Huron River Paddle

Michigan is known for its picturesque western coastline dotted with quaint towns, like Traverse City or Petoskey. Or other scenic destinations, like Mackinac Island, Pictured Rocks, Tahquamenon Falls… But like in every other state, beyond the great, well known tourist destinations, there are countless numbers of much smaller ones. These are often not well known to people who are not local.

Section of Huron River located northeast of Detroit is one such a place.

Huron River Paddle
Nice day for a paddle.

If you ever are in Detroit area and you want to spend some time surrounded by nature, but you don’t have time to drive “up north”, you can spend few hours kayaking or canoeing Huron River. You will be surprised that so close to the major metropolis you find such a secluded, natural environment with very few signs of nearby metropolitan presence.

Huron River

Huron river is a relatively short river with total length of 130 miles (210 km). Its origins are somewhere in Oakland County and it empties into Lake Erie about 30 miles south of downtown Detroit. Huron is a typical southeast Michigan river. It has a slow current and muddy banks.

The river flows through many local parks. Among them Proud Lake State Recreation Area in Milford. And, further downstream, through Island Lake Recreation Area few miles east of Brighton. These two parks have kayak/canoe rentals that will provide you with boats and later pick you up and bring you back to your vehicle.

Now, I have to warn you, that the rentals are very popular in the warm months of the year. And especially during weekends, you either need to make a reservation or come just when they open to get a boat. However, once you are on the water you rarely paddle into a congested area. And most of the time, if you choose, you can be alone on the river.

Huron River Paddle
Approaching one of the bridges over the river.

Huron River Paddle in Island Lake Recreation Area

How To Get There

We will begin our paddle from the Island Lake location. To get there you take exit 151 from I-96 freeway. Then you take Kensington Rd south. In about ½ mile you get to the park’s entrance on the left hand side.

Map of the Island Lake Recreation Area.

By the way, state recreation area, like all other state parks in Michigan, requires a Recreation Passport for entry.

You take the park road for about ¾ mile, till you see a lake and a parking lot on the left. You pull into that parking lot and park towards the end of it. Now, by the edge of the lake you should see a shack with Heavner Canoe Rental sign on it. It opens at 10:00 AM. (More information here. )

The Paddle

This Huron River paddle begins on the river side of the dam. You will need to carry your boat down the short slope to the edge of the river.  At this spot the current is the strongest. So, you practically don’t need to paddle to move ahead. However, after few minutes, the river slows down, that you will need to paddle a little to keep moving down the river.

Huron is a very shallow river, and in most places, you can easily stand in it. There are few spots though, where the river is deep enough, that you would not be able to touch the bottom. So you need be cautious and wear your PFDs (Personal Floatation Device, or what it used to be called Life Vest) because it only takes a fraction of a second to tip the boat.

I have seen people there who ended up in the water, in a deep section, who panicked and if not for a PFD, could have drowned.

Even though, the river flows through the residential areas, kayaking down, though, it might appear that you are somewhere far from civilization, surrounded by nature. Because the terrain is pretty flat, the river meanders slowly turning left and right. From time to time you pass some fallen trees or see some local wildlife. During sunny weather you will spot numbers of turtles warming themselves up on logs. Occasionally, you will see wild birds, like ever present ducks, but also egrets and herons. In the air you might spot some raptors, like turkey vultures, ospreys, hawks and, if you are lucky, even an eagle.

Huron River Paddle
Popular Proud Lake Dam.

Paddling down the river, from time to time you will notice breaks in the forest. The open areas are often covered by grassy meadows. In some of such places, there are either park benches or picnic tables. The gradually descending bank allows for easy landing for a lunch break or picnic. Therefore, it make sense to bring some food with you.

Some of these places are actually landings, if you choose to end your paddle there. The furthest you can go is the Placeway landing. If you go one way there, it is a 5 mile paddle which takes about hour and half to two hours.

If it is your ending destination, you just wait there for a shuttle from the rental to pick you up.

The water trail goes further, but this is the last place that rental company will pick you up from.

Now, if you feel like doing some more paddling, beyond the leisure one that you did going down the river, you turn around and paddle back. Up stream. The Huron river current is, most of the time (except spring), barely noticeable. Paddle up does not require much effort.

So, if you are not afraid to sweat a little, you can paddle back to your starting point. However, when you turn around, you have to expect that you will have to continuously paddle to make progress.

Only, just before you get close to the dam and the landing there, the current gets a little stronger, and will require some stronger pushes of the paddle. But if you are having problems, the river there is very shallow here. You can get out of the kayak and just drag it up the river behind you for the last 200 – 300 feet. (It’s a good idea to wear some water shoes or sandals.)

I am sure, that you will be pleasantly surprised that such a natural gem hidden in the area so close to Detroit exists.

Huron River Paddle
Somewhere on the river.

Huron River Paddle in Proud Lake Recreation Area

The paddle downstream from Island Lakes Recreation Area is my favored. But you can also paddle of the Proud Lake State Recreation Area location. Actually, this is the main location for Heavner Canoe & Kayak Rental – the rental company operating in both locations.

How To Get There

To get to the Proud Lake rental location, you take N Wixom Rd north from I-96 – exit 159. You follow the road for about 4 – 5 miles till you come to intersection with Wixom Rd, on which your turn left. You continue around the bend and in about a mile, you come to dirt road on the left – Garden Rd, on which your turn left. After driving on it for about 600 feet you come to a nameless drive to the right, which leads to the rental place.

Huron River Paddle
Heavner Canoe & Kayak Rental location at Proud Lake.

The Paddle

When you paddle out of the Proud Lake, you first, paddle down a channel for about 300 feet, that leads to the river. Once, you get to the river you have two choices. You can go right, towards the Moss Lake and Proud Lake, or the dam before. (The dam is a known swimming spot. It is usually pretty busy, and occupied by number of people.)

The distance from the rental place to the dam is probably about two miles. So, if you are looking for a shorter paddle, going to a dam and back might be an option. Then from the dam to the opposite end of Proud Lake is probably another half mile.

When you get on any of the lakes, you will encounter greater water depth. And if you tip the kayak, you will not be able to touch the bottom and stand. So, you need to be careful there.

Another option, when you get to the end of the channel from the rental place, is to go left. Then in about a mile and half you get to the town of Milford. You will pass under five bridges going there. If the water is high, the clearance under some of them might be really low. In such a case, you might have to portage to the other side. So, if you don’t want to portage the boat or boats, ask about the conditions at the rental place. They will be able to tell you.

Proud Lake to Island Lake Paddle

If you want to go for a longer paddle, you can take the route towards Milford and continue all the way to Island Lake rental location. The distance is probably 9 – 10 miles. It will take you a about 4 – 5 hours to paddle all the way. About half hour past Milford, you will come to another dam, around which you do need to portage. The landing is on the right side of the dam. You need to be careful when you get close to the dam, so you don’t get swept towards it. The current there is not that strong, but if you are not an efficient paddler, just try to stay to the right, when you are approaching the shore.

When you get to Kensington Metropark, you will paddle through Kent Lake. Expect the paddle there to be harder since you will no longer have the current carrying you down. On the other hand, you might encounter some small waves and wind.

When you finally get through the lake, you paddle under the I-96 bridge and than through another small section of Kent Lake. The landing is on the left hand side of the dam. You should notice the rental booth from a distance.

This is another beautiful Huron River paddle route. However, it would be too long for a beginner.

There are other rental places further down Huron River and other exciting areas to paddle, but this is a subject for another post.

Huron River Paddle
Milford Dam.


Below are few useful links to help you plan your trip.

Huron River Water Trail

Island Lake Rec Area map

Heavner Canoe & Kayak Rental

Huron River Paddle

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Rich S.
Rich S.
Rich S. is a lifetime photographer and traveler based in Metro Detroit area. He has been traveling the Great Lakes area for over 30 years. Follow his blog about his trips, interesting activities and destinations in the Great Lakes region.

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