One of the best ways to see the fall colors in Mid-Michigan is to head outdoors. And while hiking and biking trails certainly offer fantastic leaf-peeping views, there’s something magical about paddling along the scenic Chippewa River Water Trail.
Here’s everything you need to know about viewing the fall colors on the water trail through Mount Pleasant and Isabella County — from access sites and equipment rentals to food stops and nearby accommodations.
About the Chippewa River Water Trail
Flowing through a mix of neighborhoods, farmlands, and woodland habitats in the middle of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, the Chippewa River is nearly 92 miles long. In fact, it flows from the Village of Barryton right through the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Nation’s Isabella Reservation to Midland.
This iconic river is known for being calm so it’s very popular with paddlers in canoes and kayaks. Whether you want to paddle for just 15 minutes, 3.5 hours, or longer, you can choose a route or guided tour that goes at your own pace, allowing you to take in as much of the fall colors in Mid-Michigan as you wish.
Chippewa River Water Trail Access Sites
Within Isabella County, there are at least seven access points along the Chippewa River. Here’s a look at each, including the amenities you’ll find, historical points of interest, and the distance from one access site to the next along the trail.
Maynard S. Gilmore Park
Starting in Lake Isabella Michigan on Queensway Rd, Maynard S. Gilmore Park has a fishing platform and a small picnic area. Although there’s no dedicated launch or landing, you can still put in a canoe or kayak from here. Then, it’s a 6-mile paddle to Majeske Landing, which takes about 3.5 hours.
Before you launch from Maynard S. Gilmore Park, check out the Drew Dam historical site. Much of the dam remains, but some of its rocks have been removed from the center. According to an 1879 plat map, there was a sawmill here too.
On Broomfield Rd, Majeske Landing has 2.5 acres of land on the Chippewa River with public access for canoes, kayaks, and other boats. The park is a great spot for fishing and picnicking too!
From here, the next access site is at Deerfield Nature Park, about a 7-mile paddle that takes about three hours. The river flows by the Hagen Preserve and Bundy Hill Preserve along the way.
At the landing, only the remnants of Gilmore Road Bridge remain on both of the Chippewa River’s banks. It’s believed that the bridge was destroyed when a runaway milk truck crashed on it in the 1950s, but it was never rebuilt.
Deerfield Nature Park
Located on Remus Rd, Deerfield Nature Park has three Chippewa River Water Trail launch sites for canoes and kayaks. The first is near the parking lot by the entrance, so it’s ideal if you don’t plan to explore the park before you depart.
If you want to spend some time at the park first, consider one of the other two launch points. There’s one on the 1.47-mile River Loop trail close to the rustic campsites. The final launch site is near the end of the River Loop trail, after the suspension bridge and pit toilets.
After launching from this park, it’s about a 4.5-mile paddle to Meridian Park, which takes about two hours. It passes Neyer Preserve and Meridian Road Preserve along the way.
Recreation at Deerfield
There’s plenty to explore at Deerfield Nature Park, which is over 591 acres. It has 8 miles of hiking and biking trails that cross the river via a covered bridge, a footbridge, and two suspension bridges. Another interesting find is an Artesian well.
While you’re here, you have the opportunity to play horseshoes, volleyball, and disc golf on two 18-hole courses. There are a few picnic areas as well. All of these activities are fun to do among the changing leaves in the fall.
South of M-20 on Meridian Rd, you’ll find a public access site at Meridian Park. The launch is located near the picnic tables and grills just a short walk south from the parking lot and past the wetlands.
More than 1 mile of the Chippewa River flows through this 145-acre park, which is mostly undeveloped except for the access site. There are some hiking trails, fishing spots, and a picnic area too.
From Meridian Park, the river flows for about 4.5 miles to Chipp-A-Waters Park. This paddle takes about two hours.
Next to Mill Pond Natural Area on High St in Mount Pleasant, Chipp-A-Waters Park is a haven for wildlife. It has more than 30 acres of green space and woodland with a nature interpretation trail, and it’s part of the GKB Riverwalk Trail.
Also, the park features a playground and an open-air picnic shelter. Of course, there’s a public launch point on the river for canoes and kayaks too. From here, it’s about a 1.5-mile or 45-minute paddle to Nelson Park.
The area that consists of the park was once home to several sawmills from the 1850s to the 1870s — one of which was Harris Sawmill. Because of siltation, the original mill pond has nearly disappeared. There was also a dam here, but it was removed in 2002.
Getting into downtown Mount Pleasant, Nelson Park on Broadway St is a 5-acre park that has nature and biking trails, picnic tables and grills, and spots for fishing.
The Chippewa River Water Trail access site is north of the park entrance and parking lot, close to the outlook. You have to follow a short path to get to it. From here, the paddle is just 0.5 miles or 15 minutes to Island Park, the shortest stint on the water trail.
Keep in mind that the modern restrooms here are only open through September.
The final main access site on the river in Isabella County is Island Park on Main St, one of the most popular spots in Mount Pleasant for recreational activities. This makes it an awesome park to spend time among the fall colors.
The 50-acre park has a paved walking trail, kid’s playscape, skate park, pickleball, tennis, basketball, softball, shuffleboard, and horseshoes. Additionally, there are picnic areas with grills, a fishing deck, and outdoor fitness equipment.
Best of all, the canoe and kayak landing is on the northwest side of the park. To get to it, turn right from the entrance, and park in the lot next to the volleyball courts. Then, take the short access trail from the parking lot and across the GKB Riverwalk Trail. You’ll see the landing ahead.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial & Bridge
A special feature at Island Park is this Vietnam memorial. It’s the first in the state to honor the Michiganders who served in the Vietnam War.
The memorial consists of 16 plaques that name the 2,705 casualties, MIAs, and POWs. Alongside the plaques are a flag gallery, footbridge, and information booth.
Until 1860, the site of the current Island Park was the county seat. The original settlement was home to a blacksmith shop, gristmill, sawmill, and the Council House of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Nation from 1858 to 1888.
You can learn more about the Indian Mills on the Chippewa River from CMU’s Clarke Historical Library.
Canoe & Kayak Rentals for the Chippewa River Water Trail
Whether you want to rent canoe and kayak equipment or paddle with a guide, Mount Pleasant has two fantastic outfitters. If it’s not too cold for you yet, you could join a tubing tour as well. In any case, these companies can offer tips for viewing the fall colors on the water trail.
Chippewa River Outfitters
Whether you want canoe or kayak equipment, Chippewa River Outfitters can place you in the right watercraft for your water trail adventure. You can even rent tubes if you don’t mind the cooler water. Plus, the outfitter is stationed at multiple launch sites.
Buckley’s Mountainside Canoes
As you enter the Mt. Pleasant area coming west on M-20, Buckley’s Mountainside Canoes provides a variety of guided tours on the Chippewa River Water Trail — from one or two hours to overnight trips at Deerfield Nature Park.
Offering tubing experiences on the Chippewa River, Floaters Tubing is a fun option if you can brave the cooler temperatures. You can book either a 90-minute adventure from Nelson Park or a four-hour tubing tour from Chipp-A-Waters Park.
Chippewa River Water Trail Restaurant Stops
Mount Pleasant and Isabella County have more than 100 restaurants to keep you fueled up for canoeing and kayaking in the fall. However, below are several that are close to the Chippewa River Water Trail, including which access sites are nearby.
Pleasant City Coffee
Close to Nelson Park and Island Park, Pleasant City Coffee is a local coffee shop in downtown Mt. Pleasant. It serves direct and fair trade coffees that are ethically sourced and roasted within Michigan. You can also order bagels, sandwiches, crepes, cider, tea, kombucha, and other beverages.
Max and Emily’s
Nearest to Island Park, Max and Emily’s is one of the best places in downtown Mount Pleasant to get sandwiches for lunch. Michigan Bread in Detroit supplies the bread, and Michigan Turkey supplies the farm-to-table meats. Several of its dressings, mixes, and other items are made on site as well.
Out A Bounds Pizza & General Store
In Lake Isabella Michigan near Maynard S. Gilmore Park, you can get some of the best pizza in the area at Out A Bounds Pizza & General Store. This carryout spot also has burgers, deli subs, wraps, salads, and munchies. The general store side offers numerous convenience items as well.
A relaxing hangout close to Chipp-A-Waters Park, Freddie’s Tavern is a fantastic spot to end a day of canoeing or kayaking the Chippewa River Water Trail. It has a full menu of burgers, pizza, chicken, and more. Plus, it has entertainment options, such as air hockey, billiards, darts, and a digital jukebox.
Mountain Town Station Restaurant & Brew Pub
Another great place to end a river paddle adventure is Mountain Town Station, which is almost right between Nelson Park and Island Park. This renovated train depot is a laid-back steakhouse that serves award-winning ribs and Black Angus steaks and prime rib. Newly added are the wood-oven-fire pizzas.
On top of that, the full bar serves beer that’s hand crafted at their local brewery, as well as wine and specialty cocktails. And, don’t forget to order dessert — the cookie skillet is heavenly! You can even enjoy dinner on the patio.
Attached to Mountain Town Station between Nelson Park and Island Park, Camille’s Prime is an upscale, rustic restaurant. If your paddle adventure was chilly, you can warm up by the stone fireplace inside.
The comforting menu features Black Angus steaks and fresh seafood. And, the restaurant has a wine lounge that serves small plates and specialty cocktails.
Lodging Near the Chippewa River Water Trail
There are more than a dozen lodging options across Mt. Pleasant and Isabella County. But, there are a few near the Chippewa River Water Trail that stand out.
Deerfield Nature Park, for instance, has 10 remote campsites that you can access from the water or hiking trail. Another camping option is Weidman KOA Holiday near Maynard S. Gilmore Park, which has tent and RV sites.
Hotels & Bed and Breakfasts
If you’re traveling with a group, you could stay at Country Chalet & Edelweiss Haus Bed & Breakfast about a 5-minute drive from Meridian Park. The Country Chalet has a three-room suite, while the Edelweiss Haus has four guest rooms.
On the other hand, you could stay at one of the many chain hotels in the area, such as Days Inn & Suites, Fairfield Inn & Suites, and Holiday Inn & Suites. Mt. Pleasant is even home to the #1 Baymont by Wyndam in the world.
Start planning your fall Chippewa River Water Trail adventure by checking out all the lodging options here!