Manistee River - Huron Manistee National Forest

Kayakers paddiling below the suspension bridge on the big Manistee

Canoers and kayakers agree that the Manistee is the finest river in the Lower Peninsula for multi-day camping trips. Numerous campgrounds and access sites are conveniently spaced over the entire length of the river, making it possible to paddle anything from a two-hour float to a ten-day trip.

Spring-fed with long stretches of undeveloped forestland and clear, clean water, the Manistee River is included in the National Wild and Scenic River System. Gifted with a moderate current, occasional light riffles, and a very stable flow regime, the river is a favorite with scout troops, youth groups, and families.

photo overlooking the Big Manistee River

The furbearers, waterfowl, eagles, deer, and other animals that call the Manistee River valley home make for countless wildlife viewing opportunities. With its long stretches of sandy bottom, the Manistee River is ideal for swimming and wading. The river is a vital fishery that supports indigenous trout, small mouth bass, and during spawning season, salmon and steelhead run between the mouth of the river at Lake Michigan and Tippy Dam.

Like the Silver Creek Pathway along the Pine River, the Manistee River Trail offers a stunning trek paralleling the Manistee with magnificent vistas over the river and its valley.

Come see this masterpiece of nature for yourself and you'll know why the Manistee River draws outdoor lovers from across the Midwest.

Families and groups planning to paddle or hike the Big Manistee River watershed area of the Huron-Manistee National Forest may want to print and bring along our Bird & Wildlife Checklist. With so many native species in the area, our checklist provides a handy way keep track of them all. Encourage the budding naturalists in your group with a competition to see who can spot the most species.

Manistee River Facts


The navigable portion of the river from Deward to Lake Michigan is 166 miles. The gradient is approximately 4 feet per mile. Average depth varies from 1 foot to 4 feet depending on the section of river, and the annual average flow is 1,122 cubic feet per second.

Manistee River Natural History

The Pleistocene Glaciers that advanced and retreated over this portion of Michigan's Lower Peninsula are responsible for the porous nature of the glacial outwash evident throughout the river valley. Meltwaters pouring off the ice sheet began shaping the valley through which the present day Manistee River runs. For thousands of years since the big melt, the river and force of nature have constantly, albeit slowly, carved out the ever-changing water trail that is the paddler's paradise of today.

Human History

Called Manistee by early Native Americans, the word has many documented translations including “the river at whose mouth are islands”, “river with white trees along the banks”, and “the place between the trees”.

The Manistee River watershed was inhabited and controlled by the “Three Fires” Indians : the Potowatami, Ottawa, and Chippewa tribes of the Algonquin Nation. Largely nomadic, these tribes summered on rivers to the south such as the Grand, the White, and the Muskegon, but always returned to winter on the Manistee River.

Indian burial mounds, village locations, and campsites have been found dating from 8,000 B.C. to 500 A.D. There are over 380 archaeological sites identified in the Manistee's watershed.

Pine River Paddlesports Center