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Canoeing in Michigan-The Rifle River

Updated on September 6, 2012

According to Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources there are 3,288 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, over 11,000 inland lakes, and 36,350 miles of rivers. Wow! No wonder it is a popular tourist attraction in the summertime. With over 300 named rivers, canoe liveries stay busy renting canoes to folks who want to experience nature from water instead of land.

I was fortunate to have a father who loved the outdoors and taught his children to respect and enjoy it as well. Each summer dad would load the station wagon with camping gear, fishing poles, six kids, and his aluminum fishing boat and we would head north into one of the many state parks for a week of roughing it. It was mom’s hiatus from us. My love for the water was born through these wonderful, Michigan camping experiences and I passed this on to my children.

Canoeing down a quiet river

canoeing can bring peace and relaxation
canoeing can bring peace and relaxation | Source

Michigan's Rifle River

The Rifle River in Ogemaw County, Michigan, was a frequent canoe spot for our family and relatives. It is an easy river to maneuver and is only 18-24 inches deep. Although the current can be swift in certain places, it has no white water and is 60 miles in length.

One of the favorite places that the Rifle River flows through is the Rifle River Recreation Area. Located within the Au Sable State Forest, there are many campgrounds available to ensure that your canoe trip is more than a day activity. Among the activities that the campgrounds offer include: fishing, swimming, hiking trails and an Outdoor Explorer Program .

Where is the Rifle River Recreation Area

Rifle River Recreation Area:
Rifle River State Recreation Area, Lupton, MI 48635, USA

get directions

Canoeing-a family affair

I have many fond memories of canoe trips I’ve made with my late husband, John, but my favorite memory of this river was the time we took his cousins on their first canoe trip. John and I were avid canoeists and talked it up so much that it inspired his cousins to want to try it. One evening, before they could change their minds and back out, we all jumped in the car and took off for the three hour drive north.

Arriving at our destination late into the night we had not thought ahead to see if there were any rooms available. It was a sign of what was to come. We eventually found a small motel that had a one room vacancy with a pull out sofa bed. We didn’t argue and settled in for what was left of the night.

The next morning we grabbed a quick breakfast and headed to buy supplies-water, soda and snacks. I noticed the other couple chattering nervously and kept reassuring them that it would be great fun. I didn’t know at the time that neither of them were confident swimmers.

Beginner canoeing experience

The second ‘red flag’ was the realization at the canoe livery that Gerry misunderstood the arrangements, and both he and his wife thought they would be sitting together with us in our canoe. Big problem, because now there was a more visible nervousness and the fact of the matter was that they could not ‘practice’ anywhere.

To top it off, Lilly did not have much faith in her husband’s abilities and was frequently critical of all that he attempted. I wondered if we had gravely miscalculated the situation and perhaps should abort the plans…but, John insisted all would be fine. He patiently demonstrated to them how to hold the paddle and the motion that would direct the canoe when changing course.

All of this was easy to do on land, however, when they attempted to apply the lessons while in the water they immediately began to head downriver facing backwards. At that moment I turned to my husband who was standing on shore wide eyed and yelling at them to turn the canoe around. He met the evil eye I gave him and said, “oh, oh”.

When the canoe tips over

“Oh, oh” was an understatement, as things went from bad to worse. About halfway through the trip we heard a loud splash, cussing, and a scream for help. Turning quickly we saw the two of them clinging frantically to the limb of a low hanging tree-their canoe upside down and floating towards us.

“Quick, intercept the canoe,” I yelled to my husband, who immediately went into action and we corralled the canoe. Holding it along ours, we made our way to the edge of the shore and waited for Gerry and Lilly. But, they weren’t budging.

“Stand up”, John yelled to the desperate couple.

“No! I can’t swim,” Gerry yelled back.

“Just stand up-it’s only knee deep,” John yelled back, and indeed it was…but, in their panic they were unwilling to do this. When they finally managed to follow John’s direction they let out a laugh and made their way down stream to us, retrieving the paddles that had been trapped in the river foliage.

The next thing I knew, I was being instructed to switch canoes in order to get us safely, and efficiently, back to our rendezvous point. I was not happy about this because I was leery that the same thing would happen to me, and shot that evil eye look at my husband once again.

Reaching the end of the canoe journey

After the second spill into the cold water I was ready to take my paddle and smack Gerry across the head with it. He was in the back and could not maneuver the boat in a straight path. Each time he came close to any low hanging branches he would panic and grab a-hold of them causing the boat to go off balance and tip.

Instead of smacking him I made him an agreement: I would be the navigator and get us back to our landing place if he would agree to keep his hands off the trees. It would be the first time I had taken that position, previously relying on John to navigate. But, it was the only way we would finish the course in time for our pickup.

Thank goodness, there were no further mishaps after our switch. We talked about this event for years after, but I don’t think Gerry or Lilly ever gave canoeing another try. John and I, in the meantime, learned valuable lessons about the situation.

Note: Although the facts of this story are true the names of the couple involved have been changed.

Canoe Poll

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    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Jason, thanks for reading and commenting on this one. I had forgotten I wrote it and it was a nice 'trip down memory lane'. I'm sure you've canoed a few of the other rivers in MI, which ones? I tubed down the Muskegon and canoed on the Huron and Shiawasee. The Shiawasee was our family favorite and we would do the annual canoe trip every summer with a large group of friends. We had quite a few adventures, one of which I mentioned in my hub 'Arachnophobia-How to Conquer your Fear'. Glad you enjoyed.

    • Jason Marovich profile image

      Jason F Marovich 

      8 years ago from Detroit

      Awesome seeing this article here. Years ago, I both canoed and tubed the Rifle River in Michigan. It was an annual outing, and we roughed it a campground, sleeping in tents. I've witnessed a few spills on the river, too, always good for a chuckle. And I've gone through rapids on the Rifle, in a canoe, backwards (not on purpose). It's a really fun river, and not too challenging. Great for everyone, really.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Yes, it was the time dad lost his wedding ring in the muskegon river. :( Thanks.

    • cardelean profile image


      8 years ago from Michigan

      Ah canoeing! I can't wait to do that with my kids. I don't think that we'll fit it in this summer but maybe next. We went rafting with Al and his family once too, do you remember that? We had the same problem as Gail, it started storming and we had to get out and wait for someone to pick us up. I can't remember what river it was on. Nice job.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Phil, that was only one experience. We had many wonderful experiences canoeing all in all. Thanks for reading and commenting. :)

    • Phil Plasma profile image

      Phil Plasma 

      8 years ago from Montreal, Quebec

      I did quite a bit of canoeing as a kid and a young teenager and loved it. It's too bad you had such a crazy experience.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      LOL oh, that is as comical as my situation was. Thanks for sharing! haha.

    • Mrs. Menagerie profile image

      Mrs. Menagerie 

      8 years ago from The Zoo tell your story very well. I love that they were in knee deep water too frightened to stand up. My brother and I did something similar when we were little: we fell through the ice in a little pond. Panicking, we floundered and thrashed around wondering why Father was just standing there watching us. Why wasn't he trying to rescue us and what's that he's yelling?

      "Stand up!"

      Oh... :D

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Gail-I went white water rafting once (also with my husband, and his sister and bro in law) It was AWESOME, but I was quite nervous initially. After it was over, I wanted to go again. We had a guide and I think that made it ok for me.

      Barbara Kay-I was born and raised in MI and my dad had a cabin in Rose City-actually across from one part of the R.R. state park. I moved out of MI when I began to do some travel nursing and ended up these past five yrs in NC. Thanks for visiting.

      Hi Bud-thanks for stopping by-glad it brought a chuckle.

      Flora and Mohin-welcome to Hubpages. Thanks for reading. :)

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks everyone for your comments. LOL It wasn't very funny at the time, but we really laughed later.

    • Bud Gallant profile image

      Bud Gallant 

      8 years ago from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

      I got a good laugh from this one. That sounds like one crazy trip. Glad everyone made it through that!

    • Happyboomernurse profile image

      Gail Sobotkin 

      8 years ago from South Carolina

      Great hub! I once went rafting with my husband and had been very anxious beforehand, imagining that white caps would whisk us downriver. Instead there was barely enough water to float in, as it was in the midst of a drought, and we had to stand up and physically walk the raft through several sections of rocky terrain. Then a thunderstorm started coming up behind us and we were paddling hard in the barely moving water in order to get back to the landing area. Lightening descended a moment after we ran back into the shelter of our hotel.

      The next time we went rafting with two other couples, all of us in the same raft, ladies up front, gents in the back and we couldn't co-ordinate our movements during the mild rapid sections and kept going down sideways as the guys kept yelling at us to paddle harder. We were doing our best but it wasn't good enough and somehow the guys kept getting splashed and soaked and we ladies were spared the drenching.

      I loved your story and could really relate to John's cousins, especially when they were clinging to the tree for safety even though the water was only 2 feet deep.

      I later learned how to kayak in lakes and I liked that much better as I was in my own kayak and didn't have any current running me towards rapids.

      Rated this hub up across the board! It was a delightfully fun read, especially with those looks you kept giving your husband!

    • Barbara Kay profile image

      Barbara Badder 

      8 years ago from USA

      We used to drive by the Rifle River several times every summer on our way up north. Did you live here at one time or just vacation?

    • mohin28 profile image


      8 years ago from London

      this is a great hub.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      8 years ago from Southern Illinois

      This is a fun story. I used to go canoeing on the Current River in Missouri. It's hard work but a lot of fun. Thank's for sharing

    • annmackiemiller profile image


      8 years ago from Bingley Yorkshire England

      loved it Denise

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image


      8 years ago

      I'm not a confident swimmer either, so canoeing isn't for me. However, my mother has gone canoeing, including a race she and a friend of hers raced in on the Fraser River years ago. It was fun at the time, but she decided there would be no more races for her. It's a lot more fun when you can go at your own pace and not need to worry about others racing past you.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      Rifle River sounds charming, mishaps and all! At least you came away from your experience with a good story, eh? Beautiful Hub!

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 

      8 years ago from Northern, California

      I adore your story of the couple who ended up in the river. How funny fear can make us! It sounds like a delightful romp on a beautiful Michigan River, I wish I lived closer, I might have headed over to rent me a canoe adventure this summer! Fun and useful read DH! Another awesome hub to add to your collection.



    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 

      8 years ago from Illinois

      ah yes, I remember the Rifle River - those were fun times, weren't they? I haven't been canoeing in years but would like to. Voted up and funny

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Hi , Its too bad that it had to turn out that way , the differences in conoes themselves can be the difference between a good experience and a bad one. Canoes without a Keel are not as controllable as one with it.The keel allows for easy steering. I often hear people say "I would love to go canoing" but they fear this or that! Each canoe should have one person who is experienced. It can be soo much fun to get out and most people never do ! Great story!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      8 years ago from Sunny Florida

      I enjoyed your story and would love to go canoeing. Sorry you had a few little problems but we woman are often the ones who save the day! It should have been so much fun but sometimes things definitely don't work out how we think they will.


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