Difficulty II-III
Length Miles
Flow Range 175 - 1000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 1 hour ago ~ 180 [CFS] ℹ️
Reach Info Last Updated 05/04/2020 9:43 am

River Description

Quick Facts:

Location: Downtown Petoskey.
Shuttle Length: 1.3 miles. (See details in "Directions" Tab.)
Character: Boulderbed and short-ledge gradient within often human-modified banks (quarry rock and metal plate).

Put-in is approximately 657' elevation.
Take-out is approximately 581' elevation (Lake Michigan mean level).
Thus total elevation change is approximately 76'.

User comments (from years past) mention a couple different options for gauge information. However, the website for Northern Michigan Paddling Club has gone defunct. A Facebook group exists, but appears to be inactive for years now. Another user-comment mentions a Twitter site, but that also appears to be inactive for years. Failing any currently reliable source of on-site data, and being unaware of any online-accessible gauge for this river, we have linked to the USGS gauge on a nearby river. Obviously streamflows will not 100% correlate (as indicated by the tilde '~' when reporting those gauge readings), but the reference gauge should at least provide some indication of when there is water in the general area.


Removal (early 1990's) of a series of dams in town allowed a fine bit of gradient to be revealed. The city acted quickly to establish a park with walking trails in the area formerly inundated by the dams. The stream has been confined by cement walls and large rock rubble (at least in places, to stabilize the banks), as it cascades across shallow ledges on it's way to Little Traverse Bay.

Be aware that this area is very popular for fishing as well, so your boating may be contested.

PUT IN at the Sheridan Street bridge. On US-31, Sheridan Street is at the traffic light between K-Mart and Dairy Queen. There is a parking area for the Bear River Valley Recreation Area on the downstream side of the bridge on river left.  There is a path near the river all the way to Lake Michigan.  It is an easy walk if you don't have a shuttle.
TAKE OUT is either at the pond above the Lamprey Dam (Lake Street) or at the harbor on Lake Michigan, depending on whether or not you want to run the lamprey dam, the steel channel and the fishermen. There is usually ample parking.

Checking the visual gauge at Lake Street also puts you where you need to be for the car shuttle, and also gives you an idea of how many fishermen there are. Most fishermen are good about pulling up their lines, but there are some who may refuse and leave their lines in the water.

Generally, the river is a fast bubbling ride down a rip-rap channel with few eddies or play spots. This is, by far, the best white water in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, (which isn't saying much.) The main drawbacks are scraping bottom in all but high water levels and fishermen at the bottom. Due to the rip-rap nature of the river bottom, swims on this river can be hazardous; a non-boater was nearly killed by foot entrapment. If you end up out of your boat at the top of the run, you might have a long bumpy ride before you can get out of the river.

Starting at Sheridan Street culverts and proceeding to Bridge Street bridge the river is flat with views of industrial plants. The water starts to move fast right under the Bridge Street bridge.

The white water starts with a nice wave train until the first sharp right turn. The outside of the turn occasionally has debris and strainers, so most boaters try to run to the inside (right) of the turn. Then the river flattens out over bumpy rip-rap and flows under a foot bridge. Less than 100 yards past the footbridge is "The Old Dam."

The Old Dam is the toughest feature on the river (Class III drop). The best line is 1/3 over from river left with your boat pointing river right. This will take you over the tongue of water and usually you will blow through the small hole at the bottom.

There is a strong, but small eddy on river left that can pull you back into the hole, and there is a definite piton danger on river right. However, river right pour over can be run sideways, which puts you into a great position to side surf the hole.

Another 50 yards or so down from the Old Dam are a couple of good standing waves that develop at high water.

There is a nice big eddy on river right that is a good place to stop and regroup. From here to the Lamprey Dam is shallow rock bottom. In the short stretch between the large US 31 bridge and the Lamprey Dam is a pond of slow water. This is a good place to get out and scout the Lamprey Dam and remaining short run to the lake that flows through a steel seawalled channel.

The Lamprey Dam is a straight forward drop that can be run anywhere. A favorite line is driving river right to catch the large eddy on river right just below the Lamprey Dam. Beneath the center of Lake Street bridge there is a slight side surfing hole that can bobble some people after their drop off the Dam. The remaining steel channel to the lake is a straight forward flush at higher levels, and can be an adequate play spot at lower water levels if you're in a small enough boat.

(Our thanks to Andrew Geffert for the description of this reach.)

Check out a fine helmet-cam documentary of the run.

Rapid Descriptions


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Chad Wilson
5 years ago

Has anyone ran this in a raft?

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Brian Bury
9 years ago

I am a local paddler and paddled the Bear on April 30. The river was very high all weekend, but based on the Sheridan Street paddlers gauge, I believe it peaked on April 30. The high flow was the result of extremely heavy rains 4 days earlier and, unfortunately for us paddlers, won’t be a regular event. While I concur with the previous poster that the upper section was continuous, has only a few eddies, and could bruise up a swimmer, I respectfully disagree with the “Class IV creek run” statement. With the high flow there were significant wave trains and cross-directional waves in the upper, but the run is still very straight forward with only minimal maneuvering required. The only holes to punch are the manmade drops that were constructed as part of the course. All of these can be punched with enough forward momentum. We went through them in playboats without problem. For these reasons I’d call this run, at this water level, a solid III. It was definitely not a day for anyone not comfortable in fast water with waves from multiple angles, but, in my opinion, not class IV. At lower, more typical water levels, the upper is II/II+ and the lower has class II drops interspersed with class I water. The biggest skill to have at lower water levels is the ability to deal with hitting rocks. All drops can be run directly through, but if you play in them a few are semi-retentive. Cool that folks from Ann Arbor came up here to paddle. The park is a great gift to the few paddlers that live in this area and hopefully a lot of out of town paddlers will visit and enjoy it as well. Now is the time to come paddle it because at summer base flow this stretch of river is super boney. Happy paddling.

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Lee Green
9 years ago

A group of four of us, all reasonably experienced Class IV and up paddlers, ran this on 4/30/11. The water was high, despite the AW gauge page saying low: the gauge the AW reports is on the Jordan, nearby, and can be very different from conditions on the Bear. Best is to look at Northern Michigan Paddling Club's page, http://www.northernmichiganpaddlingclub.com, where they post updates on the visual gauge on the Bear at Sheridan St. That day it was over the top of the Sheridan St. gauge. There is reportedly 76 ft of drop on the 1.2 mile stretch in the park, and it appears that more than 50 ft of that is in the 1/2 mile right after the whitewater starts. At that water level the Bear is a Class IV steep creek run, very fast, tight, continuous and committing with no eddies and several holes that must be punched in that steep section. It's also quite rocky, so a flip is likely to earn you some bruises. It earned two of our group one concussion and one shoulder dislocation. The lower section from the boardwalk on river left to the takeout above the dam on river right is mellower, Class II+ at this level. We plan to go back and get a look at more typical flows later this season. The park is very nice, great hiking trails on both sides, and good viewing for those not inclined to take the plunge.

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9 years ago

It is expected that there will be times it correlates, and times it does not. (That is meant by "correlation is not assured".) We feel it is better to have some 'automatic' online reference gauge, to enable color-coding, to at least sometimes give a hint that this reach may be running. Unfortunately, we cannot automatically reference the suggested gauge pages, which of course will be more accurate, since they give direct visual observed stage readings. If you feel the 'reference gauge' NEVER correlates to flow here, we can remove the reference gauge. If it is at least SOMETIMES (at least as often as not) a decent indicator of likely flow in this reach, we feel it should stay enabled as is.

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Todd Leigh and Linda Savage
9 years ago

I second Lee's comments. I walked the reach on Sunday, May 1, and the principle drop (at the "Old Dam") appeared to be solid class IV, with minimal or no eddies and at least 4 sticky holes in a row. It will be interesting to come back with less water and see what it looks like. Also, the gauge correlation to the nearby Jordan River gauge is unclear... however you can get recent readings of the visual gauge from http://twitter.com/#!/GaugeLevel

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Craig Bell
10 years ago

September 8, 2010 - Ran this reach several times over the Labor day weekend at flows appox. 250cfs. City of Petoskey has invested a good deal of money into Park along side the river and into rechanneling the lower section as well. Beginning with the foot bridge at Bear River Park the channel has been significantly improved. Below the foot bridge the rive has been rechanneled with larger boulders and rocks to create more signifcant wave trains. The dams and rebar have been removed creating a nice series of drops with smalls pools. The holes were easily punched and the waves were surf worthy at this level. Below the Chunnel the reworking continues with more ledges and a defined channels. The numerous waves and new eddies have created some very nice surfing waves. In the old slack water section beneath the 131 bridge two new features have been added. These ledges have created two very nice small surf waves with large eddies. The lower section frm the Lamprey Dam to the marina has not been altered. The Bear River park is getting some very nice improvements - bathrooms, picnic pavillions, concrete bike path, new foot bridge, new access points, catwlks, and an overlook.

Gage Descriptions

Visual only. Just below Lake Street Bridge, at the center of the river, there are two large boulders that are usually visible. Just river right is a triangular rock. If the triangular rock is covered with water, there is enough water to run the river. If the rock is not covered, the river is too boney to bother.

Cited gauge is Jordan River at East Jordan, which is about 18 miles West and South. It has a watershed of 68 sq.mi. at it's gauge (while Bear is about 73 sq.mi.). Current minimum is based upon the 10% flow. As always, correlations are not assured.

Directions Description

We have no additional detail on this route. Use the map below to calculate how to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.

Date Flow Result Factor  
2011-04-30 n/a Injury Other Read More







Doug Heym


Matt Muir


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1214861 05/04/20 Rob updated description
1211741 04/02/19 Doug Heym updated image position
1204720 06/16/15 Doug Heym
1195959 09/09/09 Rob Add abstract.
1194119 01/28/09 n/a n/a
1196858 12/11/09 Rob Add YouTube video
1203771 10/30/14 Doug Heym Added link to Northern Michigan Paddling Club