White River: A scenic trip through national forest

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The White River passes through the Manistee National Forest where paddlers with basic maneuvering skills can enjoy the quiet surroundings. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

MONTAGUE, MI – It was a perfect summer day when I launched at Sischo Bayou, a remote canoe landing on the White River in the Manistee National Forest. I’d come looking for a half-day float, some time to myself and an opportunity to try out a new canoe. The river didn’t let me down.

The White’s waters were high and colored from recent rains. Once I slipped into the current and slid downstream, the quiet dip of my paddle was the only sound to be heard.

The White is a state-designated “Scenic River,” part of Michigan’s Natural Rivers program. Three sections are being studied for inclusion as a National Scenic River, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Its waters emerge from a Newaygo County swamp before flowing southwest for 70 miles through White Cloud and Hesperia, eventually arriving at Montague and White Lake.

Fishing is good all along its length. There are smallmouth bass and trout in its upper reaches, salmon and steelhead in the lower. But, I hadn’t come to fish this day — only to paddle and enjoy the scenery, a lush mix of tag alder and dogwood, pines, oak and aspen. 

A SPECIAL AREA

The river’s narrow channels and twisty course proved the perfect proving ground for my new canoe, an opportunity to learn how it performed on moving water.

“It’s the prettiest stretch on the river,” noted Kathy Bietau, the recreation planner for the Baldwin Ranger District of the national forest, speaking of the segment I was navigating and the one immediately upstream.  “It’s a lot of forest service land with no homes. It’s part of our White River special area, and it is very beautiful.”

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A trip down the White River provides opportunities to enjoy nature and some great places to camp. Photo; Howard Meyerson.

The special area is designated “semi-primitive non-motorized,” a large swath along the river where cars, trucks and off-road-vehicles are largely absent. Primitive camping, fishing and hiking are allowed.

I set off from Sischo, where butterflies were dancing over sun-drenched shoreline vegetation and where black-winged damselflies were out en masse, often landing on my canoe rails. The river was faster than usual, but never difficult and only occasionally confusing, offering me choices of which way to go where there was only one right answer.

The White is a river of contrasts: swift and skinny with riffles and occasional downed trees upstream and deeper, wider and slower lower down. The 8.5-mile lower-middle section I was paddling moves at a modest pace and has no rapids.

Only one tree required portaging, and that was easily handled by pulling out on the right bank and dragging the canoe around the upturned root ball, a situation I later reported to the folks at the Happy Mohawk Canoe Livery. I had hired them to provide an upstream shuttle.

MAINTAINING THE RIVER

Livery staffers maintain the route on this portion of the White River. They open passage when new trees fall. Dave Cordray, the owner, said he relies on reports from paddlers about new obstacles that appear.

The Sischo to Mohawk Livery segment is an easy paddle for those with decent maneuvering skills and a basic ability to read the river. There are a few submerged obstacles. The livery also attempts to solve some of the route issues by placing yellow wood arrows on trees to mark the right channel.

“The first three hours from Sischo down to Diamond Point are challenging (for novices). It has obstacles and requires maneuvering, but the last hour is easy,” Cordray noted. “Diamond to Happy Mohawk is the stretch we do for tubes.”

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Diamond Point is a popular put-in for livery canoers, kayakers and tubers. Photo; Howard Meyerson

It took only two hours to paddle down to Diamond Point, a national forest campground with a couple of sites and steps down to the river, much like Sischo. The travel time between them is officially listed as 3 hours — and another hour to the Mohawk Landing. Paddlers can do it faster, or, of course, take as much time as they like.

Diamond Point was alive with tubers and livery kayakers. Everyone seemed to be having a blast. I hadn’t seen a soul until then. It proved the perfect place to have lunch and let the crowd spread out before finishing the last short leg of this fine river journey.

To learn more about White River or to get a river map, contact the Manistee National Forest Baldwin Ranger District at 231-745-4631 or check out the Happy Mowhawk Canoe Livery.

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Appears in MLive Media Group newspapers and MLive Outdoors.

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