Ultimate Au Sable River Kayaking Trip Planner

Planning a paddling trip on the Au Sable River? Read this before you go!


At nearly 138 miles long, the mighty Au Sable River in Michigan provides endless opportunities for kayaking enthusiast. It’s known for being one of the best trout fishing rivers in the world, and that’s part of the reason why it became protected as the Au Sable Natural River Plan back in the late 80’s. With its rocky, sandy bottom, its slow current, and its crystal clear waters, what in the world is stopping you from exploring the beautiful Au Sable River?


Check out our guide and take our recommendations into consideration. You’ll end up planning the trip of your life, or at least end up having one of the best paddling trips you’ve ever embarked on!


Au Sable River – Fast Facts

Length:                                    138 miles

Average Trip Duration:          3 to 4 days

Paddling Difficulty:                Moderately

Cities Nearby:                         Grayling and Milo

Average Current:                    3-4 miles per hour


Where Can I Rent a Kayak or Canoe?

The Au Sable River area caters to paddlers looking to rent their watercraft vehicles. If you need to rent a kayak or canoe, try spots such as Borchers Canoe and Kayak, Pen Rod’s Au Sable Canoe & Kayak, or Carlisle Canoe. You can also enquire with Ray’s Canoe Rentals, and don’t forget to ask them about valet services, a lot of rental companies provide this option to paddlers.


Can I Plan a Trip for the Winter Months?

Definitely, in fact, kayaking trips on the Au Sable River isn’t a rare occurrence, but finding lodging is. Most cottages are closed during the “off season”, and snow machines don’t have access to the shore-line, which means that access is limited at times. The other thing to keep in mind is ice: the ice layer that forms on part of the river during the winter months can easily damage your kayak.


Before You Paddle Out:

  • Always ensure that you’re wearing a beanie, socks, and thermals to bed since temperatures plummet at night.
  • To keep your water from freezing at night, tie your water bottles together and place them inside a dunk-bag into the river. Even through the coldest of nights, the river’s water temperature will stay warmer than the air outside.
  • Water filters are notorious for freezing after first use, stick to boiling you water to purify it.
  • No paddlers are allowed to play music while rafting, and no alcohol is allowed to be consumed on the water.
  • Accept and embrace the fact that cellphone reception in the area is very unreliable, if available at all.



When Is The Best Time To Go?

Mid-summer months tend to be the busiest time of the year. This means that the time between late April and late October are ideal if you don’t want to get caught in the flurry of paddlers.


The Paddling Trip At a Glance

If you want to plan an overnight trip on the Au Sable River, planning a route from Grayling to Parmlee would be sufficient, as it gives you a good 30 mile coverage area and should leave you with plenty of sightseeing opportunities.


If you started your paddling route at Grayling, you’ll find that a great resting point can be found at Burton’s Landing, which is located about 1-1.5 hours away from Grayling.


The area below White Pine, in the south branch of the river, is said to offer the most relaxing experience for those looking to find some peace and tranquility, so keep this in mind when panning your route. The other spot that’ll offer some peace and quiet can be found at Steckert Bridge all the way to Smith Bridge.


For those of you who don’t plan on paddling through the whole river, you might want to consider getting out of the water at McKinley Bridge Alcona Pond. There are also a lot of stopping points that you can incorporate into you planning. Here are your options:

  • Louie’s Landing
  • Burtons Landing
  • Keystone Landing
  • Stephan Bridge
  • Wakeley Bridge
  • White Pine Campground
  • Au Sable River Campground
  • Connor’s Flat
  • Rainbow Bend Campground
  • McMaster’s Bridge
  • Parmalee Bridge and Campground
  • Camp Ten Bridge
  • Mio Dam


What Gear Should I Pack?

A common mistake that paddlers make is overdressing. The key to a great kayaking experience on the Au Sable is dressing in thin layers, which can be added and removed if and when necessary. Remember that gloves can mean the difference between a blissful or nightmarish experience.




Is Fishing Permitted on the Au Sable River?

Yes, but please keep in mind that there’s a “no kill” policy enforced here. Only flies are allowed when fishing trout.


Are There Any Dangerous Animals in the Area?

Luckily, the answer is no. Wildlife can be found in plentiful supply, and include species like eagles, deer, beavers, turtles, and heron among the many others.


What Are My Options for Camping?

The White Pine State Forest Camp Ground is located roughly 5 or 6 hours away from Grayling. Make sure you pack a three-season tarp and a sleeping bag that has sufficient insulation to keep you warm at night.


Some other popular camp grounds include the Parmalee Bridge site, Buttercup Campground, Rainbow Bend, and the National River Campsites.


If you’re not one for camping out, there are plenty of cabins in the area that offer lodging, given that you make bookings ahead of time.


Need More Info?

If you’re keen to learn a little more about what to expect on your Au Sable trip, go ahead and check out a few of the following links:

This article features a few basic pointers for paddling down the Au Sable River.

For tips and tricks that might come in handy when you’re planning an overnighter, check out this post.

For a map of the camping grounds in the area, have a look at the online map.

If you feel like you need more info on the different camping options, you can consult this post.

If you’d like to learn more about the Au Sable Canoe Marathon, read up here.