Explore - Water Trails in Southwest Michigan

Paw Paw River Water Trail - Paw Paw to Benton Harbor

The 68 mile long Paw Paw River Water Trail begins in the Village of Paw Paw in Van Buren County. There are two impoundments (Briggs Pond and Maple Lake) in the village above the dam which can be paddled.  The river portion of the water trail begins immediately below the Maple Lake Dam. The Paw Paw River then winds its way 66 miles through a large, wildlife rich floodplain forest corridor through Van Buren and Berrien Counties. Along the way, the river runs through or skirts the edge of the communities of Lawrence, Hartford, Watervliet, Coloma, and Riverside. Ultimately, the Paw Paw River joins the St. Joseph River in Benton Harbor, approximately one half mile from Lake Michigan. Paddle pathway clearing work has been done on many, but not all, sections of the river below Maple Lake Dam and recommended skill levels for the 20 plus segments of the water trail range from Beginner to Intermediate to Advanced.  You can follow the pathway clearing progress on Facebook.    Please understand that we do our best to keep this information updated, but the river is always changing and logs may fall and/or move downstream creating new obstacles.  Please be sure to check the weather forecast and up-to-date river flow conditions on the USGS webpage.

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2017 Update on the Paw Paw River Water Trail - presentation 

Lake Michigan Water Trail - SW Michigan

The southwest portion of the Lake Michigan Water Trail is from the Michigan/Indiana state line to Holland, Michigan. You will paddle along spectacular sand dunes, wilderness areas and quaint beach towns providing many opportunities to eat, shop, play and rest. Most of the beach towns are marked with historic lighthouses.  Beach towns include New Buffalo, Bridgman, St. Joseph, Benton Harbor, South Haven, Saugatuck/Douglas and Holland.  

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Michigan Water Trails Manual 


Lake Michigan Planning Efforts in Southwest Michigan

LAKE MICHIGAN WATER TRAIL PLAN, PHASE I: Inventory and Analysis of Access Sites in Support of a Lake Michigan Water Trail for Southwest Michigan, West Michigan, Northwest Michigan, and the Upper Peninsula.



Galien River Marsh Water Trail

The Galien River Marsh Water Trail meanders through woodlands, protected wetlands, an 86-acre Galien River County Park Preserve, and a number of privately owned residential properties before arriving at New Buffalo’s busy harbor and, ultimately, Lake Michigan.



St. Joseph River Water Trails

The St. Joseph River runs across southwestern Michigan. Its mouth runs through St. Joseph, Michigan. Trails include paddles on the St. Joseph River, the Dowagiac River, the Portage River, and the Nottawa Creek.



Dowagiac River Water Trail

The Dowagiac River Water Trail flows through rural southwest Michigan.  The river is moderately paced and family friendly.  The Dowagiac River is the largest coldwater river system in southern Michigan.  The river is lined with trees and wetlands and offers fantastic views of wildlife.  The Dowagiac River also offers great fishing and is known for brown trout and its steelhead and salmon runs.  

Black River - Bangor to South Haven

This water trail is one of nine designated heritage water trails in Michigan, offering 15 interpretive signs along the river. There are two “family-friendly” sections on the water trail. The first is the upper three miles from Lions Park in Bangor downstream to County Road 687. The other is an eight-mile section from the Basic Family Access Site (County Road 384) to South Haven. The section between County Road 687 and the Basic Family Access (CR 384) is called the "wilderness section," and paddlers can expect obstacles, major ones.

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