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Sturgeon River Winter Float

Mike Terrell - February 13th, 2012  
Cold, scenic and fun

Those who enjoy the beauty of our Michigan waters in the summertime – and who doesn’t? – might want to consider doing so in the winter as well.

The charm and quietude of our region is readily evident on a rafting trip on the Sturgeon River in what is generally considered the off-season for such expeditions.

For our group, the sheer beauty of the trip quickly quelled conversation. After much chatting, laughter and lots of awed exclamations at the start of our float, we became quieter, understanding the beauty of a winter float trip.

Our group was made up of Michigan Outdoor Writers Association members and a couple from Holland on an anniversary weekend who had decided this might be more fun than trying to cross country ski given the lack of snow.

We divided into two rafts, each with a guide.

Each raft can take up to six passengers plus the guide. Big Bear Adventures in Indian River was conducting the float trip, which they’ve been doing for the past nine years, according to our guide, Jamie Porter.

The silence was deep and golden as we glided along at times under branches of overhanging cedar along the river. Snow covered the banks and helped illuminate the darkly wooded shoreline. The only sound was the gurgle of rushing water as it swept along the gravelly riverbed and around fallen trees and submerged logs.

The waters of the Sturgeon, one of the few northern flowing rivers in Northern Michigan, was clean and cold.

CHALLENGING FUN

We put into the river upstream for an hour-and-a-half float back down towards Indian River and Burt Lake. The actual river trip is about four miles.

Along the way Porter gave us a little history on the Sturgeon. With an average descent of 14 feet per mile, it is one of the fastest flowing rivers in the Lower Peninsula.

According to Jerry Dennis in Canoeing Michigan Rivers, “The consistently quick current combined with tight turns, leaning trees, and occasional obstructions makes it a challenge for paddlers.”

Not to worry. The large rubber raft bounces and works its way through the sweepers, tight bends and fallen trees and logs with incredible ease. Occasionally Porter would have us paddle a few quick strokes to make it around a tight bend or avoid outstretched limbs waiting to knock off an unwary paddler.

Mostly he guided the raft using his paddle like a rudder leaving us to enjoy the passing scenery. We had to duck a few times, but nobody came close to being knocked out of the raft.

“I’m not sure how many winter trips I’ve made down the river over the last nine years,” laughed Porter, when I asked him how long it took to hone his navigating skills. “We don’t have a set schedule. We just take groups as they call to make the float trip.

“I never get tired of the trip. Winter is one of my favorite times on the river. The beauty and peace and quiet this time of year are extra special. You see a lot more wildlife, because you can see further into the woods and snow highlights,” he added.

Deer are frequent visitors to the riverbank during a typical winter and other animals as well because of the open water, according to the guide. Eagles would normally be seen perched high in trees along the river drawn by prey frequenting the river.

However, this isn’t a typical winter, and we saw only a mallard and a hen. It still didn’t detract from the beauty of the winter float.

DRESS FOR SUCCESS

While my upper body didn’t get cold, dressed in a long underwear layer, fleece and my cross country ski jacket, my feet did get cold. I had on winter socks and my insulated cross country boots, but I would suggest a pair of Sorrels or similar boots instead.

The trip ended much too quickly for most of us; myself included, despite my cold feet. You get immersed into watching the scenery float by and the beauty of the season. You kind of forget about time and aren’t ready for it to end.

“We see a lot of repeat business,” said Porter. “People will come back and bring friends that haven’t done anything like it before. The number of winter trips seems to keep increasing each winter.”

The cost is $34 per person for six people, $35 for five, $36 for four, $38 for three, and $42 for two. That includes your life vest and a paddle.

The trip is available seven days a week.

Big Bear Adventure is located across from the entrance to Burt Lake State Park on Straits Highway. You can reach them for more information or to schedule a trip by calling 231-238-8181 or by logging onto www.bigbearadventures.com.

 
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