bowman the river got bigger and there were numerous swifts. The largest one was a class one just below the Rainbow Rapids launch site, which also had a good place to climb up for a view of the river from the uplands. As with the day before it clouded up during midday, but this time we got showers and some sleet. We got out at the canoe-only Elk campground, which for some reason had absolutely no place to get in or out of a canoe. We were not impressed and continued on to Log Mark.

Until that point the river was well cleared, but we finally hit a snag that turned out at the last second to be a full block. Our only option was to drag our gear and the canoe up the steep sandy slope to a point where we could put in. When we got to the top two homeowners were working on their house a hundred feet away. Rather than pointing out that we were trespassing they helped us by hauling our canoe! Just adds to the list of amazing people we met on this trip. They said the last time they reported a blockage to the DNR it took them two weeks to come out and clear it. Oddly they had never heard of Log Mark.

The sun came out before we arrived in the general vicinity of Log Mark. At approximately where the the map said it was there was no signage or clue as to whether or not we were in the right place. However, we found a beautiful spot in a grove of white cedar guarded by 100 foot white pines that had two campfire remains. Beautiful site, marred only by traffic noise from M-10. Once again temperatures dropped to the low twenties.

The last day we had about an hour's paddle to Walhalla. Before we got there the river completely changed; it widened, slowed, and the land was more open with far fewer trees. We packed our gear into our waiting car and headed home. All in all a great trip.

Trip Details

  • Trip Dates: 5/10/2021-5/12/2021
  • Sport/Activity: Canoeing
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)
  • Number of Portages: 1

Trip Location