Friday, July 23, 2010

Au Sable River Trip

Back in late June, I wrote about one night I spent on the Au Sable River and promised more pictures and information… For today’s “Travel Tip Thursday,” a writing prompt in which you are encouraged to share a tip on a favorite place to travel, I’m going to take you to the Au Sable, a river in the upper part of the lower peninsula of Michigan… I would have had this up on Thursday, but last night, we had violent thunderstorms with the potential of tornadoes roll through and I disconnected the all electronic devices except for one television by which to watch the weather. And just to let everyone know, I am flying out of here later today as I have a wedding to attend out west and am not going that far without taking a week of vacation. So don't expect me to be around a lot over the next eight or so days, but when I come back, I expect to be settled for a while! I still don't know how I'm going to get all my vacation in this year.

I paddled the river with a friend. On a Wednesday, we drove up to Grayling, where there are several outfitters. I took my canoe and at the outfitter’s livery, which was on the river, we unloaded the boat and gear. Then I drove my truck to the river access in Parmalee, where I left it so it would be waiting when we came of the river on Friday. It cost $40 for the shuttle, which is much less than the gas it would have taken for Jim to have driven his truck up and for us to have fiddled with the logistics of shuttling vehicles, especially since the take out point was nearly 30 miles away. It was fairly late Wednesday afternoon by the time we’d dropped my truck and was able to into the river. We paddled only about five miles to a canoe campsite a bit west of Burton’s Landing. The campsite (which cost $12, if I remember correctly), was on a high bluff and had a fire rings (which we didn’t use), an old-fashion pitcher pump and a outhouse. That night, we tried fishing, hoping to catch brown trout, but had no luck. Fishing was not a high point of this trip as we each only caught a trout a piece.

I’d heard a lot about the Au Sable and it is a beautiful river, but I don’t think it is nearly as nice as the Pine or Pere Marquette, as this river has been overly developed (in my opinion). Sable is the French word for sandy and the Au Sable has either sandy or gravel bottoms, which with the cold water make it a great river for trout. The river is shallow and fast, with an average flow of 4 miles an hour. One doesn’t have to paddle too hard and we covered nearly 40 miles on our trip.

We saw lots of families of ducks and geese along the way.

There are many beautiful homes and lodges along the river, but there is also some “river trash.” There are more pink flamingos than in the Everglades and one house, which had a beautifully crafted Au Sable River boat moored in front, also featured the rather tacky “bra tree.” The owner had a sign that he was accepting donations and had one bra around the trunk of the tree that was supposedly a 54dd (see photo). I didn’t see anyone on the river that I would have wanted to encourage to make a donation.

Just moments after the trashy bra tree, we began to hear the Guess Who come through loud and clear. At a rusty old trailer, someone doing some work with an electric saw, was blasting the wilds with the likes of “American Woman.” For a good ½ mile of river, all birds and insects and rippling sounds of water were drowned out by someone’s boom box, which was obviously turned up enough so he could hear it over his saw’s buzz (see photo of the trailer). Just so my Canadian friends won’t feel picked on, let me say that I like the music of the Guess Who, but I didn’t need to hear them during what I’d hoped to be a wilderness experience.

I should say a bit about the Au Sable river boat. These boats were designed during the logging day as a means to haul gear and supplies in and out of camps along the river. They are long and narrow and have a shallow draft, making them suitable for poling along the river. On the Pere Marquette and other rivers around, folks often us a more traditional dory type river boat for fishing, but on the Au Sable, the long boats take preference and we saw many beautifully crafted boats on our trip.

Our second night on the river, we camped at Rainbow Bend, another state sponsored primitive campsite and another twelve bucks for a pump and outhouse. On Friday, we continued on east, reaching the bridge at Parmalee around noon. After stopping for lunch, we rushed back home as I had to be back in time to catch my daughter’s stage debut in “Willy Wanka and the Chocolate Factory.”

The Au Sable is a nice river, but over rated in my opinion. Next, I hope to paddle the Manistee.


  1. What a beautiful river the Au Sable is - thank you for the journey down it. I chuckled at the bra tree - whaaat?? The man blasting the music reminds me of one of my friends who has a house on Lake Chatuge in Hiawassee, Georgia. He has outdoor speakers and leaves music blasting while he is out in his boat, so he can hear it when he is coming back in. Shaking head. No amount of gentle suggestions about potentially disturbing other makes sense to him.

  2. 50 years ago that was THE SPOT for the cottage to be. Now *shrug* just another place where there are too many people who have no understanding of what it means.

  3. Thanks for the travelogue and pics. Seems there's always new ways to take the "wild" out of wilderness.

  4. Lynn, I might be tempted to cut your friend's powerlines if I had to listen to such music for too long...

    Walking Guy, yep, I think I know what you mean.

    Ron, it's a beautiful river, still but not my favorite. My favorite Michigan rivers are in the UP

  5. I love your pictures, Sage. I live in a big city, all buildings and concrete and it's always refreshing to read your excursions in the rivers (funny thing, the bra tree, LOL).

  6. In the last twenty years or so there has been a vast amount of study on the early settlement of that area. Priests with the attitude of the film the Mission had 'converted' tribes all about the Lakes to the point where they routinely connected with Santa Fe.
    There was only one problem, they carried the new variant of European disease well beyond where regular contact might have given some immunity.

  7. what a cool those are you going to share any willt wonka pics...smiles. i am sure she was happy you were there....

  8. I share your sentiment that boom boxes don't belong in wilderness settings. Enjoy your vacation time!

  9. It's funny but I could tell from your writing this wasn't one of your favorite rivers. However it was still interesting and am so glad you made it to see your daughter
    Hope your trip is great! And the pictures were wonderful as always

  10. I guess that man has never heard of headphones? Maybe he's related to the idiots I met in Moab.

    I'd love to paddle down a river one day. Maybe my outdoor group will take one soon.

  11. Suddenly I realize what's been missing from my life, lo, these thirty-seven years: a bra tree.

    At one of my 10K races this year, as I was walking up to the gym (where registration was being held) I heard what I thought was an excellent John Cougar Mellencamp cover band doing "Small Town." Turns out it was just a really loud speaker system.

    Beautiful pics of the river, Sage. Have a good trip out West.

  12. I've been a big supporter of giving river the "Wild and Scenic" designation for this very reason. It won't be long, perhaps it is already too late, before every river not declared as such will have houses and businesses built all along their shores.

  13. the pictures reminded me of the Amazons (in documentaries) except no anacondas.
    Nice report.
    I am not sure I have a favorite place to travel that would compare. I love archeology. I loved the pyramids of Mexico. Been there 3 times.

  14. I love that you use the word "only" when describing how you canoed five miles.

  15. Love the photos and commentary.

    BTW, I demand a complete photo report about your western vacation as I can only seem to experience that vicariously these days.


  16. Just beautiful... sign me up! I still hope to make a canoeing trip this summer. Your photos bring it alive.

  17. Hope the existing tranquility remains for the next generation to experience it. Nice pics.

  18. That bra tree thing is pretty discouraging. Maybe try further east next time? The Au Sable does have some nice areas, but you just never know what you're going to encounter on different stretches of a long river.
    I hope you have a good time on your upcoming Manistee River trip!