Salmon Trout, Michigan, US
|Usual Difficulty||III-V (varies with level)|
|Avg. Gradient||49 fpm|
|Max Gradient||107 fpm|
|SALMON TROUT RIVER NEAR BIG BAY, MI|
|usgs-04043238||50 - 300 cfs||II(IV)||00h45m||~ 6.8 cfs (too low)|
|Best levels unknown. Most of reach is off limits. (From 2005-2012, the highest DAILY MEAN flow at gauge is only 35 cfs.) Gauge (6.74 sq.mi. drainage) is upstream of recommended put-in, which is at/after numerous additional tribs add to (perhaps nearly double) that flow.|
The Salmon Trout River of Marquette County has long been a 'Holy Grail' of sorts for those who
have explored the diverse and challenging whitewater rivers of Michigan's Upper Peninsula
("the U.P."). Though this reach was likely run many times by the loggers that cut the
area in the late 1800s and extensively utilized the river to transport the timber, I am not aware
of any runs by modern recreational paddlers. The reason is that much of this reach is contained
within the bounds of the Huron Mountain Club (HMC).
In the late 1800s, a large tract of primarily cut-over land was purchased for the creation of a private hunting and fishing reserve. The initial investors in the HMC were men of wealth from the Marquette area but the club began drawing a downstate and east coast patrician clientele as transportation options to the area improved. A measure of the degree of the club's exclusivity may be understood when one realizes that even Henry Ford (founder of the Ford Motor Company and ranking industrialist of his day) was kept on the waiting list for a number of years before gaining entrance, and then only because he was purportedly instrumental in defeating a proposed extension of Michigan State Hwy 35 that would have passed through HMC lands.
The HMC has always strongly held to conservative conservation in the style popularized by Theodore Roosevelt. In the 1930s, noted conservationist Aldo Leopold was hired to design a forestry management program for them. They have preserved the remaining old-growth hardwood stands and have endeavored to restore the other lands within their aegis to their natural state. The beauty of the Huron Mountains is such that in the 1950s, there was an attempt to create a National Park in this area, an action which was swiftly and soundly defeated by HMC actions. They continue their private conservation efforts today and encourage scientific research within the unique ecosystems contained within their lands.
The Salmon Trout River is desirable not only to whitewater paddlers but to fishermen as this is a excellent steelhead stream. The Salmon Trout River is one of only three remaining known spawning grounds within the United States for the 'coaster' brook trout. However, this is a private tract and the HMC goes to some effort to ensure that it stays that way. They employ a private security force and maintain at least two guardhouses along this reach. From conversations with area residents, I understand that the HMC security personnel have a reputation of being very efficient at locating, pursuing, and deterring trespassers within club lands. It must be remembered that Michigan state navigability law is decidedly gray with regard to it's application to recreational paddling. Since the legality of paddling this reach is likely to be contested, at the present time do not attempt this reach without the expressed consent of the Huron Mountain Club.
The reach described here begins near Dodge City at the confluence of the Salmon Trout with the West Branch of the Salmon Trout. Dodge City consists of several cabins ("camps" up here) at the foot of the Huron Mountains that lie on a logging road which is not maintained by the county during the winter months. Thus access during the prime water season (mid-late April) would probably require some creative shuttle arrangements as the road will likely still be snowed in. The river is small where it crosses under the road and only becomes reasonably boatable after the confluence with the West Branch, about a hundred yards down from the road.
The first 3.2 miles are small enough to be prone to down timber. Gradient is fairly regular through much of this upper section (at 84'/mile average) culminating in the series of drops known as Upper Falls (65' in 0.3 miles). From this point down, the river changes character from the more consistent gradient of above to alternating stretches of flatwater and pronounced gradient below.
At a marshy area, once backwater of a logger's driving dam, the East Branch enters from the right shortly after passing through the Hogback Falls/Twin Falls sequence (75' in 0.3 miles). Ives Hill rises on the left and the river necks down for the next sequence of drops known as Middle Falls (80' in 0.3 miles).
This is followed by another stretch of low gradient and then the final sequence of drops is encountered at Lower Falls (60' in 0.3 miles).
The river lies in a deep valley with little gradient for the remaining 2.6 miles the the bridge.
|Mile||Rapid Name||Class||Features (Legend)|
|2.1||Approximate HMC Boundary||N/A|
|8.0||Approximate HMC Boundary||N/A|
The USGS gauge (drainage area 6.7 square miles) lies just upstream of our listed put-in at a trib which will be a welcome increase.
Huron Mountain Club owns a tract of about 19,000 acres (nearly 30 square miles), and reportedly is quite strict at policing access and trespass.
At 3 2/3 miles, the Salmon Trout takes a sharp hook to the right (South) and reaches the confluence with the East Branch Salmon Trout (nearly equal in size). Hogback Falls will not be on your run, but on the East Branch of the river. (The 'distance' listed here is the mile marker for the confluence with that other stream.) It could be worth a hike to check out (other than it would be about 5/6 of a mile).
Roughly midway between this ('Middle') falls and the next ('Lower') falls, two smaller tribs come in, in quick succession. The first (at mile 5.75) is Snake Creek, the second (at mile 5.83) is Clear Creek. A very short distance up Clear Creek, there is a 'Lower Dam' marked on topos, and (not far upstream of that) the creek seems to have considerable gradient which could be worth a look, though the creek is quite small. A road marked "Blind 35" runs quite near this stream, and heads back near Middle Falls. (Again, all of this would be 'off-limits', within the Huron Mountain Club.)
Approximate western boundary of the HMC. Just downstream of this point (I believe outside of HMC property), the rive swings sharply south then rounds what is labeled "Darby Bend" to head north before entering a series of meandering switchbacks, as you are now in very low-gradient run-out the rest of the way to the listed take-out (and beyond to Lake Superior).