Manistee River (Michigan) Paddling Trip - October

I’m hoping that someone has some insight and experience on the Manistee River (Michigan) and can help me out. We’ve paddled CCC Bridge to US-131 in previous years… but we’re looking to go back this year and possibly try another section. We will have 3 full days on the river (Thu-Sat), plus a few hours on our take-out day (Sunday) in early October. My main question is about Hodenpyl Dam… particularly regarding the portage effort. We (4 adult male paddlers) will be using a Bris 15 ft river raft (one of our guys is dead-set on getting some use out of his river raft this year, so we’re humoring him - which we might end up regretting) - plus gear, of course. Can anyone give me a good description of the portage itself? Distance? Incline/decline (steps/bank/etc)? Just trying to figure out how much work we want to put in to a portage and if the return (Hodenpyl to Tippy) is worth the effort. Nothing is impossible - we can do the portage - but are we going to be doing it over a leisurely half hour or three miserable hours?

Also, if anyone has any comments / insight to using a Bris 15 ft raft on the Manistee from M-66 to Hodenpyl or Tippy Dam, I’d be interested in hearing that too.

There is a platform to land on at the end of the pond & a grassy slope & steps down to the parking lot. The steps from the parking lot down to the river are steeper and a bit more effort. There is no over night parking there - you could go up the road a bit to a trail head of fisherman’s access. Or, the better option - continue down and take out at Red Bridge. That’s one of the best sections of the river. I just checked my GPS track from April & the distance is about .2 miles maybe 70 - 75 feet altitude change. It was about 50 minutes for the group of us (6 as I recall including a couple of kayaks) to get from landing to launch.The ponds are quite nice and wild however, I’m not sure I’d want to row a raft across if the wind is up.

Where are you looking at starting from? Our April trip was from Baxter Bridge to Red Bridge with two nights camping.

That’s funny- We JUST did Hodenpyle to Tippy last Wednesday-Thursday on kayaks, camping about halfway down the river on an awesome site overlooking the river, them met some friends at a site on Tippy backwaters for rest of weekend.

We put in at the Hodenpyle portage, it was nice, steps seemed newer and launch area was well maintained. Lugging the raft may be precarious, but doable.

The river from Hodenpyle to Tippy is beautiful, with the North Country Trail and Manistee River Hiking trail hugging both banks. Plenty of places to stop and lunch, explore, relax, swim (maybe not in Oct…) and I think there are about 12-15 sanctioned campsites with firepits if you want to stay the night on river.

+1 on trying to avoid the ponds themselves in a raft. Mornings and evenings were calm, water was like glass, but from about 11-4 stiff breeze picked up and made paddling strenuous. Fine if you just wanted to drift, but might be hard if you want to cover some miles. We have been there in the fall and it was even worse.

They are currently working on replacing Red Bridge and it is closed (i.e nonexistent) so you may want to check with the local municipality or DNR about whether or not river will be accessible around there. They had signs saying that the river will be CLOSED around red bridge at certain times during construction.

Tippy Dam holds a special place in my heart, we have been camping there since high school. Some great memories, it is a great place to explore and enjoy the peace & quiet. You guys should try and camp on Government Island, about 2 miles past Red Bridge on the Tippy pond. 2 awesome spots, and there is a outhouse at Government Landing.

I imagine bears will be active that time of year, so definitely keep that in mind…

Enjoy and keep us posted!

rival51 / Tortoise - thank you both for the info. This is exactly what I was hoping for! As of right now, we’re considering trying to paddle US-131 to Bear Creek - which would include both dam portages (& both open water paddles). We may have a solution to the open water - which includes a small outboard. Our buddy has a rowing platform and motor mount built for his raft. Again… it’s not my ideal solution and not what I’d generally want on a river trip… but since I’ve agreed to go along with the raft idea, I’m open to any solutions that’ll get us across the open water without absolutely exhausting ourselves. This is what I have plotted out so far…

Day 0 (Wed) — we’ll arrive and stage cars… might actually try to knock out a few river miles if the day doesn’t get away from us
Day 1 (Thu) — Old US-131 Campground -> Harvey Bridge — probably setup camp a few miles before Harvey
Day 2 (Fri) — Harvey Bridge -> Hodenpyl — plan to portage Hodenpyl late afternoon and camp a few miles down river
Day 3 (Sat) — Hodenpyl -> Tippy / High Bridge — plan to portage Tippy afternoon and camp in the High Bridge area
Day 4 (Sun) — High Bridge -> Bear Creek

I keep going back and forth between whether or not our plan is doable or just way too ambitious (aka crazy). A lot depends on the variables we can’t control - weather, the outboard motor idea working for the open water, etc. So, I guess I’m also looking for someone to say - “great plan! might work!” or “worst idea ever! not in a million years!” haha

Tortoise - is there overnight parking @ Tippy? We were thinking about staging one of the vehicles at Tippy for two reasons… 1) we can load it up and use it to assist with the portage / lighten the load and reduce trips back and forth… or 2) we’ll have a back-up plan in case we decide to end the trip at Tippy if we’re behind schedule.

Thanks again for the comments though! Both are really helpful!

That time of year you should have no problem parking at Red Bridge or Government Landing (middle of Tippy pond) there are some campsites right by the boat launch and a few parking spots. There is day use parking at Tippy Dam State Recreation Area and Sawdust Hole closer to the dam, I am not sure how busy that will be, probably depends on the salmon runs below the Dam and how many fisherman are out there.

If you guys have an outboard, you should have no problem on the ponds. I am sure some of the more purists will have some choice words for your ilk, but you do what will make this trip optimal for you!

We prefer to paddle slow and stop often, but that is just our style. I think your plan is doable, but much more laborious than I like on a trip.

Thanks, Tortoise. Believe me… I tried to veto the raft/outboard - but I lost the battle. The rest of the group sort of owes the guy one… so, we decided to go along with it this year. I’m in the process of building a walnut strip canoe - so, it’s back to the pure paddling adventures next year (and beyond)! It sounds like maybe I need to ditch my buddies and tag along on your trips, haha! I like the paddle slow / stop often / enjoy your coffee in the morning crowd!

Thanks again for all of your advice and insight. I’ve come up with three plans… we’ll take a vote and see where the chips fall…

1/ US-131 to Bear Creek
2/ Baxter Bridge to Tippy Dam
3/ Harvey Bridge to Bear Creek

Be sure to camp before you get to Harvey. You start to run into private land a bit after that. We found a very nice site river right about 45 min above Harvey.