Thornapple River

One of the larger tributaries of the Grand River, the Thornapple River the only tributary to join the Grand River from the south. Originally used for fur trading, and the lumber and milling industries, this river is now primarily a recreational wonderland. It offers calm waters and good fishing along its length. This river also features a historic covered bridge in Ada near the mouth of the river.

Reach T1. Irving Road Access to Middleville ~ Distance: 4.6 miles

  • Difficulty Rating: Difficult
  • Dam Portages: None
  • Opt-outs: None
  • Travel Distance from Grand Rapids: 31 miles
  • Facilities: At both the launch (outhouse) and the destination (public restrooms)
  • Reach T1 Rate: $140 for 1 to 3 paddlers ~ Additional paddlers $25 each ~ 8 paddlers maximum
  • Approximate Paddling Duration: 2 to 2½ hours

Please enjoy a short video tour of this experience: Reach T1 Trip

This is a beautiful twisty turning and narrow reach with mostly shallow (3-4 feet deep), clear water that first passes under the West Irving Road bridge and ends at Stagecoach Park in Middleville just before the Middleville Dam. Very few houses are found along this densely wooded reach. The last time we paddled this reach was early fall, when the autumn colors were just beginning to show. The variety of wildlife was stunning – a Red-tailed Hawk was spotted landing in a tree just after we began paddling.  A little farther on, we saw a mammal swimming across the river. Once it arrived on shore, we were able to identify it as a weasel. We also saw Belted Kingfishers, Great Blue Heron, turtles and a gar fish. Just before the Middleville Dam, Millpond provides a swampy habitat with varied wildlife not seen along the river: Sandhill Cranes, Snowy Egret, Mute Swans, and even a rarely seen Trumpeter Swan. Downtown Middleville offers a variety of great places to grab a bite to eat after an enjoyable paddle if desired.

Reach T2. Middleville to the 84th Street Dam ~ Distance: 10 miles

  • Difficulty Rating: Moderately difficult
  • Dam Portages: None
  • Opt-outs: Three (5.1 miles, 6.4 miles and 7.1 miles)
  • Travel Distance from Grand Rapids: 28 miles
  • Facilities: At the launch (public restroom) and destination (porta-jon)
  • Reach T2 Rate: $140 for 1 to 3 paddlers ~ Additional paddlers $25 each ~ 8 paddlers maximum
  • Approximate Paddling Duration: 3 to 4 hours

Please enjoy a short video tour of this experience: Reach T2 Trip

Beginning just downstream of the Middleville Dam near the City of Middleville, this is the longest of our paddling options. Fortunately there are three op-out locations for anyone needing to end his or her experience early. The first half of this reach shares the river with Indian Valley, a local canoe rental livery and campground. Unique to this reach are the numerous small interesting waterfalls from run-off streams that empty into the Thornapple River. These waterfalls were plentiful, even after the summer drought of 2012. Several Turkey Vultures were spotted circling overhead and we were able to get quite close to one perched on a tree branch.  Although we could hear an eagle’s call, we could not confirm a sighting on this trip. Towards the end of this reach, we passed several inlets of calm, swampy water and explored a couple to see the variety of plant life that grows there. Starting rather narrow, the river widens considerably in the second half where several large houses can be found on both the left and right banks. This segment ends in the backwater of the 84th Street Dam and hydro-electric power plant. Please note that an extended and challenging portage around the power plant is required to reach the parking area at the end of this reach. Due to its popularity on weekend afternoons, this reach is best experienced early in the morning, especially on the weekends.

Reach T3. 84th Street Dam to 68th Street ~ Distance: 3.1 miles

  • Difficulty Rating: Moderately difficult
  • Dam Portages: None
  • Opt-outs: None
  • Travel Distance from Grand Rapids: 21 miles
  • Facilities: At both the launch and destination (porta-jons)
  • Reach T3 Rate: $120 for 1 to 3 paddlers ~ Additional paddlers $25 each ~ 8 paddlers maximum
  • Approximate Paddling Duration: 1 to 1½ hours

Please enjoy a short video tour of this experience: Reach T3 Trip

This is the shortest of our paddling options. The river tends to be quite narrow and shallow since it’s on the downstream side of the 84th street Dam. This is a very lightly populated reach with several sharp turns and bends. Great Blue Heron may be available to provide company to the paddler. The reach comes to an end at the Alaska Kent County Park just before reaching a short section of challenging rapids and whitewater. Due to its popularity on weekend afternoons, this reach is best experienced early in the morning, especially on the weekends.

Reach T4. 68th Street to the Cascade Dam ~ Distance: 6 miles

  • Difficulty Rating: Moderately difficult
  • Dam Portages: None
  • Opt-outs: None
  • Travel Distance from Grand Rapids: 20 miles
  • Facilities: At both the launch (porta-jon) and the destination (public restrooms)
  • Reach T4 Rate: $120 for 1 to 3 paddlers ~ Additional paddlers $25 each ~ 8 paddlers maximum
  • Approximate Paddling Duration: 2 to 2½ hours

Please enjoy a short video tour of this experience: Reach T4 Trip

This reach begins at Alaska Park with a small stretch of easily negotiated rapids after which the river stays quite shallow. After following alongside Thornapple River Drive for a mile or so, the river returns to its more normal characteristics, becoming both wider and deeper. Entering into a more populated area, recreational boat traffic can be expected. Approaching the Cascade Dam, the river widens significantly and the backwater area offers more of a lake paddling experience. Beautiful Cascade Park provides a wonderful respite for the weary paddler.

Reach T5. Cascade Dam to the Grand River (Ada) ~ Distance: 4.8 miles

  • Difficulty Rating: No worries
  • Dam Portages: One
  • Opt-outs: One (3.7 miles)
  • Travel Distance from Grand Rapids: 15 miles
  • Facilities: At the launch and opt-out (public restrooms) and the destination (outhouse)
  • Reach T5 Rate: $120 for 1 to 3 paddlers ~ Additional paddlers $25 each ~ 8 paddlers maximum
  • Approximate Paddling Duration: 2 to 2½ hours

Please enjoy a short video tour of this experience: Reach T5 Trip

Heading out from Cascade Park downstream from the dam, the Thornapple River once again becomes a narrow and shallow paddling experience. This reach of the river becomes even more populated with a wide variety of residential dwellings, many of which are quite interesting and beautiful. Recreational traffic can be expected as the river widens into the backwater of the Ada Dam becoming more like a lake than a river. The immediate backwater of the dam is an extremely large area of open water, providing an extra challenge on a windy day. After a quick portage around the dam, the river becomes refreshingly secluded and narrow, finishing the segment by passing under the historic Ada covered bridge, and a short paddle on the Grand River to the take-out destination.

Combine T1 & T2 for a Paddle & Dine Experience: Irving Road to the 84th St. Dam w/ lunch in Middleville

Combine T4 & T5 for a Paddle & Picnic experience: Thornapple River Paddle & Picnic