Friday, August 15, 2014

Pine River Paddlesports: More Than Meets the Eye!

My husband and I were looking to head north (from Grand Rapids) this summer and find somewhere that we could camp, kayak, and enjoy the great outdoors. We ended up heading to the Pine River Paddlesports Center in Wellston, MI, and found everything we were looking for and more.
The Pine River, just 1/4 mile hike from the campground.
Pine River Paddlesports Center is located in the heart of Michigan's Huron-Manistee National Forest, right off the banks of the Pine River (hiking the 1/4 mile trail from the campsites will get you there. They rent canoes, kayaks, rubber rafts and tubes on both the Pine River and the nearby Big Manistee River. They also boast a wonderfully-wooded campground, providing campsites with privacy and a real chance to enjoy the beauty of the National Forest.

 The campground offers 38 family sites (limited to six people per site), and six group sites, which can accommodate groups of 7 to 40 campers! The sites are spaced out from one another to allow for privacy, but none of them are located so far away that you'll dread that middle of the night walk to the bath house! The campground rules here include a "24 Hour Quiet Policy," which means noises should be kept at a level that doesn't carry out of your campsite.Their rules about noise are strictly enforced so their guests can enjoy the peace and quiet of the forest. We didn't find this policy to be a hindrance at all, and it really did allow for soaking in the beauty of the forest & nature that surrounded us. It lent itself to a very peaceful, relaxing camping experience.
 We stayed at a family site (#19), and had plenty of room for our tent, kayak trailer, and car. The site came equipped with a picnic table, large sealing garbage can, lantern hook, and fire pit with built in cooking grate. We absolutely loved the cooking grate, and used it for most of our meals! After all, everything tastes better when cooked outdoors over an open fire! One of our favorite new meals that we cooked over the fire was Apple Cinnamon French Toast, which is made from hamburger buns, so it worked great with leftover buns from dinner the night before! Another tip for this recipe is to crack the eggs & mix them with the milk at home, so you can store them in a plastic bag and toss that into your cooler, instead of worrying about not cracking eggs as you pack, load, and dig through the cooler once you're set up at camp.
Apple Cinnamon French Toast & Sausages for breakfast!
With both the Pine River & the Big Manistee River nearby, we did some research before our trip to figure out which trip we'd like to take our kayaks on. It turns out that in order to protect the river, all boaters on the Pine River are required to get a permit specific to the day they will be on the river from the USDA Forest Service, and they had all already been requested on the day we were planning our trip. That left the Big Manistee River! We took a look at some of the routes on Pine River Paddlesports Center's website, and picked out a couple that looked like they might be a good afternoon trip.
Mark helping us plan our kayak trip on the Big Manistee River.
On Saturday, we chatted with Mark (one of the owners of the campground) about our proposed kayak trip on the Big Manistee River. He had some great suggestions for us, and walked us through multiple maps to make sure we knew how to get there, where to stage our car, and even some cool things on the river to keep an eye out for. We loaded the kayaks up, put some sunscreen on, and detoured by the Dublin General Store to stock up on provisions for the river. If you've ever been to the Dublin General Store, I'm sure you already guessed what we stocked up on: jerky. There's a good reason they call this "The Jerky Place!" With over 60 varieties of jerky to choose from, we did quite a bit of sampling before settling on a package of Double Smoked Beef for our trip. I'm typically not much of a jerky fan, but this was delicious! The jerky here is far and away better than the pre-packaged variety that's designed to sit on a store shelf for months without going bad. This is the real stuff!
Luckily they let you try samples, otherwise it would be impossible to decide!
 We finally made it to our put in location of Hodenpyle Dam, which got us into the river just after the dam. You're able to paddle back up a bit to check the dam out, but there's lots of signs warning you to keep your ears open for warning sirens in case you need to clear the area in a hurry! Our destination was Red Bridge, which is about a four hour float this time of year. The river does lots of meandering back and forth along this stretch, which gives you great views of the forest, the many islands, the campers along the banks, and even parts of the North Country Trail. We did a good mixture of floating & paddling on our way down the river, and got there about three and a half hours after we set out. It was a gorgeous trip, and I'd imagine it would be stunning in the fall as the leaves begin to change. There were a few bits of the trip that kept you on your toes, such as sharp banks and little, quick rapid-like sections, and lots of other parts where you could casually float along. Pine River Paddlesports Center will take care of all your transportation to & from the river (as well as your boat's) if you rent through them, and they also have the option of simply providing the transportation if you're bringing your own watercraft along.
Hodenpyle Dam, where we put in.
 Back at the campground, we entertained ourselves for a while on their disc golf course, which is really two courses in one (a traditional course, and an around-the-world challenge). They also have a rock-climbing wall on site, which looked like it would be a great challenge! Then it was back to the campsite to build a fire and end the night in the only correct way you can while camping: by making s'mores. 

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