Michigan’s scenic Jordan River an unbelievable 25 miles of beauty

Art Weber

        Michigan bills itself as the Great Lakes State, but its rivers are wonderful, too.
        None better than the Jordan River, one of the most scenic spots among a host of scenic spots in the northern Lower Peninsula. It was, in fact, Michigan’s first National Wild and Scenic River.
        The Jordan River is a sprinter.
        It flows fast and steady from a huge spring-fed source northeast of Mancelona and ends at Lake Charlevoix in Michigan’s northwest lower peninsula, a mere 25 miles in all.
        But it’s an unbelievable 25 miles, especially in the Jordan’s upper reaches where 18,000 acres – fully one-fifth of its watershed – are protected from future logging and drilling in the Mackinaw State Forest.
        It’s not just a pretty place, so pretty that a photographer can easily lose an entire day. Anglers love to wet their fly lines for brook trout. The 19-mile Jordan River Pathway is a favorite weekend backpack trip. Paddlers love to put in just below the State Forest and enjoy the river all the way to East Jordan. Liveries are available for those who need to rent their craft.
        The Jordan roars, crystal clear and never more than three or four feet deep, through the steep-walled valley, carving a sand-bottomed channel through a forest of mixed northern hardwoods. On its banks, crowding the river along much of its upper reaches, are the cedars that inspired its name.
        The cedars and the river share the lowest elevations of the valley. Sometimes the Jordan spills its banks into the cedar stands. The cedars retaliate by holding a myriad of tiny islands in the river channel, hummocks that deter the river from its straight course, forcing it into braids that join and splinter and join again like an invader overtaking fixed emplacements.     
        The cedars are ever-present, adding color and interest year-round. Fall colors in the valley are spectacular. Spring and summer are studded with a parade of wildflowers, including orchids and exquisite ferns. Wildlife is plentiful through the valley. Be on alert for sightings of various songbirds, waterfowl, herons, otters, beaver, raccoons and mink.
        Be sure to take in the scenic overlook of the valley as well as the valley itself. The Landslide Overlook on Deadman’s Hill is considered one of the top-10 vistas in Michigan, a state loaded with vistas. Like the hills around it, Deadman’s Hill isn’t high by western standards, but the view is especially wonderful in fall with the hardwood-dominated forest decked out in its best golds and reds, contrasting beautifully with the greens of the cedars lining the Jordan.
        To enjoy the most scenic stretch of the Jordan River, follow M-66 south out of East Jordan for 10 miles to Pinney Bridge Road. Turn east, follow for two miles. A narrow, unimproved road follows the river with frequent pull-outs for parking and access.
        Enjoy the Landslide Scenic Overlook by driving 1.5 miles west of Alba to Harvey Road and north another 1.5 miles.
        For maps and trail information, visit MichiganTrailMaps.com. Accommodations and dining are readily available nearby in East Jordan, Boyne City, Petosky, and Cadillac.


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