Paddles on the Shiawassee: A River Trail in Oakland County



Oakland County has an abundance of distinct landforms and exceptional natural features created by retreating glaciers. One of these features is a trail, with partially submerged logs, low-hanging branches, a beaver dam, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, muskrats, deer and sunning turtles. A trail best explored armed with a spirit of adventure and a paddle. Cascades of colorful leaves, small rapids, and a pulse-raising five second journey through a culvert under an active railway all add to this Pure Michigan style adventure. Paddlers need not travel far for this adventure. It’s right here on the Wilder Side of Oakland County as it meanders gently between the towns of Holly and Fenton.


Want to paddle? Here’s what you need to know. Waterworks Park, the local starting point, is located at 690 S. Broad Street in Holly and the section I paddle takes paddlers downstream seven water miles to Strom Park on East Street in Fenton. This segment of the river takes about three hours. Thanks to the work of The Headwaters Trails Inc., this section of the Shiawassee River Heritage Water Trail has riverside trail markers every mile.

The changing scenery includes riverside homes (be sure to respect private property), a hidden beaver lodge, forests taking on autumn colors, farm fields and a fantastic meander through tall meadows rich with late season wildflowers and sometimes the deep bugling calls of Sandhill Cranes.


It is always safest, and sometimes more fun to paddle with a friend. Have some basic supplies with you, including water to drink, light snacks and a dry bag with change of clothes – just in case. Be aware of the weather and of course bring your PFD, better known to novices as a life jacket. Wear it. Don’t sit on it. Most of the river is shallow, but some sections are deep and the journey takes adventurers across the open waters of a small, often wind-swept lake.  Most people go with a friend and bring two cars, and leave one at the take out point. Paddling back upstream would be challenging to the say the least, and would entail a few portages!

If solitude is not your way to explore this water trail, Saturday may be your big day. “Canoeing in Color(Has Been Cancelled) for Saturday, October 1st and is open to the public. This fundraiser event for the Headwaters Trails Inc., the volunteer organization that plays a major part in keeping the Shiawassee River open from Holly to Bryon.

Registration starts at 11:00 at Waterworks Park, with boats launching from noon to 2:00. The Sweep Boat will launch at 2:00 to make sure everyone gets off the river safely. They will have people at the railroad tubes, the footbridge (site of small rapids) and the beaver dam to assist you if needed. Members are free, but there is $10 charge for non-members. Return transportation back to Waterworks Park is $5.00 if desired. Heavners Canoe Rental will be onsite to rent canoes and kayaks for an additional fee; call them in advance to reserve your boat 248-685-2379.  New Shiawassee River Heritage Water Trails map will be available at the event.


The day may come when a kayaker in Oakland County will be able to launch in Holly, and paddle all the way  to Saginaw Bay, 110 miles away. This dream is shared by the Michigan branch of The Nature Conservancy as they surge ahead to protect and restore rivers throughout the State of Michigan. Look for the colorful interpretive sign at the Holly launch site for the Shiawassee River Heritage Water Trail that entices paddlers with that connectivity dream and shares the route. Grab a paddle, and hit the trail!

Jonathan Schechter is the Nature Education Writer for Oakland County Government and blogs weekly about nature’s way, trails, and wildlife on the Wilder Side of Oakland County.

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