Au Sable National Scenic River


Area Status: Open

Au Sable National Scenic River

The Au Sable National Scenic River, is a 23-mile portion of the Au Sable River that stretches from Mio to Alcona Pond. President Ronald Reagan signed the law establishing the segment of river as a National Scenic River on October 4, 1984.  By receiving this designation, this free-flowing segment from below Mio Pond to the upper end of Alcona Pond received national recognition for its outstanding and remarkable scenic, recreational, biological and historical values and a national commitment to its protection.  People have enjoyed the scenic beauty of the Au Sable for hundreds of years.

In pre-European settlement times, Native Americans used the river as a travel route.  After European settlement of the area, the Au Sable River was a major throughway for floating white pine to sawmills or waiting barges at ports on Lake Huron. During those years many of the logs and fallen trees that littered the river were carried downstream with the harvested white pine. In recent years efforts have been made to replace logs in the river to help reduce erosion and maintain the world-class trout fishing river as an aquatic habitat.

Brochure with map:  This brochure is set to print on 11 x 17 paper, landscape (wide) orientation.  To print on 8 1/2 x 11 paper set the print area to "shrink to printable area", this will make the text on the page smaller.

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At a Glance

Operational Hours: Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week unless otherwise posted.
Rentals & Guides: Canoe Rentals -
  • Glennie:
    • Alcona Canoe Rental
  • Hale:
    • Rollways Resort
  • Mio:
    • Gotts Landing
    • Hinchman's Acres Resort
  • Oscoda:
    • Au Sable River Kayaking Company LLC; B & B LLC (Hunts)
    • Oscoda Canoe Rental
Area Amenities: Boat ramp,Drinking water,Parking
Fees: Recreation Enhancement Act Fee - Day Use -
  • 4001 Bridge Canoe Landing
  • Gabions Campground and Day Use Area
  • Au Sable Loop Campground and Day Use Area
Camping -
  • Gabions Campground
  • Au Sable Loop Campground
Permit Info: Special Use Permit -
  • No special use permit is required for individuals or small groups (74 people or less).
  • Permits are required for commercial, event or large groups (75 people or more).
Visit the Passes and Permits section for more information on obtaining a special use permit.
Usage: Light
Busiest Season: May - September
Restrictions: The following rules are available to you on-line or at any office of the Huron-Manistee National Forests. Please take time to read and understand them. General Topic orders apply across the Forests. Applicable Orders -
  • Au Sable National Scenic River Corridor; R904-14-18
  • Motorized Vehicle Use of Roads, Trails and Off-road Areas; R904-14-02
  • Occupancy and Use; R904-14-03
Highlights - Camping is prohibited, except at designated campgrounds or campsites.
Closest Towns: Mio, McKinley
Operated By: Mio Ranger District - (989) 826-3252
Information Center:

General Information

General Notes:

County - Oscoda


Parking:

Au Sable Loop Campground - walk-in boat access

Buttercup Campground - walk-in camping and boat access

Cathedral Pines - walk-in camping and boat access

Davis Rest Stop - 6 vehicle capacity; walk-in boat access

Gabions Campground - 15 vehicle capacity

Highbanks Overlook - 6 vehicle capacity

Loud's Rest Stop- 4 vehicle capacity, no trailers

McKinley Landing - no parking

Meadows Campground - walk-in camping and boat access

River Dune Campground - walk-in camping and boat access


Directions:

Location - The scenic portion of the river runs from Mio Dam Pond to Alcona Pond Site.  For directions to a particular campground, please visit that campgrounds page. 

 From Grayling -

Highbanks Overlook

  • Travel east on M-72 for 30 miles.
  • Turn right and travel south on M-33 for 6 miles.
  • Turn left and travel east on County Rd./Curtisville Rd. for 16.5 miles.
  • Turn left and travel on Au Sable Rd. for .5 miles.
  • Turn left and travel on FR 3993 for .25 miles to parking lot.

Latitude: 44.619185 Longitude: -83.839156

Loud's Rest Stop

  • Travel east on M-72 for 30 miles.
  • Turn left and travel north on M-72/M-33 for .5 miles.
  • Turn right and travel east on McKinley Dr. for 1.5 miles.
  • Turn right and travel on FR 4366 into entrance the site and follow the signs.

 Latitude: 44.661931  Longitude: -84.1053

 

Davis Rest Stop

  • Travel east on M-72 for 30 miles.
  • Turn left and travel north on M-72/M-33 for .5 miles.
  • Turn right and travel east on McKinley Dr. for 7.5 miles.
  • Turn right and travel south on FR 4371 for .75 miles.

  Latitude: 44.651158  Longitude: -83.992207

 

McKinley Landing

  • Travel east on M-72 for 30 miles.
  • Turn left and travel north on M-72/M-33 for .5 miles.
  • Turn right and travel east on McKinley Dr. for 10 miles.
  • Turn right and travel south on Evans Rd. for .5 miles. Cross the river and turn right into the entrance.

 Latitude: 44.642129  Longitude: -83.941364

 

4001 Canoe Landing

  • Travel east on M-72 for 30 miles.
  • Turn right and go south on M-33 for 6 miles.
  • Turn left and go east on County Rd. 604/Curtisville Rd. for 16 miles.
  • The entrance is located on the right.

 Latitude: 44.651158  Longitude: -83.992207


Accessibility:

Au Sable Loop Campground

  • Restroom facilities are accessible.
  • campsites are hard-packed earth.

Highbanks Overlook

  • Parking area is gravel.
  • Path is narrow and packed earth.  
  • Observation area is grassy/lawn.

Loud's Rest Stop

  • The path to the river is narrow, packed dirt.
  • Access to the river is via steps.

 Davis Rest Stop

  • Access to the river is stairs.
  • The restroom facilities are accessible.

McKinley Landing

  • This site has no parking available.    
  • The turn-a-round and boat ramp are paved.
  • Restroom facilities are accessible.

 Gabions Campground

  • Restroom facilities are accessible.
  • One site has a tent pad.
  • Path to river is narrow, hard-packed earth.

4001 Canoe Landing

  • The parking area and boat ramp are paved.
  • The picnic table and restroom facilities are accessible.  

Recreation Map

Map showing recreational areas. Map Information

Activities

Campground Camping

Recreation areas with activity Campground Camping:

Camping along the Au Sable is permited at designated sites only. From Mio to 4001 Bridge, there are several canoe-in/walk-in sites and two developed campgrounds. No reservations are necessary.

 

Au Sable Loop Campground As visitors exit McKinley Road to enter the Au Sable Loop Scenic Overlook, they will first see a panoramic vista of the National Scenic portion of the Au Sable River. An exemplary setting for wildlife viewing, visitors and campers will see a melding of habitats as the river turns to forest and then to field. The campground is set amidst a mixed hardwood forest. Please respect wildlife and observe from a distance. From the Au Sable Loop Scenic Overlook follow the unpaved road to reach the campground.  This site also provides access to River Dune via a short trail to the river.  

 

River Dune Campground Located between the Au Sable River Scenic Overlook and Au Sable Loop Campground, this small site is a short .5 mile walk from the gate. Set back from the road and camping area, campers can enjoy views of the river. Visitors can access the river from a short set of stairs located near the site.

 

Meadow Springs Campground Located on the edge of a red pine plantation, visitors to this site may see many varieties of wildlife in addition to their view of the Au Sable River. This camping area is a short .25 mile walk from the gate, but is primarily used by river paddlers. There is no motorized access to this site.

 

Cathedral Pines Campground The access road is gated to prohibit motorized access. Visitors to this campground are primarily river paddlers. To access the site from the road, visitors will need to walk .25 miles into the large, old-growth eastern white pine to find the campground. Trees offer a screen from the river, but still allow campers views of the river and wildlife.

 

Buttercup Campground A small, quiet campground, this site is primarily used by river paddlers. Located in stands of mixed hardwoods and pine, campers may be surprised by a wildlife visitor or two while enjoying close-up views of the river.

 

Gabions Campground offers camping on the National Scenic stretch of the Au Sable River. Natural springs are common on this section of the river, including a small one at the river's edge near the gabions. Gabions are rock-filled wire baskets that are placed along the riverbank to help reduce erosion. The Shore-to-Shore Trail passes near the campground; however, Gabions is not a designated horse camp and horse camping is not permitted. Wildlife and waterfowl viewing opportunities exist; please respect wildlife and observe from a distance.

RV Camping

Recreation areas with activity RV Camping:

Camping along the Au Sable is permited at designated sites only. No reservations are necessary at Au Sable Loop or Gabions.

 

Au Sable Loop Campground As visitors exit McKinley Road to enter the Au Sable Loop Scenic Overlook, they will first see a panoramic vista of the National Scenic portion of the Au Sable River. An exemplary setting for wildlife viewing, visitors and campers will see a melding of habitats as the river turns to forest and then to field. The campground is set amidst a mixed hardwood forest. Please respect wildlife and observe from a distance. From the Au Sable Loop Scenic Overlook follow the unpaved road to reach the campground.  This site also provides access to River Dune via a short trail to the river.  

 

Gabions Campground offers camping on the National Scenic stretch of the Au Sable River. Natural springs are common on this section of the river, including a small one at the river's edge near the gabions. Gabions are rock-filled wire baskets that are placed along the riverbank to help reduce erosion. The Shore-to-Shore Trail passes near the campground; however, Gabions is not a designated horse camp and horse camping is not permitted. Wildlife and waterfowl viewing opportunities exist; please respect wildlife and observe from a distance.

River and Stream Fishing

Recreation areas with activity River and Stream Fishing:

The Au Sable River is a prime cold-water fish habitat, with salmon and steelhead runs the most popular time with anglers.  Panfish such as sunfish, perch and crappie are the most soughtafter fish on the forest, and trout fishing is popular in many forest rivers and streams. Bass fishing on the many lakes is also popular. The forest adheres to State licensing regulations, including size and quantity limits.  

For a list of boat, canoe or kayak access scroll down to "Water Activities".  

Fishing Mode Boat, Shore, Wade
Fish Species Bass, Pike, Brown Trout, Walleye, Perch, Sunfish, Steelhead, Salmon
 
Special Designations National Scenic River
Fishing Platform No
Cleaning Station No
Water Temperature Cold
Accessible Platform No
Fishing Method Fly, Pole
Water/Flow Level 2 mph

Day Hiking

Recreation areas with activity Day Hiking:

The Shore-to-Shore Trail passes near Gabions Campground, however, it is not a designated horse camp or trailhead and horse camping is not permitted.

Backpacking

Recreation areas with activity Backpacking:

The Shore-to-Shore Trail passes near Gabions Campground, however, it is not a designated horse camp or trailhead and horse camping is not permitted.

Viewing Scenery

Recreation areas with activity Viewing Scenery:

Visitors can enjoy views of the Au Sable River from a variety of locations along the river. 

 

Au Sable Loop  As visitors exit McKinley Road to enter the Au Sable Loop Scenic Overlook, they will first see a panoramic vista of the National Scenic portion of the Au Sable River. An exemplary setting for wildlife viewing, visitors and campers will see a melding of habitats as the river turns to forest and then to field.   

 

 Highbanks Overlook is an observation area located in Alcona County, about 100 feet above the river.  AFter traversing down a short, level, gravel path, visitors will enjoy a view of the river and surrounding forest.   More adventerous visitors, or fisherman, can walk down the river using the staircase.  Be it spring, summer or fall, bird-watchign is an excellent activity for this area, with visitors spotting many varieties of waterfowl, along with King Fishers. This site is not gated in winter, and has no maintenance - road and parking area are not plowed, no toilet facilities are available.

Amenities -

  • Benches

  • Staircase

  • Fence

 

Louds Rest Stop is one of the many locations along the river for paddlers to stop and take a break on their trip down the river.  The site offers views of the river, as well as fishing access for trout.   There is a small parking area and a small river access at this site.   The access is located a short walk from the parking area.   This site is not gated in winter, and has no maintenance - road and parking area are not plowed, no toilet facilities are available.  

 

Davis Rest Stop is a second location along the river for paddlers to stop and take a break on their trip down the river.   This site is also used as a carry-down boat launch for canoes and kayaks.  This site is not gated in winter, and has no maintenance - road and parking area are not plowed, no toilet facilities are available. 

Picnicking

Recreation areas with activity Picnicking:

While you can picnic almost anywhere on the National Forest, most of the campgrounds and day use sites along the river have picnic tables. 

Boating - Non-Motorized

Recreation areas with activity Boating - Non-Motorized:

A 65-mile section of the river from Grayling to Alcona Dam is unrestricted to canoeing and kayaking. The river channel is wide and up to 125 ft. wide in some places. The river is well defined with banks that vary from one or two feet above the water level to steep banks that are over 80 feet high. Currents range from 2 mph in straight stretches, to currents of 4-8 mph on more winding passages. Water levels near dam sites fluctuate and caution is advised. The river drops approximately 50 feet in elevation over a course of 23 miles. Ownership along the river is primarily federal, with a few sections of private ownership. 

 

Site Miles Hours
Mio/M-33 (Township) to Louds Rest Stop 2 1
Loud's to Comins Flats(MI-DNR) 5.5 1.5
Comin's Flats (MI-DNR) to Davis Rest Stop 4 1.25
Davis Rest Stop to McKinley Landing 3.5 1
McKinley to 4001 Bridge 8 2.5

 

Louds Rest Stop is one of the many locations along the river for paddlers to stop and take a break on their trip down the river.  The site offers views of the river, as well as fishing access for trout.   There is a small parking area and a small river access at this site.   The access is located a short walk from the parking area.   This site is not gated in winter, and has no maintenance - road and parking area are not plowed, no toilet facilities are available.  

 

Davis Rest Stop is a second location along the river for paddlers to stop and take a break on their trip down the river.   This site is also used as a carry-down boat launch for canoes and kayaks.  This site is not gated in winter, and has no maintenance - road and parking area are not plowed, no toilet facilities are available. 

 

McKinley Landing is located just off the road.  A short access road takes visitors to the turn-around and launch area.  surrounded by mixed hardwoods, this popular site is located just after a bend in the river, before McKinley Bridge.   Paddlers who choose to continue downstream will pass under the bridge on their way towards Gabions Campground.   There is no parking, but a bus pick-up area and parking are available a short walk down the road at the McKinley ORV/Snowmobile Trailhead.

 

4001 Canoe Landing is the last take-out for the scenic section before paddlers reach the impoundment/dams.   As you come around the bend just south of the Gabions you will pass under Federal Highway 4001 and see the landing, located on your right.   Set amid a backdrop of mixed hardwoods, the gravel landing area leads up to a pick-up area and parking lot.  As the last-take out before the impoundment, this site has a high rate of use during weekends and holidays, but is relatively quiet on weekdays.  While there is no camping at this site, the Gabions Campground is located east on 4001 Rd., on the right.  This site is not gated in winter, and has no maintenance - road and parking area are not plowed, no toilet facilities are available.  

Launch Ramps Carry-in, Back-in
Trailer Parking No
Class of rapids 0
Size Restrictions None
Type of Craft Canoe, Kayak, Raft, Tube
Water/Flow Level 2 mph
Marina/Mooring No
Status: Open
Difficulty Level: Intermediate

Tubing

Recreation areas with activity Tubing:

A 65-mile section of the river from Grayling to Alcona Dam is unrestricted to canoeing and kayaking. The river channel is wide and up to 125 ft. wide in some places. The river is well defined with banks that vary from one or two feet above the water level to steep banks that are over 80 feet high. Currents range from 2 mph in straight stretches, to currents of 4-8 mph on more winding passages. Water levels near dam sites fluctuate and caution is advised. The river drops approximately 50 feet in elevation over a course of 23 miles. Ownership along the river is primarily federal, with a few sections of private ownership. 

 

Site Miles Hours
Mio/M-33 (Township) to Louds Rest Stop 2 1
Loud's to Comins Flats(MI-DNR) 5.5 1.5
Comin's Flats (MI-DNR) to Davis Rest Stop 4 1.25
Davis Rest Stop to McKinley Landing 3.5 1
McKinley to 4001 Bridge 8 2.5

 

Louds Rest Stop is one of the many locations along the river for paddlers to stop and take a break on their trip down the river.  The site offers views of the river, as well as fishing access for trout.   There is a small parking area and a small river access at this site.   The access is located a short walk from the parking area.   This site is not gated in winter, and has no maintenance - road and parking area are not plowed, no toilet facilities are available.  

 

Davis Rest Stop is a second location along the river for paddlers to stop and take a break on their trip down the river.   This site is also used as a carry-down boat launch for canoes and kayaks.  This site is not gated in winter, and has no maintenance - road and parking area are not plowed, no toilet facilities are available. 

 

McKinley Landing is located just off the road.  A short access road takes visitors to the turn-around and launch area.  surrounded by mixed hardwoods, this popular site is located just after a bend in the river, before McKinley Bridge.   Paddlers who choose to continue downstream will pass under the bridge on their way towards Gabions Campground.   There is no parking, but a bus pick-up area and parking are available a short walk down the road at the McKinley ORV/Snowmobile Trailhead.

 

4001 Canoe Landing is the last take-out for the scenic section before paddlers reach the impoundment/dams.   As you come around the bend just south of the Gabions you will pass under Federal Highway 4001 and see the landing, located on your right.   Set amid a backdrop of mixed hardwoods, the gravel landing area leads up to a pick-up area and parking lot.  As the last-take out before the impoundment, this site has a high rate of use during weekends and holidays, but is relatively quiet on weekdays.  While there is no camping at this site, the Gabions Campground is located east on 4001 Rd., on the right.  This site is not gated in winter, and has no maintenance - road and parking area are not plowed, no toilet facilities are available.  

Water/Flow Level 2 mph

Amenities

Parking: All sites except McKinley
Boat ramp: 4001 Canoe Landing, McKinlely Bridge
Drinking water: Au Sable Loop, Meadow Springs

Recreation Areas

Recreation Activities

Location

 
  Area/Length : 
23 miles