Watershed Wanderings: The West Branch

Watershed Wanderings is a short video series made to inspire outdoor adventure in the Chippewa River Watershed. Produced by Chippewa Watershed Conservancy (CWC), the video series highlights nearby outdoor recreational opportunities on land and water. At CWC, we believe there is ample opportunity for outdoor adventure in the Central Michigan region. The goal of Watershed Wanderings is to connect people to publicly-accessible outdoor recreation opportunities and provide trip details such as gear recommendations, directions to parks and nature preserves and adventure itineraries.

Watershed Wanderings: The West Branch

Most people know about the main branch of the Chippewa River as well as the North Branch which joins it at Meridian Park in Isabella County. However, few people know about the more remote West Branch. Beginning at the Winchester Dam where it drains out of the Martiny Lakes Flooding, the West Branch of the Chippewa River ends in Barryton, Michigan where it meets the other westernmost North Branch to form the main stream of the Chippewa River below the Barryton Dam.

The West Branch offers a wild paddling experience. Many segments of the stream are only 12-14 feet wide. There are several portages required around active beaver dams. The riparian corridor teems with wildlife such as white-tailed deer, bald eagles, osprey, mink and other species. There were few down trees on this section of river, but lots of young trees growing over the river. Rainbow and brown trout were visible in the stream throughout the paddle. Please note, this section of river can be very shallow from June-September. This trip is recommended for experienced paddlers. A Michigan DNR Recreation Passport is required for parking at Winchester Dam Boat Access Site.

Trip Itinerary

1. Drive to Winchester Dam Boat Access Site in Mecosta County with kayak and bicycle. Directions: bit.ly/Winchester-Dam
2. Drop off kayak and lock it to a tree. Drive to take out point at Village of Barryton’s East River Park. Directions: bit.ly/East-River-Park
3. Cycle 5 miles from East River Park to Winchester Dam Boat Access Site on gravel and paved roads. Recommended route: bit.ly/Cycling-Route
4. Lock bicycle to a tree and paddle the West Branch of the Chippewa River to East River Park.
5. Load kayak and drive back to Winchester Dam Boat Access Site to pick up bicycle. Drive home.

Estimated Time

1. Driving from Winchester Dam Boat Access Site to East River Park — 5 minutes
2. Cycling from East River Park to Winchester Dam Boat Access Site — 45 minutes
3. Kayaking from Winchester Dam Boat Access Site to East River Park — 2-3 hours
4. Driving back from East River Park to Winchester Dam Boat Access Site — 5 minutes
5. Total outdoor adventure time — 4-5 hours

Recommended Gear

1. Kayak (any kind will do!) with personal flotation device and paddle
2. Gravel or mountain bike and helmet
3. Bike lock
4. Truck, van, SUV or vehicle with right equipment/straps to haul a kayak and bike
5. Sunglasses and sunscreen
6. Waterproof shorts and shirt or water wicking material
7. Smartphone or GPS