|Dates:||September 18-20, 2015
Variable Distances (20-55 mi. per day)
Camping Available at Klines Resort - $25 per person for the weekend. (Register for camping along with your tour registration. Please do not contact Klines directly to pay for camping. )
$141 Adult LMB Member
Upgrade from Canoe to Kayak: $20 (for both days)
We are working on an additional Paddle option (in lieu of bicycling) for Sunday. Stay tuned for more info!
2015 Registration opens January 1st, 2015!
- Helmets are required!
- Riders must carry spare tubes and be able to change a flat.
- Riders must have at least one water bottle on their bicycle.
- Riders must have a positive attitude at all times!
The Rider Information Booklet contains answers to most of your questions, please review carefully.
Welcome to "River Country," the name given the area's scenic farmland, meandering roads and rivers. Dotted with historic towns, Native American names, and Amish farms, River Country has more navigable waterways than any other county in Michigan thanks to its hundreds of small lakes, rivers and streams. Our three day tour will immerse you in the diverse geography, history, flora and fauna of this beautiful corner of Michigan.
DAY 1: Friday, May 18th
Our home base today is Klines Resort. Meet at the big tent outside for check-in, lunch, and orientation.
If you have registered for tent camping, the Klines will be here to assign your lakefront site and help you get oriented. We’re taking over the lakefront for our temporary tent village, so be sure to thank the locals for accommodating us this weekend!
Non-campers should use the lower clubhouse parking lot. Stage your bikes here for the afternoon ride. After biking we return here for the down-river paddle and dinner.
BIKE ROUTES: Today we have a choice of twenty mile (Red) or thirty mile (Green) routes. Each takes you through flat to gently rolling farm country. Watch for multiple river crossings; these streams converge as tributaries feeding Portage Lake.
Both routes take us north into Kalamazoo County, where the Village of Vicksburg holds a Farmer's Market each Friday at the Community Pavilion in the Historic Village. SAG stop and restrooms will be found here, and you can see the original Union Depot, Strong Schoolhouse, and Vicksburg Commercial print shop. Click here for the interesting story of the timber frame construction for the new Community Pavilion.
Green Route (30 miles total): Opposite the Historic Village, follow the paved rail trail leading north 1.8 miles to the Vicksburg Recreation Park. At trail’s end, we follow county roads around Indian Lake where you’ll find the next SAG stop. Turning south, we merge with the Red route after crossing “W” Ave on 27th Street.
Red Route (20 miles total*): Follow the “John Henry markings” back through the village. Heading east on “W” Ave, watch for the turn on 27th St. south. We’ll cross 2 branches of the Portage River and Bear Creek as we continue to meander around Portage Lake. Watch for the last bridge on Michigan Avenue; you’ll be paddling under this bridge shortly! (*If you want to experience the rail trail, it’s only an extra 3.6 miles to follow the Green route to the end of the rail trail and then back to the historic village.)
PORTAGE RIVER PADDLE: When you return to Klines Resort, park your bikes and don your vest for today's paddle on the Portage River. You’ll see the kayaks and canoes at the marina boat ramp south of the clubhouse. The river outlet is in the SE corner of the lake. If you are uncomfortable on open water (it's up to 35 ft. deep) you can hug the shoreline to reach the mouth of the river.
This is the start of a designated Michigan Heritage Water Trail. According to the web site:
"Just upstream from here the river flows through the heart of the Nottawasepi Reservation of 1827, and by this water route the Native Americans of the region could access two large river systems: the St. Joseph and the Kalamazoo. Two Native villages are recorded in this area in pioneer accounts. Both were located a short distance from ...(the mouth of the river)... There was no doubt a busy commerce on the lake and on the river to and from these Potawatomi villages. Passing to the south of these settlements was the road connecting the Factoryville/Leonidas area with Flowerfield and the Kalamazoo settlements, now Michigan Avenue. The earthen approach to an earlier bridge is visible on the left a few minutes downstream."
After paddling under the Michigan Ave. and Silver Street bridges, you enter 3 miles of floodplain, formerly flooded by the Parkville Dam. The floodplain is now home to abundant wildlife and natural vegetation. As you approach Parkville, keep left at the fork of the old mill stream. Then align your canoe to float through the opening in the remnants of the Parkville Dam (built 1850-51, destroyed early 1930's). If you are unsure of the fast moving current, a portage is clearly visible just beside the dam.
Rounding the next corner, look right for a beaver lodge. Next you'll see the foundations of the original 1853 grist mill. The Dentler Mill produced up to15,000 bushels of wheat a year, much of which was carried by barge upriver to a railroad stop at the north end of Portage Lake. In its heyday, Parkville was also home to a sawmill, woolen mill, horse track, stables, churches, stores and a tavern. Only one noteworthy structure remains: the Dentler home lies just north of the river along Parkville Road.
Local kayaker Terri Loomis describes a recent trip: "Last week 6 of us paddled the Portage River from Portage Lake down to N. Fisher Lake Road which took us approximately 2 hours. It was a beautiful night with lots of things to see! Besides the beautiful landscape that mirrored on the river we saw at least 5 deer, great blue herons, king fishers, a giant snapping turtle lying on the bottom of the river, and lots of fish because the water was so clear. We got to the dam and two of us were going to portage around it, but Merritt led the way and we all shot through."
Our take out point is just beyond the old grist mill, at the base of the Parkville Road bridge. You will be shuttled back the resort for dinner. . Be sure to stay after dinner to hear instructions on tomorrow’s routes. The rest of the evening is on your own.
DAY 2: Saturday, September 19th
Start your day with breakfast at one of our great hometown diners, a gourmet coffee shop, or at your hotel's breakfast bar. Those camping at Klines Resort are invited to coffee hour at the clubhouse, where you can sample our local favorite, Sweetwater doughnuts.
Our Saturday base is in the City of Three Rivers, in the west parking lot behind the historic downtown. Look for a large tent between the railroad tracks and the river. Please park near the tent, and check in with the volunteers, so we know you are on the road. After today's pedal we will return here to take a bus to the start of the Rocky River paddle. The Rocky returns us to Memory Isle Park, just across the river.
BIKE ROUTES: Get out your maps and let's get started! Today’s routes offer diverse biking. They begin and end here at the tent, so you can gauge your time if unsure how many loops to take. We recommend everyone take the first route and return here for lunch. Then you can decide among the remaining options after lunch depending on your interests and the time. Everyone needs to be back before the last canoe shuttle bus leaves later this afternoon.
Morning - Red Route: (27 miles total): Follow the Red route south of Three Rivers into the Michigan-Indiana Prairie. This fertile soil drew settlers to the region and continues to serve the nation's breadbasket. After crossing the St. Joseph River, you will enjoy great views of this broad, fertile farmland. The area specializes in producing hybrid seed corn; looking south you can see a seed corn processing plant. Center pivot irrigation systems dot the landscape; our abundant surface and ground water gives St. Joseph County the most irrigated farmland east of the Mississippi.
Arriving in the county seat of Centerville, courthouse square is the site of our first SAG stop. The 1900 county courthouse has been lovingly restored and remains in use. From here, you have the option to extend your ride west on the Blue Route (more info below), or continue back to Three Rivers in the Red Route.
From the courthouse, head north past the Denton Mill (est. 1872), once the manufacturer of the Dr. Denton footed sleeper. Angle north-east on Angling Rd., then north and over the St. Joe River on Angevine Rd. (Blue Route rejoins here).
Turn left on Leland and continue to Culbertson Cemetery - the "cemetery in the middle of the road" – where you turn south on Covered Bridge Rd. and the causeway approaching the 1887 Langely Covered Bridge. You may want to walk your bike through the bridge to enjoy the view and protect your tires on the uneven wood planks. At 282 feet, it's the longest of Michigan's few remaining covered bridges. Don’t miss the historic marker standing at the south end, and tiny Gardner School (1845) nearby.
Turn immediately right on Schweitzer Rd. It’s nearly a mile to Covered Bridge Park, our next SAG stop. A short hike leads to the Sturgis Dam, whose construction in 1910 forced the addition of the causeway and the bridge to be raised 8 feet! Electricity generated here supplies the City of Sturgis 14 miles to the southeast, one of the few cities its size to own a power company.
Don’t rest too long; only 8 miles to go, and lunch is waiting just ahead! Below the dam, the St. Joe is wooded and showing some early fall colors. Winding our way back to town, we pass Lockport Township Hall and Noah Lake - a favorite fishing spot. The river widens as we approach the next hydroelectric dam in Three Rivers, the former site of a WWII munitions factory.
Morning - Blue Route: To add an interesting 14 miles to your morning route, follow the blue markers to head east on the wide shoulder of Main St (M-86) out of Centerville. You'll find a variety of snack options, cafes, an Amish Market and even McDonald's. Consider a detour thru the Fairgrounds. The St. Joseph County Fair begins tomorrow, so there should be lots of action!
We turn south, passing top-ranked Island Hills Golf Course, before winding through our lovely Glen Oaks Community College campus. As you leave campus, watch for the 1887 Nora Hagan Farmhouse. Soon you are pedaling around Lake Templene, one of the few man-made lakes in the region.
Watch out for buggies (and their roadside evidence) as you head north into Amish country. Nottawa Fruit Farm is our 2nd SAG stop (at M-86). Apples will be in season; there's also a bakery, jams and honey! You can leave your purchases with our SAG volunteers to bring back to Three Rivers. Continuing north, watch for the Amish schoolhouse. Amish farms are easily identified by their black buggies and laundry on the line. Several Amish businesses are also along our route and worth a stop.
From Prairie Corners, we ride west along the St. Joe River and rejoin the Red route at Angevine Rd. Watch the “John Henry’s” for the little jog north and continue west to Culbertson Cemetery (see Red Route for details on trip back to Three Rivers). Returning to our starting point, it's time to enjoy lunch, recover and decide which route to take this afternoon.
Afternoon Routes (25 or 30 Miles):
This afternoon, the terrain shifts from farmland to a region of rolling moraines left behind by the last ice age. Narrow spring fed kettle lakes occupy pits in the outwash and basins of the moraine, and are popular for their crystal clear waters and high banks. These lakes - and the hills surrounding them - reward us with beautiful fall views and surprises around every corner. They have attracted visitors since the late 1800's, and are the site of many summer homes, camps and retreats.
Heading west out of town on Hoffman, follow your map north on Pulver and east on Mohney Lake to Cowling. Here you’ll find our first photo op, a preview of the Rocky River grass bridge. Stop for a picture or walk across this long abandoned structure. You’ll be paddling under this bridge later today! If you’re running short on time, save 5 miles by backtracking west on Mohney Lake Road (it takes a little jog north at Ruggles). Or follow the route north. Either way takes you to our first SAG stop at Rouch Outdoor Equipment.
Next follow the route south along Long Lake and Corey Lake. Turn left on hilly Corey Lake Road and watch for our next SAG Stop at Corey Lake Orchard. While here, check out their fresh baked goods, purchase fruit and vegetables in season, or sample their home distilled brandies and Pole Cat wines. Ask the staff to set your packages aside; we’ll have them waiting for you at the tent later.
Turn left at the old country schoolhouse, then immediately right past the grapevines on delightful Van Selous Rd. Take care crossing 131 as you return into Three Rivers.
Lock up your bikes, refill your water bottle and load the bus for our afternoon paddle. Accessible restrooms are available at our registration tent for changing clothes and other necessities. We’ll be loading the first bus at 3 pm. Last bus leaves at 3:20.
ROCKY RIVER PADDLE: The Rocky River is the smallest and arguably most scenic of our "3" rivers. Upstream it offers brown trout habitat that is stocked annually by the DNR. Downstream, some 19 species of fish have been found, including rock bass, northern pike, crappie, smallmouth and largemouth bass. For more information on the fishery, follow this link.
According to the DNR, "Flowing through a patchwork of active and fallow farmland, swamps, and small blocks of forests, the Rocky River watershed is large, encompassing more than 100,000 acres. There are 13 tributaries... and it is estimated to be 25 miles long... Development along the river is limited to farms... Only one dam exists on the main stream, located at the confluence with the St. Joseph River (just past the end of today's paddle). In high water times, fish can navigate this low structure."
So can kayaks; it's a Class 2 rapids! But check for conditions with our outfitter before trying it.
The Rocky allows for either a lazy float or a more aggressive paddle – it's up to you! With a steady current and fewer obstacles than yesterday, allow under 2 hours if paddling hard; or up to 3 hours if you are drifting or stopping along the way. Watch for the picturesque abandoned bridge near Cowling Road. Yes, it's safe to paddle under!
After floating under US 131, watch on the left for the dock at Brewsters Restaurant. If you have time, stop in for a snack or beverage. It's a short paddle from here to our landing at Memory Isle Park.
Après Tour: At Memory Isle, grab your belongings and head across the footbridge to your car. The Rocky River rapids are just downstream and can be safely viewed from the pedestrian bridge that connects Memory Isle to the parking lot. If you walk across M-60 into Skidmore Park you can see where the Rocky joins the St. Joseph River at the stone lighthouse. The Petting Zoo here has been a popular spot with families for decades.
You're on your own for the evening; check your packet for some of our local dining options, from pizza and American diner food to Chinese or Mexican. After dinner, shop the historic downtown and stop in for a drink or a show at the beautifully restored Riviera Theater (50 N Main). You could head east on M-60 for some country line dancing at Cowboy Up, or enjoy dinner at the clubhouse at Island Hills. Then again, you may want to relax and rest up for tomorrow!
DAY 3: Sunday, September 20th
Klines Resort is our base again today! We’ll assemble in the dining hall for today’s instructions, and to enjoy a not-to-miss breakfast prepared by Matt & Mike’s.
We are working on an additional Paddle option (in lieu of bicycling) for Sunday. Stay tuned for more info in the near future!
Long Route: Today we’ll be touring more of St. Joe County’s agricultural base, including parts of Nottawa Prairie land once belonging to the Nottawasepi Indian Reservation, a tribe of the Huron Band of the Potawatomi who now own Firekeepers Casino in Battle Creek. We’re riding just north of the St. Joe River, and will pass close to the crossing of the Washtenaw Trail, site of the township's earliest settler in 1832.
From the Resort we head east thru farm country on Michigan Avenue, then south on Fulton Rd. The rocky soil in these fields provided material for many stone structures, including the beautiful church and school we can visit Leonidas – just take a short detour south across M-60 into the village. Next ride west to Rawson's King Mill Park (SAG stop). The mill once cut lumber which was floated all the way to Lake Michigan from here! Later it was converted to a grist mill. The story of how it became a county park is relayed in the 2012 obit for its donor, Eston Rawson:
In 1967, Eston and Lydia Rawson purchased the King Flour Mill, in Leonidas, and spent the rest of their lives restoring the Mill and sharing the property with the residents of St. Joseph County. After retiring… in 1975, Eston and Lydia worked together to restore the Mill to its former beauty, and added rock walls and gardens which embraced the islands and grounds. Eston also adapted the water powered mill to generate electricity which provided their electric power. In 1991, Eston and Lydia gifted the Mill and 4 acre garden property with two islands to St .Joseph County as Rawson King Mill Park so that all could enjoy the beauty they had created.
Nottawa Creek is also a great river to paddle, if only we had time… From here we zig-zag southwest into the Village of Mendon. Head into town to see more historic structures: the Heritage Schoolhouse (1906), St. Edwards Catholic Church (1905), Wakeman House stagecoach inn (1843), and the Carnegie Public Library (1905). If you need a bathroom or beverage, both the Shell and Marathon stations are open on Sunday. If you’re hungry, try Gibby’s for brunch, across from the Post Office on M-60.
From Mendon it’s an easy 7 miles back to the resort and the end of our tour.
Short Route: To shorten this route, simply head south at any point on Michigan Avenue and rejoin the long route. If you turn south at Nottawa Rd., you trim 13 miles off the route. You will miss the SAG stop, but still pass thru Mendon where there are plenty of choices for food and drink.
Après Tour: When you return to Klines Resort, stop by the tent for a light lunch before heading home. Now that you are acquainted with some of River Country’s biking and paddling routes, we hope you’ll return for more! The county is actively working to improve access on our many waterways. Visit www.rivercountry.com for more ideas, bike route maps, outfitters, and more.
- All roads are paved
- Canoe/kayak Rocky and Portage Rivers
- Easy terrain
- Marked Routes w/ Maps
- Lunch and Dinner on Friday, Lunch on Saturday and Breakfast on Sunday
- SAG Services