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Home > Magazine > Boats > The Grand River at Portland State Game Area: Wow!

The Grand River at Portland State Game Area: Wow!
July 28, 2008

Ingham County in mid-Michigan is where we live. I'm nuts about water and flowing water. Sadly, our county has the least (I think) water in our water-rich state. In our immediate area we have a couple ditch-like creeks and a river.

The Red Cedar river is only a half mile from our house. What luck! And, indeed, it is great---every autumn---otherwise, forgetaboutit. It's a mud-lined, mud-caked mess.

Our local lake is Lake Lansing---shallow, round, warm, and full of buzzing noisemakers. Still, it can be cute. Especially in the spring and fall. Or in winter when there's black ice. There's no public establishment with a view of it, sadly. There's a big park on it, full of social hilarity and not much English being spoken. An interesting place, but if grass is all you want, have at it.

Our main watery feature is the Grand River. It too is kinda shallow, silty, muddy and mud-caked. But above and below Lansing (far enough) it's nice.

The main sweet spot for the Grand in this area, as far as I'm concerned, is a little known hide-out: the Portland State Game Area.

It's an hour away from our house, otherwise I'd be there every day.

It's like Rose Lake State Game Area (my local fave ski trails) only with topography.

I first discovered the PSGA by sad accident. Friends and I set out to go canoeing from Grand Ledge west to Portland. The river is fairly straight running and "Grand River Avenue" goes in that westerly direction, too. I figured the river did approximately the same. DOH! I brought a map but didn't look at it then left it in the car. It was a hot day. We had a sun umbrella. We ate our food, drank our water then it got dark. I finally hitch-hiked out to go fetch our vehicle. We were NOWHERE near Portland. We were lost in the PSGA! What a wonderful find! Unless you want to paddle hard and fast from dawn til night, don't try the route that we tried. Sure, the river runs straightish...for a ways. Then it hits PSGA. In the space of about 3 crow miles the river uses up about 12 miles. Whoa!

Since that trip disaster I've figured a few things out. There are dirt roads inside PSGA where you can drop your boat off then drive down and stash a bike like one mile away---then paddle for 3 hours getting to your bike (and riding back to your car).

The PSGA embraces 3 or 4 major multi-mile oxbows/bends/elbows with big bluffs on all of them.

It's a wild place. Quiet. Tons of animal life. The river is clean, wide and diverse, often with a nice gravel bottom. There are shallow places and deeper runs within most sections of width. There's a lot of neat aquatic plant growth. And there are tons of fish of many species. In the deep river bends I saw down on the bottom several big purplish catfish. Cool! An osprey flew past me once, at about head-level, carrying a large carp that had a look of surprise.

PSGA is worth the drive.

Other neat waterways accessible to those who live in Ingham are about 1-1.5 hrs southeast in the Irish Hills, Waterloo Rec area, Pinckney Rec area and the Huron River, upper section.

Still, that's a LONG drive if you're a person who wants to see some water each day.

Of course, 2-2.5 hrs from Lansing gets you to dozens of worldclass waterways and hundreds of lakes, big and small.

Those who live in Kent County on the west side of the state by Grand Rapids have perhaps the best and widest variety of waters that are near a mature and thriving city area.

But, really, most counties in Michigan are full of lovely waterways. Except for Ingham. Oh well!

At least we have nice straight flat open quiet narrow roads for biking...that go nowhere...coz there aren't any towns within 50 miles worth visiting. But an hour OUTSIDE of this middling area there are, again, dozens of nifty towns worth biking to.

We do what we can!

If you feel stuck in the middle like I sometimes (often) do, try PSGA for a refreshing breather!


A detailed look at the PSGA. A wonderful place where you can canoe for 15 miles without going anywhere...


Here's the big picture. Grand Ledge is off to the lower right. The river is quite straight off the map on either side... Watch out for PSGA in the middle! ...Make it your destination instead.

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