With an average descent of 14 feet per mile, the Sturgeon River is the overall fastest river in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula! Not whitewater, but exciting and challenging with its quick and often tricky current, along with leaning trees, stumps, and logs (especially when navigating through numerous narrow passages and sharp turns!) The current does most of the work, but it’s up to you and/or your partner(s) to maneuver your watercraft down the crystal-clear, spring-fed stream, as it winds its way mostly through beautiful state forest. The average depth is 3-4 feet, however, there are deeper pools that can reach 5-8 feet, usually around the outside of bends. Plan on getting wet as many of our guests take an unplanned “refreshing” dunk! (approximately 80% tip-over rate for canoes/kayaks on longer trips, 0% for Rafts) Various types of paddlers can enjoy this exhilarating adventure as long as close attention is paid to the type of equipment used as well as the section and/or length of the river trip. We recommend Rafts, Tubes, and Cats for families, beginners, and/or less experienced paddlers. We recommend Canoes and Kayaks for more experienced and/or more adventurous paddlers.
All river trip rates include U.S. Coast Guard-approved and safety-inspected quality equipment, paddles and PFD’s (comfortable type III Life vest), and shuttle service (most trips end at Burt Lake State Park, which has a great swimming beach!).
Ending Point: All River Trips end inside Burt Lake State Park! The designated ending point is located on the Sturgeon River inside the Park. This landing has a set of wooden stairs with Big Bear signage and is where you must turn in your equipment. Ending here allows for a short 4 minute walk back to your vehicle near the beach. Burt Lake State Park offers over 2,000 feet of sandy beach and crystal-clear water (great for swimming and playing) and a large, day-use picnic area under towering oak and pine trees. There’s a picnic pavilion, tables, grills, playground equipment, a beach volleyball court, horseshoes, baseball diamond and a 1-mile wooded hiking trail.
Parking: After signing up for your river trip, we will direct you to park your vehicle in the State Park right near the beach/picnic area where you have access to the park and its amenities all day! Be sure to carpool in order to bring the least amount of vehicles as possible. All paddlers are required to park all vehicles in the state park where there is no waiting at the end of your trip; your vehicle is ready w/ towels, beach toys, and picnic supplies, and most importantly, it’s a wonderful way to finish your river adventure—swimming, relaxing, and playing at one of Northern Michigan’s most beautiful state parks! Any vehicle that goes into a state park needs a “Recreation Passport”. If you don’t already have a passport, you can purchase one from the state park for just $11 (good for ALL YEAR at ALL STATE PARKS!) Vehicles with out-of-state license plates must purchase a daily permit for $8.40 (or an annual pass for $30.50). For more detailed information regarding parking at Burt Lake State Park, please visit www.michigan.gov/recreationpassport
Please Note: Only Tubers leave their vehicles @ Big Bear!
Estimated Float Times
Trips depart approximately every ½ hour from Memorial Day-Labor Day (Every Hour otherwise). For most trips, we shuttle you and your equipment to your desired starting point, and then you paddle back to the State Park where your car is conveniently parked; this is one of the best features of our trips! While on the river you can enjoy yourself and take as much time as you want –stop and swim, have a picnic lunch (no alcohol, no glass containers, and no Styrofoam or jumbo coolers!) sun yourself, etc., just as long as you respect private property and you are back by 7:00 pm. Extremely important- Please understand that there are 4 factors that can dramatically affect the approximate float time of our trips:
- Type of equipment used: Different equipment travels at different speeds. Rafts and tubes are much slower than kayaks and canoes. The 1 1/2 hour canoe trip takes 2 1/2 hours by tube, even though they run the same section of the river.
- Section of the river: The river changes constantly, conforming to the lay of the land. One minute the stream is quick and narrow, and the water is shallow and loud as it splashes over rocks. Around the next bend, it is wider, slower, and the water is deeper. In general the river flows north before spilling into Burt Lake. As it gets closer to Burt Lake, it has a tendency to slow down, which in turn makes the paddling a little less challenging. Therefore, it’s important to read our recommendations as to the sections recommended for particular paddlers and equipment.
- River Level/Conditions: Our estimated float times are based on average river conditions. We are fortunate because the Sturgeon is spring-fed and always has enough water, even when there is a drought. However, fluctuating river levels can greatly affect the speed of the current: lower river levels generally lengthen the estimated times just as above-average precipitation generally shortens the times, especially in the spring and just after heavy rainfalls. Faster water does not necessarily mean a shorter trip: when the river is running high and fast, it also becomes more challenging. For many paddlers, the trip can take a lot longer (see number 4).
- The Paddler: Last but not least important is the individual paddler. Our estimated float times are based on what we consider the average paddler, the person who basically floats down the river at a very leisurely pace, taking breaks periodically. Some people have more skills and experience than others do and on the Sturgeon, it really comes down to skills, more than strength. Some paddlers can read the river and maneuver their boat fairly well, rarely hitting any objects. Other paddlers may zigzag quite a bit and tip-over, which can add a lot of time to the trip. Remember that even experienced paddlers may find the Sturgeon River more technical than what they’re used to. The paddlers own choice of breaks and rest stops also effect the trip’s duration. Some stop for an hour-long snack or break, or take a break every 20 minutes, while others may not stop at all.
Trip Departure Times
In order to maintain prompt departure times for our guests, it is required that everyone in your group arrive 30 minutes prior to your desired departure time. This allows us time to load equipment, and allows you time to change into proper attire and park your vehicle. Be sure to remove and store all valuable jewelry and personal property. You can spend as much time on the river as you like. However, all equipment must be returned by 7:00 pm or late charges will apply. Please allow yourself ample time, and note the latest departure time available for each trip.
Trips are available 7 days a week, May through mid-October (please call ahead May and October weekdays). Walk-ins are welcome, most of our guests are simply walk-ins and we are able to accommodate them on a “first come, first served” basis. However, please try to keep in mind that our busiest time is between 11:30 am and 1:30 pm. Earlier trips tend to see the most wildlife and fewest people. Although we have ample amounts of watercraft and transportation vehicles, there may be some unavoidable delays due to heavy volume at key times and /or on weekends. It’s always best to come in the morning if possible. To avoid disappointment, advance reservations are recommended, and are available only for trips departing @ 11:00 am or earlier; we cannot hold equipment past this time. For these guaranteed reservations, a credit card is required (Visa, Mastercard, or Discover symbols). Cancellation Policy: Our policy on guaranteed reservations is a 72 hour cancellation notice. If a last minute cancellation is unavoidable and we are unable to re-rent the watercraft, your credit card will be charged for the rental.
Liability & Safety
For over 30 years, Big Bear Adventures has provided quality river trips for thousands of people, with an excellent safety record. Still, any river adventure will involve inherent risks and dangers, and can be physically demanding. We will ask you to assume the responsibility for many decisions affecting your safety. Our trips require varying degrees of fitness, and you must evaluate your fitness for any given trip. Big Bear Adventures assumes NO responsibility for injury to you or your personal property. All guests take the trip at their own risk and are required to read, understand, and sign an agreement to participate/liability release.
Big Bear Adventures reserves the right to change trip format, move trips to a different section of the river, or to another river if necessary due to weather conditions, water fluctuations, or other factors beyond our control. It is unlikely, but should we cancel a trip completely, we will refund your deposit. Such a refund will be limited to the actual deposit paid, and will not cover any other costs incurred by the guest. We reserve the right to turn away, at the livery or the put-in-point, any guest who we feel is not well-suited to the rigors of a particular Big Bear river trip.
We strongly discourage the use of alcohol in any of our rental equipment or vehicles. The Sturgeon River is a technical, narrow, winding river and demands attention while paddling. We LOVE sober paddlers! It is unlawful to operate a watercraft while intoxicated. Big Bear reserves the right to turn away any guest at any time, who appears to be intoxicated, with no refund issued. Although we don’t regularly check small coolers, we do reserve the right to inspect coolers, (large coolers are prohibited as well as glass and Styrofoam of any kind) bags, etc. taken on a river trip. Save the celebration for after the trip while telling stories around the campfire!
Equipment Security Deposit
A security deposit of a signed, open ended credit card imprint is required for each group prior to any river trip. It will be refunded when all equipment (from the entire group) is returned in good condition, and prior to 7:00 pm, which is our river equipment closing time. POSSIBLE EXTRA CHARGES: Lost or damaged Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts, Tubes, Cats, paddles, PFD’s (cushions or vests), and any other equipment issued by Big Bear Adventures will be charged to the guest at repair cost or replacement cost (whichever is lower), and the equipment security deposit from the group will be held until the claim is satisfied. In addition, pick up of guests and/or watercraft failing to complete designated trip will be charged a retrieval fee of $30/hour. It is highly recommended participants in this situation accompany staff in locating the equipment (unless manager requires). A $10 late charge per watercraft will be charged starting at 7:01 pm sharp as well as an additional $10 per watercraft for every 1/2 hour thereafter.