Good Sam RV Travel Guide & Campground Directory

Michigan's Historic White River

By Jim & Joy Cordroy



Michigan's White River is one of 62 major watersheds that exist in Michigan, and the river has played a major part in the rich natural history of the state. The name, White River, was derived from the decomposition of billions of minute marine plants called diatoms and diamids, which turn the water a whitish color.

The first known inhabitants of the area surrounding the river were Native Americans, whose history is noted as beginning around 1642. About six thousand Native Americans settled in the area, after clearing about eight hundred acres on which they grew corn, pumpkins and squash. An abundance of fish in the river, as well as wildlife provided the necessities of life. Later, French fur traders arrived, and capitalized on the abundance of beaver, mink, muskrats, and fox for their valuable pelts.


During the early to mid-1800s, the White River served as a major log-floating river leading to White Lake. The first steam mill was erected at the mouth of the river in 1850 by the Reverend William Montague Ferry. A mill owner named Heald has the distinction of being the first logger to float his logs down the White River. During the late 1800s, much of the lumber needed to rebuild the City of Chicago after the great fire came from this area. Today, paddlers can view the high banks along the river, called rollways, which were used to pile and store logs.

The logging camps and mills gradually closed, leaving the river for its next generations of users - canoeists and kayakers. Today, the White River is a nationally designated Scenic Recreational River that twists and turns through the Manistee National Forest. The river offers beautiful scenery along its banks, changing with the seasons. The spring allows views deep into the forest, while the trees are still in the budding stage. Summer covers the distant views with beautiful shades of green from the large numbers of evergreen trees. Autumn furnishes an ever-changing palette, providing photo opportunities along the way.

Wildlife can still be found along the banks, and paddlers see white tail deer, raccoons, mink, muskrats, waterfowl, beavers, sand cranes, blue heron and others. Visitors can also enjoy glimpses of the largest variety of turtles east of the Mississippi.

Fishing is also a popular sport here. Between The White River and its tributaries, Blue Lake, White Lake and Lake Michigan, some of the best fishing in the world awaits even the most avid angler. Everything from the coveted king salmon, steelhead and lake trout to the ever popular bluegill, perch, pickerel and bass all make their home here.

Off-river, there are also many points of interest within a short driving distance of the White River, making the area a popular destination for the whole family. Visitors can tour the many Lake Michigan beaches, amusement parks and the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp with its unique music and theater entertainment. You'll also find the world's largest weathervane, dune scooter rides, White Lake, U.S.S. Silversides World War II submarine, historic sites and museums, clothing outlets, unique specialty shops, a repertory theater, a gem factory, and Great lakes charter fishing fleets.

Happy Mohawk Canoe Livery, owned and operated by Jim and Joy Cordroy since 1977, will help you plan your vacation and furnish transportation for drop-off and pick-up. Jim and Joy also own and operate White River Campground, located just a short distance down river. Guests can always choose their own adventure at Happy Mohawk. Just select from canoes, rafts or the recently added tubes. Trips range from 1 hour to 2 days, and are tailored for the expert or novice canoeist. Rafting and tubing is about half the speed of canoeing, so these trips begin at about half the distance compared to canoe trips. Rustic picnic sites are available at many locations along the river. Call 616-894-4708 for information.

Rapids - Classification For Technical Difficulty

I. Easy. Waves small, passages clear, no serious obstacles

II. Medium. Rapids of moderate difficulty with passages clear. Requires experience plus quality boat.

III. Difficult. Waves numerous, high, irregular; rocks; eddies; rapids with passages clear, though narrow. Requires expertise in maneuvering, scouting usually needed.

IV. Very Difficult. Long rapids, waves powerful, irregular, dangerous rocks, boiling eddies; passages difficult to scout; scouting mandatory first time; powerful and precise maneuvering required. Demands expert operator and high quality boat.

V. Extremely Difficult. Exceedingly difficult, long and violent rapids following each other almost without interruption; river bed extremely obstructed; big drops; violent current; very steep gradient. Close study essential but often difficult. Requires expert operator and high quality boat. All possible precautions must be taken.

VI. Unrunnable.

Excerpted from Woodall's Plan-It·Pack-It·Go...