Big Sable River

West Coast/Lake Michigan, Michigan

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Big Sable River


  • The put-in for the Big Sable River is just below the Hamlin Lake Dam.- Big Sable River
  • Boardwalks line the start of the Big Sable River.- Big Sable River
  • A wooden bridge crosses the river about halfway to the mouth.- Big Sable River
  • Wildflowers along the river.- Big Sable River
  • Route 116 crosses the river just before the river enters Lake Michigan.- Big Sable River
  • A paddler near the mouth of the river.- Big Sable River
  • The lower end of the river takes on a marshy character.- Big Sable River
  • A paddler enjoys the view on the Big Sable River.- Big Sable River
  • A paddler returns up the Big Sable River.- Big Sable River
  • Remnants of the docks Charles Mears built along the Big Sable River.- Big Sable River
  • There are several access points to the river.- Big Sable River
  • A great blue heron suns itself along the river.- Big Sable River
  • The river is very popular among paddlers.- Big Sable River
  • The Hamlin Lake Dam.- Big Sable River
  • The river is full of wildlife.- Big Sable River
  • People often float the river in tubes as well as kayaks and canoes.- Big Sable River
Overview + Weather
Great views. Bird watching. Easy float.
Can be crowded.
West Coast/Lake Michigan, MI
Pets allowed: 
Yes, with restrictions
0.10 mi (0.16 km)
Site characteristics: Water: 
Motorized watercraft allowed: 
Year round: 
Parking Pass: 
Park entrance fee
Portage required: 
Preferable Season(s):
Fall, Summer
Put-in location (lat, long coordinates): 
44.032747, -86.493308
Shuttle required: 
Take-out location (lat, long coordinates): 
44.032747, -86.493308
Total Distance: 
2.00 mi (3.22 km)
Trail type: 
Typically multi-day: 
Water difficulty: 
Easy / Class A
Water temperature: 
72.00 °F (22.22 °C)
Current Local Weather:
Paddle Description

Paddle Description


The Big Sable River flows from Hamlin Lake to Lake Michigan in a 1-mile stretch of slowly moving water that is popular with paddlers and floaters visiting Ludington State Park. Most paddlers opt to put in just below the dam at the Hamlin Lake Boat Launch, paddle to the mouth of the river where it meets Lake Michigan, and return along the same route for a 2-mile out-and-back trip. It is also possible to set a shuttle, parking a second car near the entrance of Ludington State Park. Trails parallel the river on both sides, with several stairways and docks leading directly into the water. Despite the popularity of this scenic float, the river supports an abundance of wildlife ranging from great blue herons, beaver, mink, and coho salmon.

From the parking area, follow the paved path to a sandy beach just below the dam on Hamlin Lake. The first dam on Hamlin Lake was built in 1856 when lumber tycoon Charles Mears set his sites on the region for a new shingle mill. He redirected the river to its current course, straightening the channel to more easily accommodate shipping docks and log drives. Many of the moorings from the docks are still visible along the river.

A wooden walkway crosses the river about half a mile from the dam. Below here the river widens into a marshy area on the southeast side that is great for bird watching. At the mouth of the river, a sandy beach creates a small cove. This is a great spot to take a dip before starting the easy paddle back to the dam.

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(9 within a 30 mile radius)

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