Au Sable River (Michigan)

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Au Sable River
Beauais River, Rivière au sable
The Au Sable River in Alcona County
Map of the Au Sable River
CountryUnited States
Physical characteristics
 • locationFrederic Township, Crawford County, Michigan
 • location
Lake Huron at Au Sable, Michigan
 • elevation
581 ft (177 m)[1]
Length138 miles (222 km)
DesignatedOctober 4, 1984
Canoes along the Au Sable River
The Au Sable River Queen, the only paddlewheel river boat operating in northern Michigan
View from bluffs of the Au Sable River
View from bluffs of the Au Sable River in Iosco County, Michigan.
Additional view from bluffs of the Au Sable River in Iosco County, Michigan.

The Au Sable River (/ɔː ˈsɑːbəl/ AW sah-bəl) is a 138-mile-long (222 km)[2] river in the Lower Peninsula of the U.S. state of Michigan. Rising in the Northern Lower Peninsula, the river flows in a generally southeasterly direction to its mouth at Lake Huron at the communities of Au Sable and Oscoda.It is considered one of the best brown trout fisheries east of the Rockies[3] and has been designated a blue ribbon trout stream by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.[4] A map from 1795 located in the United States Gazetteer calls it the Beauais River.[5] In French, the river is called the Rivière au sable, literally "Sand River".


The Au Sable has a drainage basin of 1,932 square miles (5,000 km2)[6] and an average flow of 1,100 ft3/s (31 m3/s) at its mouth.[7] The river drops 650 feet (200 m) from its source at the junction of Kolka and Bradford Creeks.[7]

The main stream of the river is formed at 44°48′21″N 84°45′29″W / 44.80583°N 84.75806°W / 44.80583; -84.75806 (Au Sable River (source))[1] in Frederic Township in Crawford County by the confluence of Kolke[8] and Bradford Creeks,[9] which both rise in Otsego County. The river flows south then turns east through Grayling, where it is joined by the East Branch Au Sable River at 44°39′55″N 84°42′13″W / 44.66528°N 84.70361°W / 44.66528; -84.70361 (East Branch Au Sable River (mouth)). The East Branch rises in Lovells Township, Crawford County at 44°49′46″N 84°35′59″W / 44.82944°N 84.59972°W / 44.82944; -84.59972 (East Branch Au Sable River (source)).[10]

The Au Sable continues eastward and is joined by the South Branch Au Sable River at 44°39′23″N 84°28′06″W / 44.65639°N 84.46833°W / 44.65639; -84.46833 (South Branch Au Sable River (mouth)) in South Branch Township. The South Branch rises out of Lake St. Helen in Richfield Township, Roscommon County at 44°22′54″N 84°26′38″W / 44.38167°N 84.44389°W / 44.38167; -84.44389 (South Branch Au Sable River (source))[11] and flows northwest into Roscommon then northeast to the main branch of the Au Sable. The North Branch Au Sable River joins within approximately 5 miles (8.0 km) in eastern Crawford County at 44°40′14″N 84°22′51″W / 44.67056°N 84.38083°W / 44.67056; -84.38083 (North Branch Au Sable River (mouth)) near the boundary with Oscoda County. The North Branch rises in Bagley Township, Otsego County, near Lake Otsego.[12]

The Au Sable then flows mostly east through Oscoda County, then south and east through Alcona County and Iosco County. The river's watershed also drains portions of Montmorency County and Ogemaw County.

Most of the main branch of the Au Sable flows through or adjacent to the Huron-Manistee National Forest. 23 miles (37 km) of the river, from the Mio Pond downstream to the Alcona Pond, was designated as a National Wild and Scenic River on October 4, 1984. The watershed provides habitat for bald eagles and the endangered Kirtland's warbler. Five percent of the land in the watershed is National Forest and 29% is state forest.

It is a designated trout stream, and many canoe liveries exist along the river, which offer canoe trips from a few hours to as long as a week. The river was originally a grayling fishery with brook trout being released in the 1880s. By 1908 the grayling were gone although they were reintroduced in 1987. (See Grayling, Michigan for more information on the Grayling and the fish hatchery.) Brown trout is the current main catch. The Lumberman's Monument, in honor of the lumberjacks that first populated the area, is located on the river about 15 miles (24 km) west of Oscoda. Lumbering along the river began in the 1860s and was finished by the 1910s.

The Au Sable River is also the site of a yearly 120-mile (190 km) pro-am canoe race, the Au Sable River Canoe Marathon, which begins at 9:00 p.m. on the last Saturday in July, and runs through the night into the next day. Winning times have ranged from 14 to 21 hours. The race was first run in 1947.

River Road, running parallel with the Au Sable River, is a designated National Scenic Byway.

There are six hydro-electric power plants in the Au Sable River basin, with a total installed capacity of 41 MW and an average annual energy output of 500 GJ. The six reservoirs were constructed between 1911 and 1924.

The Au Sable has about 350 miles (560 km) of tributary streams including the Pine River.

Towns along river[edit]

River dams[edit]

The Five Channels Dam viewed from M-65

Ordered from upriver to downriver, all belonging to the power company Consumers Energy:


Historical markers[edit]

The River That Changed the World exhibit, on the Au Sable River, at the Michigan History Museum

The river has five historical markers on it:

  • Cooke Hydroelectric Plant
  • Five Channels Dam Workers Camp
  • The Louis Chevalier Claim
  • Mio Hydroelectric Plant[14]
  • Chief Shoppenagon

River valley attractions and events[edit]

Iargo Springs Oscoda MI
View of the Au Sable Siver Shoreline near Iargo Springs in Iosco County, MI.
The Au Sable Siver Shoreline near Iargo Springs in Iosco County, MI.
  • The Michigan AuSable Valley Railroad is located in Fairview. It is a 1/4 scale, 16 in (406 mm) gauge ridable miniature railway, which offers rides on a passenger train through the scenic Northern Michigan landscape. It operates in jack pine country during the summer months. Riders travel through parts of the Huron National Forest and overlook the beautiful Comins Creek Valley.[15]
  • Au Sable River Canoe Marathon, starts in Grayling and ends in Oscoda 120 miles (190 km) down the river. It is one of three marathon races that constitute canoe racing's Triple Crown. The race is always held the last full weekend in July.[16]
  • First Dam Canoe Race (MCRA - Canoe Race) is a yearly event.[17]
  • Six miles west of Oscoda, on River Road Scenic Byway, the Au Sable River Queen offers paddle boat excursions.[18]
  • Within this area is Kirtland's warbler habitat, so it is an important center for bird watchers.
  • The Lumberman's Monument is adjacent to the river. The 14-foot Lumberman's Monument stands on a high bank with the Au Sable River providing a scenic backdrop since 1932.[19]
  • River Road, on the north bank and running parallel to the river, is a designated National Scenic Byway for the 23 miles that go into Oscoda.[20]
  • Canoer's Memorial: The inscription on the memorial says "The crossed paddles are a canoeist’s salute.  These paddles are erected as a tribute to those professional members of the Michigan Canoe Racing Association who were once active in the promotion and participation of canoe racing in Michigan.  As you view the waters of the AuSable or watch canoes racing on our Michigan streams, remember these departed members and their dedication to the sport of canoe racing.”
    • Marathon canoe racing began in 1940 and has been an annual event since then. The first casualty happened in 1953 claiming the life of Jerry Curley, and the river has claimed over 100 racers in its murky depths since then. The Curley family spearheaded the efforts to erect the monument and it is now maintained by volunteers and the U.S. Forest Service.[21]
  • The Wolf Creek Trail system is a beautiful trail and boardwalk along the Au Sable River and around Wolf Creek. This trail does not have any mandatory fees for use making it free for everyone. The non-motorized trail is open to all hikers, mountain bikers, cross country skiers, snowshoers, with loops designed as long as 4.2 miles and as short as 1.8 miles. The Wolf Creek Trail, part of the Huron National Forest, has four separate loops with a total of 4.8 miles of walking paths with 3 of these miles running adjacent to the Au Sable River. This trail system is a popular hiking, walking, and cross country skiing spot for locals and tourists alike. Many hikers will use the main trailhead at the bustling Department of Natural Resources canoe launch and park, right off of M-72/33 on the east side of the bridge that crosses the Au Sable River. The park also has toilets, picnic tables, grills, a source for drinking water, and plenty of parking. Most cross country skiers will use the trailhead off of South River Road approximately 2 miles east of Mio. Skiers will encounter a few downhill slopes, but nothing too difficult, making for an overall easy ski trail.[22]
  • Iargo Springs

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Au Sable River". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey, United States Department of the Interior.
  2. ^ U.S. Geological Survey. National Hydrography Dataset high-resolution flowline data. The National Map Archived 2012-03-29 at the Wayback Machine, accessed November 7, 2011
  3. ^ Card, James (January 24, 2017). "In Michigan, a Fight Over the Future of a Fabled Trout River". The New York Times. Retrieved January 28, 2017.
  4. ^ "Blue Ribbon Trout Streams".
  5. ^ "Au Sable River Natural River Plan" (PDF). July 1987. Retrieved June 23, 2022.
  6. ^ Au Sable River, Michigan Department of Natural Resources
  7. ^ a b Au Sable River Natural River Plan, Fisheries Division, Michigan Department of Natural Resources
  8. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Kolke Creek
  9. ^ "Bradford Creek". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey, United States Department of the Interior.
  10. ^ "East Branch Au Sable River". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey, United States Department of the Interior.
  11. ^ "South Branch Au Sable River". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey, United States Department of the Interior.
  12. ^ "North Branch Au Sable River". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey, United States Department of the Interior.
  13. ^ "AuSable River Tour". Archived from the original on 2013-10-22. Retrieved 2011-08-09.
  14. ^ "Mio electric Plant historical marker". Archived from the original on 2014-07-17. Retrieved 2008-01-13.
  15. ^ "MAVRR".
  16. ^ "AuSable River Canoe Marathon | World's Toughest Spectator Race".
  17. ^ "Mio Race Info".
  18. ^ "Au Sable River Queen". Archived from the original on 2008-05-14. Retrieved 2008-01-13.
  19. ^ “Lumberman's Monument Visitor Center.” Huron-Manistee National Forests - Lumberman3As Monument Visitor Center,
  20. ^ "River Road Scenic Byway at America's Byways". Archived from the original on 2007-02-03. Retrieved 2007-12-06.
  21. ^ “Canoer's Memorial Monument.” AuSable River Canoe Marathon,
  22. ^ "Wolf Creek Trail". Michigan Trail Maps.

External links[edit]