Two side-by-side liveries offer paddling and lodging. Imagine this…The soft sound as a paddle dips into rippling water, and the mini-whirlpool it fleetingly leaves as it lifts, before you once more plunge the blade. The soft breath of a cool morning breeze creeping from under ancient cedars sweeping over the water. The scent of pine and cedar perfuming the air. The sight of ducks, mink, bald eagles, deer, seemingly oblivious to your quiet passing. The laughter and company of good friends and family, and the discoveries that always await around the next bend. Those images, and more, are what canoeing on Michigan’s favorite paddling stream, the Au Sable River near Grayling, is all about.

Whether it’s a 2 ½-hour jaunt, a five-hour day trip, or an overnight riverside campground stay, it’s an experience you, your friends, and family will remember and want to repeat, like so many do annually.

Two liveries have anchored the banks of this storied stream for more than 60 years. They are almost side-by-side: Borchers Au Sable Canoe & Kayak with Riverside Bed and Breakfast, and Penrod’s Au Sable River Resort, on the city’s north side. Borchers was founded in 1932 by Ernie Borchers—who also originated the Borchers trout fly—and is owned and operated by Abigail and Justin Davis. Penrod’s, begun by the Penrod family in 1939, has been operated by the Humes family since 1969, and is currently overseen by Jim Humes. He welcomes the generations of canoeists who come here each season for good family fun. “We’re honored to have multiple generations of friends and family return each year” says Davis. “The nice thing about this trip,” Humes adds, “is that this river is very forgiving. It’s about a four- to five-mile-per-hour current and most of the stream is from 2 to 4 feet deep so it’s good for novices and families.” Borchers operates a medium size fleet of canoes and kayaks. Kayaks are fast becoming a popular way to tour the stream. Penrod’s has a similar number.

After shoving off from the dock, the Au Sable turns gently as Grayling disappears from your stern and you glide past riverfront cabins. About 90 minutes downstream, stop for a picnic lunch after you slip under the bridge announcing the old Rayburn estate, now owned by the State of Michigan. The lodge is gone but a climb via stairs to the top rewards with a great view of the river. There also are portable restroom facilities placed there each summer as a courtesy to paddlers. Near the Rayburn property, you’ll pass the entrance to Mud Creek. Keep to the right to avoid backtracking out of the Mud Creek wetland. Between Rayburn and Canoe Camp the river’s bottom turns gravely and the current picks up a bit. Watch for mink, beaver, deer, and bald eagles overhead. Burton’s Landing marks the start of the famed “holy water” stretch, so named by fly fishermen because it is revered as holding some of the top trout fishing in the United States.

Here is where canoeists can practice the river etiquette they learned at the dock prior to their trip: share the river, particularly when approaching fishermen. From there to the take-out point immediately below Stephan Bridge, you’ll pass islands, more homes, riverside campgrounds and more incomparable Au Sable scenery. That's as far as most weekend paddlers get before landing and meeting their shuttle for the ride back to town. However, both Penrod’s and Borchers can arrange longer trips, including overnight camping adventures that can take you as far as the river’s end, Oscoda, Michigan.

Trips start at $25 and up on weekdays, $30 and up on weekends. Rates vary by trip length. Reservations are wise during the summer months. Canoes come with cushions, a Coast Guard-approved PFD and paddles. Life jackets are encouraged, especially for non-swimmers, and are required for children aged 6 and under and recommended for those 12 and under. As at all Grayling-area liveries, an alcohol policy is strictly enforced. One-six-pack of beer is allowed per canoe, and no glass containers or Styrofoam coolers are allowed.

Once your trip is over, you can enjoy a bed and breakfast experience at Borchers or a night in one of Penrod’s riverside cabins. Borchers has four guest rooms with en-suite bathrooms and a full breakfast. Penrod’s offers several cabins, including some with two bedrooms and fireplace. Penrod’s also rents mountain bikes. For more information, call Borchers at (989) 348-4921, or (800) 762-8756. For Penrod’s, call (989) 348-2910 or (888) GO-RIVER. For more on the Grayling area, contact the Grayling Visitors Bureau, (800) 937-8837. Make It Grayling for the North’s Best Casual Adventures!