Bear - Petoskey: Sheridan Street to Lake (1.15 mile)

Bear, Michigan, US


Petoskey: Sheridan Street to Lake (1.15 mile) (Bear River Valley Recreation Area)

Usual Difficulty II-III (for normal flows)
Avg. Gradient 66 fpm
Max Gradient 66 fpm

steel channel

steel channel
Photo of Ben Robinson by Grant Goeman taken march @ medium/high

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-04127800 175 - 1000 cfs II-III 00h42m ~ 184 cfs (running)
Likely low, possibly boatable. (Ref.gauge must be confirmed with visual inspection.) Reference gauge (Jordan River, 18 mi. Southwest) has 68 sq.mi. drainage. Bear is about 73 sq.mi. so should be fairly similar flow. Correlations are not assured

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).

More information can be found at: including posted observations of the Sheridan bridge gauge.

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

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.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2015-06-16 16:38:23

Rapid Descriptions

icon of message No rapids entered. If you know names, and locations of the rapids please contact and advise the StreamTeam member for this run.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
August 16 2015 (1251 days ago)
wilso432 (157646)
Has anyone ran this in a raft?
May 12 2011 (2808 days ago)
Brian BuryDetails
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.
May 2 2011 (2818 days ago)
Lee GreenDetails
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,, 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.
May 2 2011 (2818 days 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.
May 2 2011 (2818 days ago)
Todd Leigh and Linda SavageDetails
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!/GaugeLevel
September 8 2010 (3054 days ago)
bighatt (152386)
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.