Sylvania Wilderness Canoe Trip, 2012

George and Yvonne

Yvonne’s first trip to Sylvania was with a Sierra Club group in 1986. That group camped on Loon Lake and had to portage everything from Clark Lake to Loon Lake. We have camped in Sylvania at least eight times since 1993. Except for Yvonne’s first trip in 1986, we have always camped on Clark Lake which eliminates the need to portage canoes before setting up a base camp. Most of the time we camp at the Balsam campsite on Clark Lake. It has two sites with a limit of six people in each site. Balsam is only a little over half an hour by canoe from the boat dock on Clark Lake.


Sylvania Wilderness and Recreation Area is in the Ottawa National Forest in the western part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In the early days, Sylvania was a private retreat for hunting and fishing. Albert Johnston purchased 80 acres of land at the south end of Clark Lake in 1895. Although he originally intended to use the land for logging, he liked the natural beauty of the area and decided to save the trees and build a home here. A succession of owners used Sylvania as a private retreat. By the 1950’s, Detroit’s Fisher brothers owned a majority of the private hunting and fishing retreat known as the Sylvania club. They designed an enclosed auto body, “Body by Fisher,” and made a lot of money selling the design to General Motors. After their death, the U.S. Forest Service purchased Sylvania in 1966. What had once been a private hunting and fishing club is now a beautifully preserved wilderness area for the public to enjoy. Travel within most of the Sylvania Wilderness is limited to canoeing, kayaking, and hiking. Wilderness campsites are primitive with almost no facilities, and campers have many limitations on what can be brought in.

Sylvania Links:

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Day One:  Watersmeet and paddling in to our campsite

  • We enjoyed a hearty breakfast at Big Mama’s Grill in Watersmeet.
  • After breakfast, we rented a light–weight Kevlar canoe at Sylvania Outfitters.
  • The only wolf that we saw was at the Ottawa National Forest Visitor Center in Watersmeet.
  • We filled water containers with well water at the boat dock. Two people also brought small filters to pump lake water if needed.
  • Loading canoes at the boat dock on Clark Lake
  • Unloading canoes at the beach by our campsite about 45 minutes later
  • Campsites are about 200 feet from the beach in order to help keep the lakes clean, so we carried all our gear up the path to our campsite.
  • Yvonne and George taking a break from carrying gear up to the campsite.

Day Two:  canoeing to Deer Island Lake

  • Ray and Paula on the portage trail. We portaged four times: Clark Lake to Loon Lake, and from Loon Lake to Deer Island Lake. After lunch we returned using the same two portage trails.
  • George and Dave carried the two light–weight Kevlar canoes; but we left the aluminum canoe by the entrance to the portage trail on Clark Lake.
  • Dave steps over a fallen tree while carrying a canoe
  • George carrying a canoe down steps on the portage trail
  • Lunch on the shore of Deer Island Lake
  • Ray fishing after lunch
  • Dave, Reina, and Ray canoeing after lunch
  • Reina and Ray canoeing on Clark Lake
  • Dave secures our food bags after dinner. We hung our food from a large tree during the night, and whenever we were away from our campsite.

Day Three:  Beach Day

  • We had waffles for breakfast before setting out for the beach
  • Ray and Paula shove off from the beach at our campsite
  • Relaxing on the big sandy beach at the opposite end of Clark Lake from the boat dock
  • Yvonne organizing our supplies
  • We cooked lasagna in a Dutch oven on the Fourth of July
  • Sunset on Clark Lake

Day Four:  canoeing, fishing, hiking, and swimming

  • George and Yvonne cooking French toast
  • Our group relaxing after breakfast
  • George, Reina, and Yvonne hiking
  • Reina and Yvonne hiking
  • Yvonne and Reina stepping over a small stream
  • George sitting on a very large fallen tree
  • Hidden Lake
  • Hidden Lake
    (Official name is Golden Silence Lake)

Day Five:  Packing up and paddling to our cars at the boat dock

  • Reina and Ray loading their canoe
  • Paddling back to the boat dock

A few more photos from Paula

  • Reina, Dave, Ray, George, and Yvonne after breakfast on
    Day 5
  • Ducks swiming on Clark Lake at sunset
  • Sunset on the beach near our campsite