Watersmeet, Michigan

Backcountry Canoe Camping in the Sylvania Wilderness

Point-to-Point Trail

Originally added by Kyle Heise

This was backpacking but in a canoe. Experience solitude amid the glorious beauty of the North Woods.

The Syvlania Wilderness located within the Ottawa National Forest near Watersmeet, MI. Although part of the National Wilderness Preserve System you would be hard pressed to find any area that boasts the offers presented by this area: 34 pristine, named lakes; a plethora of wildlife; a few sandy beaches; endangered and threatened fauna and vegetation; and solitude.

This great opportunity of adventure is open year round to the public; permits are required May 15-September 30 and can be purchased at the entrance station. However, from October 1-May 14 you can self register and pay NO FEES! You can find more information, print maps, and find campsites here. Keep reading to see how my adventure went.

After stopping at the Ranger station for permits, we unpacked our cars and loaded our boats at the launch on the North side of Crooked Lake. The water was warm and I was itching to paddle. It had already been two weeks since my last time on the water. I realized immediately how easily it would be to get lost in a designated wilderness. But that was because we started on Crooked Lake. The name is not just a clever title. You legitimately feel as though you are on three different lakes. My advice is make sure you keep your map handy in a dry clear case or take a picture of it and use your phone in a waterproof case. But I digress. . . So there we were, still heading south and aiming for an area that looked like a marsh. A path lay before us through the reeds. We followed it and the lake opened up again with an island just out in front of us. We followed the right (West) side of the lake until we found the obvious trail through the reeds to the first portage.

A portage is typically measured by a length known as a "rod", which is 16.5 feet. This was easily the worst portage of trip, 112 rods. Despite how awful it was pulling gear and a canoe, the sun setting on the far side of a nearly untouched beach made it worth it. This beach was on the edge of Clark Lake. We crossed the expanse of water (which was deceivingly farther than it looked). The wind was whipping and the sun was setting fast. . . and we still haven't set up camp at this point. But after an arduous battle with the wind we made it our first designated camping area, Birch.

For each primitive campsite  we planned to stay we need to register ahead of time (it's truly for the best). They all have fire rings and privy. The privy is an adequate distance and out of line of sight, but there is not a lot of cover available. Nonetheless, both these features help preserve the area, so it's hard to be upset when LNT principles are being used.

The rest trip was pretty much a repeat of that process. We went back across Clark Lake portaged to Crooked Lake and then portaged to Mountain Lake. There we stayed at Bear 1 (which unless you like a steep hike up I would recommend going to Bear 2). We decided to call our trip a day short because it rained from early Monday morning all the way through Tuesday, and some of the essential gear was soaked enough that we wanted to end the trip with high spirits rather than suffer through another day of being wet and cold throughout the night.

However on our way back to the launch site on Crooked, we took a pit stop to the portage for High Lake. This is easily the most beautiful body of water I have ever seen. If (but really when) you go to the Sylvania Wilderness, you cannot skip High Lake, even if it is raining, cloudy, and chilly. There are not words that could adequately express the captivating qualities of this lake and the surrounding area by any virtue of degree. If you miss it, you will regret it.

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Easy Parking


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Watersmeet, Michigan

Sylvania (Clark Lake) Campground

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