Michigan State Parks Centennial: Rifle River

Rifle River State Recreation Area is located in northeastern lower Michigan within the AuSable State Forest. 

Long before it became a park, the land was purchased by H.M. Jewett, owner of the Paige-Detroit Motor Car Company. Jewett built a massive hunting and fishing estate for friends and family. This included his private lodge at the top of the largest hill overlooking four of the 10 lakes on the property.

After Jewett died, his widow sold the land to the state of Michigan. The state used it for a fish and wildlife research area from 1945 until 1963 when it officially opened as a state park. 

Park activities

The view from an observation platform, showing what H.M. Jewett’s guests would see from his lodge.

At 4,400 acres, Rifle River State Recreation Area provides a lot of activities for all ages, interests and activity levels.

If you’re into fishing (catch and release only), canoeing or kayaking, the 10 lakes and ponds are easily accessible from a number of places throughout the park. Additionally, the Rifle River flows right through the park and since there are no dams, it provides an unobstructed path downstream for miles. Hunting is allowed during certain seasons on more than 4,100 acres of the park. 

The lakes are home to trumpeter swans, lots of fish, and other wildlife. So bring binoculars and be prepared to sit quietly and watch as things come to life around you.  

Suspension bridge over a river in Rifle River State Recreation AreaWhen it comes to trails, there are over 14 miles in this park for hiking, biking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Some of the trails loop through the entire park and others are short 1-mile jaunts around the small ponds. Be on the lookout at different times of the year for newly sprouting ferns, hatching wildlife, Indian Paintbrushes, turtles, birds and more. Binoculars are recommended, as is mosquito and tick repellant since the trails take you through marshes, swamps, and forestland where lots of bugs like to hang out. 

Camping

Jeep Wrangler and Class B RV in rustic campsite at Rifle River Recreation Area -- a Michigan State Park
Our campsite in one of the rustic campgrounds.

Rifle River Recreation Area offers camping opportunities to meet everyone’s needs: 

  • One modern campground with 75 spots on Grousehaven Lake. Sites are grass with a few trees but zero privacy and very little shade.  
  • Three rustic campgrounds with a total of 99 sites. There is one loop on the Rifle River with lots of trees and privacy. There also is a larger one with three loops on Devoe Lake with trees but little privacy. The third loop is in a big wide open grassy field. (This open area used to serve as the camping location for Jewett’s hunting guests)
  • 5 rustic cabins tucked into the woods behind locked gates, providing lots of privacy. 

Getting around the park

Because this park is so large, you’ll need a car or bicycle to get around to the various lakes, trails, overlooks, boat launches, playgrounds, etc. For perspective, the rustic loop we camped in by Rifle River was almost 4 miles from the park entrance! However, the modern campground was just a short distance, maybe a half-mile from the entrance. 

An important thing to note when visiting this park is that most of the roads are gravel, including the main road to all the campsites. You’ll want to take it slow with your trailer to avoid breaking anything or kicking up too much dust. 

We also discovered two of the major side roads to the overlooks are one way. A third is even marked “cars only, no RVs.” And they mean it! 

Of those gravel, or “unimproved,” roads as the park calls them, some are in worse condition than others. It was a good thing we had our Jeep with us on this trip, as there’s no way we would have liked taking our Roadtrek down a couple of the roads. One lane bridges, washed out shoulders, low hanging branches, holes filled with water and mud…and did I mention they’re one way? That means that you have to keep going, no matter the conditions. We noticed many visitors had large trucks and SUVs, though a few smaller cars were attempting the roads as well. They do lead to some amazing views of the park, so don’t miss out if you have a vehicle to take exploring. 

Overall impression

If you can afford to spend some time here, do it! If you’re close by a day trip is nice, but you really need a weekend or a week to do the park justice. 

We didn’t have our kayak with us, so next time we’ll bring that for the lakes or the river. And we’ll be sure to pack a lunch and set out to explore all the trails. All in all, I can’t wait to get back to Rifle River Recreation Area!


We have plenty more adventures to come, so subscribe to this blog and our YouTube channel. (We have a video about Rifle River State Recreation Area here.) You can follow us on Instagram, our Facebook page, and Twitter. Plus, you can see our progress as we visit each park on this interactive Google Map. You also can keep track of our activities on social media with the hashtags #hikecampgo and #mistateparks100.

Share your thoughts!