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Shiawassee River in Michigan

Trip Overview

From Holly, MI to Fenton, Mi on the Shiawassee River

My son, Brandon (36), our friend, Dick (65), and I (63) are wrapping up our second full season of kayaking in Michigan. We've been on numerous lakes and rivers in SE MI, as well as the Pine River near Baldwin, MI, and some of the bays on the north and south shores of Drummond Island, MI. We paddle in 12-13 foot Necky, Perception, and Wilderness Systems kayaks. We consider ourselves competent (intermediate) paddlers; confident, but still have a lot to learn. We have been looking for an interesting and fun river close to home, and on Sunday, October 25, 2009, we found it!

The weather was crisp (mid-50's) and partly sunny. The river was running fairly fast and seemed fairly high, due to recent rains. We put in near the Holly Millpond south of downtown Holly on Broad Street. We eagerly anticipated our first ride on this nearby day trip from Holly to Fenton, a distance of 7 miles that was rated a 3 hour journey. I remember thinking, "This will probably be a nice, uneventful little paddle on an 'easy' stream". I hate when I think that about a river, lake, ski hill, or mountain bike trail; it usually means trouble!

The first mile meanders gently near and through the village of Holly. The water was clear and moving at about 3-4 mph. We moved past fields, trees (nice colors), homes, and buildings. Suddenly, at mile 1.1 (it's marked on the side of the culvert), we came up on what we have come to call "The Culverts of Doom". The challenge is due to two things for all of us; the angle you come in at (about 45 degrees from right to left) and the 12-13 foot length or our boats. There are three "tubes" to choose from. We all tried the first (far right) tube first, then Dick made it through the middle tube on his second try. Brandon made it through the far left tube on his third try. After dumping out on my second try through the middle tube (the water's only about 2 feet deep, but was cold and running fairly fast), I hauled my boat out to empty it and warm up a few minutes. I finally made it through the far left tube after dropping in off the bank. Next time we'll go left and nail it the first try!

As we continued, we went through some fairly narrow sections with many turns and several down limbs. It was more fun and challenging than we expected! We went through some heavily wooded areas, some wide grassy sections, through a few chutes (under bridges), and even blasted over the top of (what we assumed was) a beaver dam. We also encountered a couple of impassable large trees that had blown down and completely blocked our passage; which necessitated a couple of portages. We paddled across the Fenton Mill Pond at the end of our adventure and got out at Strom Park. As expected, we arrived 3 hours after we began.

All things considered, we all enjoyed this experience and look forward to returning! It's close to home, an easy drop/pick-up, and much more fun than we had expected. The Heritage Society members have done a great job of installing the mile markers and information signs at the beginning and end of the Trail. Thanks for your hard work!


None required


Easy to find less than a mile south of downtown Holly on Broad Street.

  • Duration: Day Trip
  • Sport/Activity: Kayaking, Canoeing
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip