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Sylvania Wilderness Area in Michigan

Trip Overview

Late May seemed like a good time to plan a trip to Michigan's UP. The fishing should be getting hot, the bugs shouldn't be too bad, and hopefully all the ice would be melted! We planned a 3 night trip to Sylvania Wilderness area to paddle, fish, explore, and just enjoy God's great creation.

Sylvania is definitely a beautiful wilderness area, but it is quite strictly managed by the US Forest Service, so reservations and route planning are required. We chose to pick one site to camp at, and then day trip from this site. This worked well in that our camping gear was not packed well for portaging. Our camp site was near the back side of Crooked Lake, rather central to the other lakes. Crooked Lake is very interesting to paddle with lots of bays and peninsulas. However, there are a few motor boats on this lake. They are just fishing boats, and the time of use is regulated, but the noise does distract from the wilderness experience.

We did one long day loop that went from Crooked Lake to Clark Lake, Loon Lake, Big Bateau Lake, Deer Island Lake, back to Loon, to Clark and Crooked. This was a long day, but very nice. The lakes are all quite different. Crooked is a shallow lake and full of weeds. Clark Lake is very deep, cold, with sandy beaches, and has trout. Each lake has a unique feel. Big Bateau and Deer Island, being the most remote, are very quiet. The other lakes can get busy with many campsites on each. It should be noted that some of these lakes are quite large and can blow up pretty good when the wind picks up. We had to be careful to avoid taking water into our boats on several lakes.

Portages between lakes were not too tough. Some exceeded 1/4 mile, but the trails were generally quite good. Being a wilderness area they have limited the use of signs, so the portages are not marked. But we had no problems finding them. Some trails were actually old logging roads or jeep trails, making the stroll through the woods quite easy. And the woods are one of the highlights of this area. There may have been some logging long ago, but this area has very mature forest with thick canopy, so the woods are quite open with good visibility. The mature birch, hemlock, and white pine are impressive.

Another day we went over to Mountain Lake and High Lake. Although smaller, these lakes are also unique. High Lake, being very deep, has a beautiful turquoise color.

Our fishing was pretty good. The highlight of the area is the small mouth bass (catch and release only). We found many of these, along with large mouth bass, small pike, and pan fish. We did not try any trout fishing, even though at least 2 of the lakes have trout.

Our trip was punctuated with sightings of loons, eagles, osprey, deer, and otter. This is a great area to paddle. It is busy though, so plan ahead with reservations.


Tent camping at designated wilderness camp sites. RV campgound and local motels are also available. There are several restaurants in Watersmeet, and nearby Land O Lakes, WI.
The day use site on Clark Lake has very nice showers - very nice after three days of handling fish and sitting around a camp fire!


Solo Cedar Canoe and Wilderness Systems Pungo 14 Recreational Kayak


Yes, there is a daily park fee, and also a campsite fee.


Off US-2 in Michigan UP along the WI border.


Map from US Forest Service is adequate. It is available on-line via the Ottawa National Forest They now include GPS coordinates for each campsite.

  • Duration: Day Trip, 2-3 Day Trip
  • Sport/Activity: Kayaking, Canoeing
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Water Type: Flat/Sheltered Water
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip