The scenic Canyon of the Montreal River is one of the best intermediate whitewater runs in the state. The season for this run starts in early spring but usually continues running for about a month or longer. It is high in early spring but eases down to water fun for intermediates towards the end of spring.
Ledges along nearly the entire length of this run create beautiful glassy waves for hours of playboating pleasure. Aside from a few troublesome holes that can form at higher flows, this run is rather constant in terms of difficulty. One important safety concern to be aware of is that once you are in the canyon and committed to the run it is impossible to get back out. Sheer rock cliffs of conglomerate and sandstone rise up to 200' on either side. This also makes it extremely difficult to mount a rescue in several spots. Although there are some gravel bars in the canyon, they start to disappear at higher water. At most flows, however, they provide a place for you to scout the river and pull swimmers to shore.
Entering the canyon requires descending a long stairway that takes you to the bottom of the canyon at the put-in. Use caution and be sure you have a firm grasp on your boat and wait for others to clear out of the way below you. An alternative method is to take about 250' of rope with you and belay your boat to the river off of a big tree at the top of the canyon. This method might be necessary if you have a particularly heavy boat or if you don't like climbing down stairs with a boat in your hand.
You can look up at Saxon Falls just upstream of the put-in. If you see three fingers of water coming over the drop the river will be pumping and rather pushy, but at a great level for play boating.
There aren't many drops on this run, just a bunch of continuous class III rapids, most of which mellow out to class II at lower flow. A sheer wall on river left where the river makes a hard turn to the right is the Cathedral. A hole forms here that can be real trouble for intermediates, but great fun for aggressive experts looking for a good trashing.
Once you exit the canyon you reach a gravel bar. You may have to drag your boat if the water is low. At higher flows this will be a nice stretch of continuous class II. As the river spreads out, the current slows and you will soon reach the takeout bridge. You will find a good landing spot on the river left upstream side of the Hwy. 122 bridge.
Below this bridge the river enters a very steep canyon containing class V-VI whitewater ending with Superior Falls. The falls has been run but its a rowdy approach to the 55' drop. You can get a good look at it by driving along the river right shore of the river to a trail which gives you a good view of the falls and a glimpse of entry.
Logistics: The put-in is at the Saxon Falls Powerplant, down Saxon Falls Power House Rd. off of Co. Hwy. B. Continue north towards the river at the point where Co. Hwy. B makes a 90 degree turn to the west. The take-out is at the Highway 122 bridge across the Montreal River. Upstream river left.
Click here for Part 1 of an article from the AW Journal, way back in 1981!
Click here for Part 2 of the article.
The article describes the following: Michigan's, Upper Presque Isle, Lower Presque Isle, Middle Black, Lower Black, Upper Silver, Lower Silver, Falls, and Rock; and Wisconsin's Lower Brunsweiler, Montreal Canyon, and West Branch Montreal.
This is upstream of the listed put-in. Once you descend the long steep staircase to the river, you can look upstream to see this awesome falls. However, you will not be seeing it from this perspective (photo is from a high angle on the opposite shore). The first known descent of Saxon Falls took place on April 23rd, 2007 by Tao Berman, Josh Bechtel, and Eric Boomer.
USGS lists a site with drainage area 264 square miles.
This lies downstream of the listed take-out (after Hwy. 122). There is a dam and a stretch of rapids and falls leading down to the final plunge, which is dewatered much of the year by the hydro facility at this site. After taking out at Hwy. 122, boaters may find it interesting to look at the rapids and falls downstream, including the final plunge, Superior Falls. Tao Berman made the first known descent of this falls (aptly for an episode of "Stunt Junkies"), dropping into the river above the falls out of a helicopter "to prove it could be done" (and because Tao and his crew can).
Paddled this river May 4, 2019 at 720 cfs per the recorded phone line, three fingers of Saxon Falls visible. Awesome run. Lots of great surf. Maybe a little boney in the ledgy section near the end. Very scenic. Highly recommended if in the Upper Peninsula. River is medium width, all boat scout able at this level. If you need a play fix, this is the run. Easy shuttle. Most of the harder rapids are wherever you see the tall cliff walls. Fun fact: Wisconsin is on river left, Michigan is on river right.
I ran this river twice with only one finger of the falls above the put in(around 200cfs). Very boney for someone who is 200lbs and above. My son at a soaking wet 145lbs had no problems.I have been told ideal is around 400cfs. Absolutly one of the best runs. Bring your camera. You will not believe you are on the Wisconsin-Michigan border. 200ft plus cliffs and Bald eagles. The put-in is very unique. 138 metal steps to the river around the chain link fence.
Call Northern States Power recorded hotline at 715-893-2213 for discharge information. Minimum for fun is around 500-700cfs. Good is 1400-1700cfs.
Alternatively, looking upstream at the put-in at Saxon Falls (an impressive sight), the falls is split by rocky prominences at the brink. If you see only one 'falls' with water, it is very low; two 'falls' is low-moderate; three 'falls' (adding a narrow center sheer falls) is a good level.
Permits are not required for this reach.
We have no additional detail on this route.
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Karen Frank at put-in, three falls visible means a good level, level 720 cfs
Jim McHale surfing the Montreal at 720cfs
Karen Frank finds surf waves and great scenery at 720 cfs
Karen Frank punching at big wave on the Montreal at 720cfs
Doug Heym punching a big hole at 720cfs
Doug Heym, Todd Leigh, Karen Frank paddle by the beautiful cliff walls at 720cfs
The "Beautiful" Montreal Canyon (only 1.6')
Warren & Peggy in the canyon (1.6')
Ice piles in early spring (only 1.6')
Ice piles on shoreline-early spring (only 1.6')
Kurt plays a wave (1.6')
Playwave in Montreal Canyon (1.6')
Peggy surfing a wave (1.6')
Brendan hits the hole
Stacy hits the hole
The stairs to the put in
Saxon Falls at put in
Guage on power house
If someone gets hurt on a river, or you read about a whitewater-related injury, please report it to
American Whitewater. Don't worry about multiple submissions from other witnesses, as our safety
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In December 2019 Northern States Power submitted their Notice of Intent and Preliminary Application Document to relicense both the Saxon Falls and Superior Falls Hydroelectric Projects. These two projects regulate flows on the West Branch Montreal and Montreal Canyon. Both of these runs are enjoyed by paddlers from across the Midwest and offer opportunities that are unique to the region. American Whitewater will be filing formal comments and a study request within the next week requesting an evaluation of flow needs for whitewater boating and adequacy of accommodations for public access to the river. Paddlers in the region who know the river can help by filing personal comments.
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