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Canoeing & Kayaking


Sylvania Wilderness & Ottawa National Forest, Watersmeet, Michigan USA

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Copyright 2001 Alfonso Vazquez-Cuervo - See Terms of Use

Our Route Summary

  • Submitted by: William Reid
  • Date Submitted: 10/2001
  • Location: Sylvania Wilderness in the West end of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, near Watersmeet, in the Ottawa National Forest
  • Class: Classes 1 & 2. The open lakes were quite windy, with considerable waves
  • Distance Paddled: There are 25 miles of portages and trails and about 4,000 acres of water. Portages range from 1/10th mile to 3/4 mile in length.
  • Water Level: Not relevant
  • Water: fresh
  • Wildlife: bears, deer, beaver, bald eagles and loons that allow you to get up close and personal for some spectacular photos, 21,000 acres of pines and 300 year old hardwoods across 36 pristine lakes and 19 ponds, bass (catch & release), trout, pike, and pan fish
  • Special Regulations: Motorized or mechanized equipment cannot be possessed or used in Sylvania with the exception of electric motors only on Crooked Lake. Group travel size for any purpose is limited to 10 people, with the exception of campsites, where the limit is 5 people. For other restrictions and conditions of entry in this wilderness area check:

Entry and Exit

  • Directions: The park office is located West of Highway 45; South of U.S. 2 Large Brown & Yellow Forest Service sign, follow signs. Their hours of operation are: Saturday through Wednesday 7:30am - 5:00pm and Thursday & Friday 7:30am - 8:00 pm. Phone reservations will be taken only from February 1st - May 15th. Their phone number is: (906) 358-4724
  • Fee: Between May 15 and September 30 there is a $5.00 daily or $20.00 Annual facility pass charge. From October 1 to May 15 there are no fees.
  • Description: launch area is vast, paved, and sandy
  • Parking: secured parking nearby
  • Facilities: Park office, picnic areas, tent camping. There is an Ottawa National Forest Visitor's Center nearby and displays of indigenous species as well as local topographic and geological displays. For those who do not have their own equipment, or would rather rent from an outfitter, Sylvania Outfitters is located on the park boundary and has a complete rental facility as well as a collection of topographical maps of the entire area. They can be contacted at:
    Sylvania Outfitters
    P.O. Box 276
    Watersmeet, Michigan 49969
  • Handicap Access: Portages and some takeouts may not be suitable for handicapped people

What We Saw

After registering at the park office it is a short drive to the Crooked Lake boat ramp and launch area shown above.

Paddling on Crooked Lake is shown at left.

Sprinkled among the 21,000 acres of pines and 300 year old hardwoods are 36 pristine lakes and 19 ponds. Short portages connect most of them. Sylvania had been a private estate since the turn of the Century. Since 1966 the Ottawa National Forest has maintained it. This area is famous for its Catch & Release Bass fishery.



Campsites are remote to each other, and are as stated above, limited to 5 people per site. Toilet facilities are primitive and consist of a walless "Biffy". There are a number of sites that have swimming adjacent to the site.

Seeing a bear can be an exciting experience and this IS bear country. The very things that make them fun to watch; curiosity, acrobatic antics, and appetites can also ruin one's wilderness experience. Standard precautions such as cleaning up after each meal, scattering wash water at least 150 feet from campsite, and storing food, toothpaste, candy & gum in a separate storage bag, hung at least 10 feet off the ground, 4 feet away from tree trunks, and about 4 feet down from a sturdy branch. We adhered to the above guidelines and had no problem with bears!

Our portage from Crooked Lake to Mountain Lake is shown at right.


We stayed on Mountain Lake, and it was secluded and in three days we saw only 7 other paddlers.

Pull out/launch area on Crooked Lake is shown at left.


Our Mountain Lake, Lynx campsite is shown at right.

The night sky was unbelievable with the Milky Way reflecting on the lake, a shooting star gallery, and even the Northern Lights.