The Mighty Au Sable River

These are a few of my favorite things…

This beautiful, 138 mile long river begins near Grayling and ends right here in Oscoda. There are beautiful trails to hike, overlooks to enjoy and paddling trips to take. Proximity to this river is one of the primary reasons why bought our home here. There is an annual canoe race on the river the last weekend of July and it’s something you need to witness to appreciate. The Mill Street bridge near Finish Line Park in downtown Oscoda closes to traffic and serves as the end point for the race. There is a live radio broadcast, medical tents for racers that may need a massage or medical attention, bleacher for bystanders, various vendors and sometimes a party at the Au Sable Inn, which is located next to the bridge.

The River Road Scenic Byway follows 22 miles of the river, from M-65 to downtown Oscoda, and is home to many scenic overlooks, ponds, boat launches, fishing holes and picnic areas. You’ll also find the Highbanks Trail here (which is 7-8 miles long depending on which map you use). Most of the trail is conveniently laid out in 2 mile sections between overlooks, which makes it very easy for even new hikers. I’ve hiked it in all four seasons and I will share that my least favorite time of year is summer. The gnats and flies can get pretty bad and the trees block the nice breeze you need on those hot, humid days. It is gorgeous in the winter but you will want your snowshoes or boots with clamps. The trail is well marked but in heavy snow it can be tricky to find the path, especially if no one before you has broken the trail!

One of my favorite Au Sable River activities is kayaking. I was able to go four times last year. There are several canoe rental shops along the river. My favorite is Oscoda Canoe Rental which is the closest one to my house. It’s just a couple miles from downtown Oscoda and they offer several different types of trips. You can opt for a single or double canoe or kayak and they offer tubing trips as well. They have different distance options depending on how long you want to be out on the water. They’ll drop you off with the equipment and you just make your way back down the river to their shop. The town of Glennie is further away for us, but offers beautiful trips on different sections of the river. I plan on doing at least one river trip up that way this summer!

The scenic overlooks along River Road hold a special place in my heart. The Foote Pond overlook is a favorite spot for watching a sunset or stargazing. Lumberman’s Monument is the biggest overlook with a gift shop, bathrooms, planned seasonal activities, interactive displays and nearly 300 steps that lead down to a replica of a floating store that visited lumber camps. Iargo Springs has a big platform overlooking the river, which is great for birdwatching. Optionally, you can go down the nearly 300 steps to view the springs, considered to have healing powers by Native Americans, and explore the paths that lead to more great bird viewing opportunities.

There are five, one hundred year old hydroelectric dams along the river that are owned by Consumers Energy. They also own about 12,000 acres of dedicated recreational property along the river that is used by the public, including two very popular campgrounds. Those dams formed ponds which are used by thousands of people every year. The leases on the dams start expiring in 2034 and CE is considering not renewing those leases. There have been a series of public meetings and questionnaires over the last several months looking for public feedback. The vast majority of people I’ve talked to do not want to see the dams removed. It would completely alter the flow, recreational use, and property values for those that own property on the river.

I am hoping that the dams remain and the river I have come to know and love so much since moving here doesn’t change. It would be devastating for the businesses and communities that depend on the tourism money that our summer visitors bring. I have attended the meetings, filled out the questionnaires and signed the petitions but the rest is out of my hands. All I can do now is wait and see what happens. Nothing much should change for at least the next ten years and I plan to fully enjoy everything the river has to offer while I can!

Loud Dam/Five Channels
Sunset at Foote Pond overlook
An eagle at Iargo Springs
This is one of the eastern most overlooks and is a favorite of fly fishermen
Iargo Springs
Lumberman’s Monument
Highbanks Trail
Highbanks Trail

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