The Michigan Day Trip Tour, No. 2: Kayaking on the Little Manistee
*The Michigan Day Trip Tour is a series of posts all about the Great Lakes State and the many natural and physical wonders it contains. Most destinations included in the series are located within a two-hour drive of Grand Rapids, though some, like the Soo Locks and New Baltimore, are a little further. Hopefully, these posts will encourage you to go out and do some exploring of your own — or at least prove to be mildly entertaining. Enjoy!
Among the numerous outdoor activities you might partake in during a Michigan summer, one of the better options is getting out on the river in a kayak. Whether you’re looking to do a little fishing or simply float along at your leisure, it’s pretty difficult to beat a sunny day spent on the water. There are plenty of great spots to go kayaking throughout the Great Lakes State, of course, but if a nice, relaxing afternoon is what you’re after, a short trip down the Little Manistee River could be just what the doctor ordered.
Spanning just under 65 miles, the Little Manistee pops up on the map near the village of Luther in northeastern Lake County. From there it travels west/northwest through a good deal of back country, crossing only one major roadway — M-37, about 11 miles north of Baldwin — before emptying out into the southern end of Manistee Lake.
While there are probably plenty of kayak-worthy spots all along the river, the section of the Little Manistee we’re going to zoom in on runs about 3.5 miles from the Little Manistee Weir to the bridge on Old Stronach Road. It’s a fairly short jaunt — you could probably finish in a little over two hours if you paddled straight through — but taking your time, stopping at various points along the way, and cracking a beer or two while enjoying the beauty of nature is what it’s really all about.
Getting to the weir is simple enough; it doesn’t involve hiking through the woods or winding your way through a maze of dirt roads or anything like that. If you’re coming from the north or south, you’re likely traveling on US-31. From the south, you’ll want to head inland before hitting Manistee, drive around the southern tip of Manistee Lake, and then cut through the tiny community of Stronach (don’t blink, you might miss it). From there, finding Old Stronach Road and the weir beyond is pretty darn easy, made even more so thanks to a sign on Stronach Road letting you know which way to go.
From the north, you’ll want to get off US-31 at M-55, which will eventually get you to Stronach Road, and then to Old Stronach. The M-55 to Stronach to Old Stronach route is the way our westward traveling friends will find the weir, as well. And no matter which direction you’re coming from (unless you take some convoluted, back road route), you’ll come across the bridge on Old Stronach that goes right over the river. When this occurs, you’ll likely notice the small parking lot off to the right, which may or may not be filled with the vehicles of other folks who’ve already beat you to the punch.
But don’t worry about that — you’ll see them out there anyway — just concern yourself with leaving a vehicle of your own (or making arrangements for someone to pick you up), as this is where you’ll get off the river when the time comes. Once that’s taken care of, it’s time to get your kayaks and yourself to the weir, where you’ll be getting in. To do so, simply turn right out of the parking lot and continue down Old Stronach for three miles. When the pavement gives way to dirt, you’re nearly there.
Like the short river trip itself, launching from the weir is a breeze. Once you’re on the water, there are some things to look out for — namely logs, low-hanging tree branches, and some shallow spots — but the river flows slowly enough that you don’t need to be all that experienced to maneuver around these things. Take a break wherever you like, but there are a couple choice spots you should consider, including one bend where you’ll find a wooden bench and a rope swing (though I wouldn’t advise using it).
If you’re in need of extra kayaks for your day on the river, one spot for rentals is Manistee Paddlesport Adventures over by the InstaLaunch Campground & Marina in Parkdale. And in the unlikely event that the Little Manistee doesn’t satisfy your kayaking needs, you could always look to the Big Manistee River just to the north, or the Pine River off to the east, both of which are slightly faster/more difficult.