The Shiawassee River Water Trail is 88 miles long and is a navigable waterway of Central Michigan. The Trail provides a paddler experience on a variety of river system qualities ranging from the eight water trail towns to a predominantly rural, tree-canopied landscape consisting of a mix of agricultural land, fens, wetland forests, riffle zones and superb fresh water fishing all along the way. For most of its length, the River has a steady current to enhance the enjoyment of navigation. The Trail provides an abundance of natural environment experiences that contrasts with rural and small town to semi-urban landscapes all in view from the paddlers’ perspective. The Trail begins in the Village of Holly and ends in the Village of Chesaning with sufficient well-spaced public access points. Paddlers enjoy a mostly beginner’s rating waterway. There are three required portages with mill ponds upstream from dams with one of the dams also supporting a lake level that permits the only large-motorized section of the trail at Lake Ponemah. History and culture are richly endowed and communicated qualities of the Trail that also provide for related paddler experiences. There are State-recognized conservation sites and environmental educational programs. The Trail’s proximity to the million-plus population within a half-day’s drive to any trail segment enables close-to-home outdoor recreation and readily accessible communion with nature for everyone.
Loop Trail? No
Type: National Water Trails System
Entry Fee? No
Special Caution advised from 9/1 - 12/31 due to waterfowl huntingTwo access sites require a fee for parking, Walnut Hills Campground -- $1.00 per vehicle; and Lake Ponemah MDNR launch must have a recreational passport vehicle license plate or $3.00 per
Parking Fee? No Allowed Uses:
Boating, non-motorized: Canoeing
Boating, non-motorized: Kayaking
Boating, non-motorized: Rafting
Boating, non-motorized: Sailing
Heritage and History
Location: The Shiawassee River water trail is located in southeast Michigan, beginning 50 miles north of Detroit and proceeding west-northwest towards the City of Saginaw.
Counties: Oakland, Genesee, Shiawassee, Saginaw
There are numerous access sites to the Shiawassee River along the 88 mile water trail. The trail begins in Holly, Michigan and travels through the towns of Fenton, Linden, Byron, Vernon, Corunna, Owosso, and ends in Chesaning, MI.
The Shiawassee River Water Trail is an 88-mile navigable water trail beginning in Holly, MI and ending in Chesaning, MI. It is one of Michigan’s favorite waterways with an engaging variety of riverine characteristics, 28 well-spaced public access sites with paddler amenities, relatively high water quality, and Mid-West class small mouth bass fishery.
The Trail is an inclusive and convenient to a vast regional population that can experience a predominantly natural environment that is more often associated with the sparsely settled river systems of northern Michigan. The river is becoming recognized as a recreational asset due to the work of three non-profit organizations focused on improving water quality and community improvements along the Water Trail.
Natural features unique to the water trail include high quality fens and forested wetlands, and scenic rural vistas. Water Trail users will experience the opportunity to view abundant wildlife including beavers, bald eagles, and the powesheik skipperling butterfly. The rare cardinal flower can also be seen growing along the banks. Conservation is primarily promoted by HeadwatersTrails, Inc. and the DeVries Nature Conservancy.
The water trail character can be described as country scenic, wooded wetland, rural residential, or trail town. This provides a diversity of paddling experiences along one water trail, offering opportunities for isolation, wildlife viewing, group paddles, or multi-modal trips. Paddling skills required are either classified as ‘beginner’ or ‘intermediate’ providing a great destination for family outings as well as challenge and excitement for the seasoned paddler.
The variety of experiences is due largely to the geology and glacial history of the area. The land surfaces from Holly to Byron are generally low lying and slightly undulating till plains with a consistent series of lakes and wetlands formed as the glacier stalled and built the east-west moraine wall south of the Shiawassee River. Tributaries for the river enter mostly from the south; the watershed divide on the north side yields in relatively short distances to the Flint River watershed. After Byron, the slightly undulating till plains are interspersed with rolling moraine country up to 40 feet above river level. At Shiatown meltwaters of the glacial Lake Erie flowed east to west in what geologists call a glacial spillway—now the Maple River and mile-wide Valley west of today’s course of the Shiawassee River. Sands and gravels including the streambed materials supply evidence. In Owosso the retreating glacier and land uplift from glacier removal allowed a lower outlet to the developing Saginaw River. The Henderson to Chesaning segment enters into the former lake bed of Lake Huron. There are still sections of valley walls near Oakley and the intriguing “Kentucky holler” character of Six Mile Creek (with an abandoned coal mine too). The farmland is level with no undulations. The agricultural drains are deeply incised entry points to the River. Former sand dunes from the Lake shore glacial period abut a few bank sections.
Recreation on the water trail includes kayak, canoeing, and paddleboarding along with motorized boats and jetskis on the impoundments in Fenton, Linden and Byron, Lake Ponemah and Tupper Lake. Several local and county parks are along the water trail and offer opportunities for picnicking, fishing, and connections to nonmotorized trails. The water trail features a paddle-up restaurant in Fenton, two paddle-up campgrounds, regularly scheduled group paddles, education classes, thirteen public parks, and eight trail towns offering amenities to travelers. Impoundments in Fenton, Linden, and Byron offer opportunities for beginner paddling experiences and safety classes.
The water trail features many historic towns. The Village of Holly, Fenton, Linden, Corunna and Owosso are all along historic Native American trading routes, and became river-based trading towns from the early to mid-1800’s water power mills. Other historic features include Fenton’s Historical Museum, Linden Historical Museum, Knagg’s bridge trading post, Corunna’s Historic Village, Owosso’s 1223 Steam Locomotive Rail Museum, Curwood Castle, and Comstock Cabin.
The trail towns feature access to a commercial canoe livery near Byron, two outfitters in Fenton, and overnight lodging at campgrounds, bed-and-breakfasts, and hotels. Numerous restaurants, and a variety of shopping experiences are also present.
Primary Surface: Not Available
Secondary Surface: Rock, boulders
Snow or ice
Elevation Low Point: Not Available
Elevation High Point: Not Available
Elevation Gain (cumulative): Not Available
Year Designated: 2020
Supporting Webpages and DocumentsBrochure: Shiawassee River Heritage Water Trail Brochure, Holly to Chesaning
Brochure: 2017 Events, DeVries Nature Conservancy
Brochure: Shiawassee River Brochure
Map: Shiawassee River Watershed Map
Map: River Character and Skill maps
Other: The Shiawassee River Canoe/Kayak Guide, Byron to Oakley (Shiawassee County)
Other: Vision of Green for Michigan's Bay, Midland, and Saginaw Counties
Other: Genesee, Lapeer, Shiawassee Counties: Potential Conservation Areas Assessment
Other: Genesee, Lapeer, Shiawassee Counties: Conservation Needs Assessment
Other: Shiawassee River Watershed Conservation Area Plan
Other: Green Infrastructure Vision for Southeast Michigan
Other: Site Maintenance
Other: 2017 List of Events, Headwaters Trails and Keepers of the Shiawassee page 1 of 2
Other: 2017 List of Events, Headwaters Trails and Keepers of the Shiawassee, page 2 of 2
Other: Petition signed by area residents during the Fenton Business Expo, March 4-5, 2017
Other: Local News Articles
Other: Article: Oakland Press, 12-13-09
Other: Article: TriCountyTimes, 6-21-16
Other: Article: TriCounty Citizen, 1-19-14
Other: Letters of support from organizations, businesses, governments, and local officials
Other: Shiawassee River Water Trail Plan
Website: Ponemah-Squaw-Tupper Combined Lakes Association
Website: Realtime tracking water level gauges Dashboard of the Shiawassee River.
Website: Shiawassee River Water Trail
Website: Friends of the Shiawassee River
Website: Headwaters Trails, Inc
Website: Keepers of the Shiawassee River, Facebook Group
Website: Shiawassee River Paddling Meetup
Website: USGS River Gauge
Website: Keepers of the Shiawassee
Website: Photographs of Shiawassee river from Holly to Chesaning
Website: Mid-Shiawassee River Watershed -- Stormwater Management Plan
Website: Shiawassee River Coalition, Facebook Group
For more information and current conditions, contact the trail manager (listed below). For questions, suggestions, and corrections to information listed on the website, contact American Trails.
President, Friends of the Shiawassee River
Shiawassee River Water Trail Coalition
PO Box 402
Owosso, MI 48867
Kayaking the Headwaters to the Saginaw Bay
The Shiawassee River offers something to everyone. The headwaters section has a narrow river with numerous twists/turns through wetland fens and forests. The river widens out a bit flowing through farmland areas in the middle of the State of Michigan. The northern end enters the Shiawassee Wildlife Refuge and flows into Saginaw Bay, Michigan.
October 27, 2020
Submit an Edit
Trail Managers: please use the official NRT update form to update your trail for any of the following changes:
- Change in trail mileage through trail extension
- Change in trail mileage through trail retraction
- Change in trail mileage through significant trail reroute
- Change to trail name
- Change in trail description or use
- Undesignation of trail (removal of NRT designation status)
- Other significant updates
>> Download the official NRT update form.
All other edits can be submitted via the below form: