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What is a Water Trail?

A water trail is a designated route along a lake, river, canal, or bay for people using small boats such as kayaks, canoes, stand-up paddleboards, single sailboats or rowboats. Sometimes called “blueways,” water trails are the aquatic equivalent of a hiking trail or “greenway” and feature well-developed access and launch points. Often, water trails are near significant historical, environmental or cultural points of interest and include nearby amenities such as restaurants, hotels, and campgrounds.

The Clinton River Water Trail ranges from steep gradients to slow-moving waters and provides over 72 miles to paddle and enjoy.




Placid and tranquil, the Headwaters of the Clinton River includes beautiful glacial lakes and serene wetlands while offering the opportunity for quiet reflection.


Not for the faint of heart, this challenging section of the Clinton River is not for beginners due to steep gradients, hairpin turns and fluctuating water levels.


Some of the most beautiful sections of the Clinton River, these slow-moving waters stretch through heavily forested riverbanks and parks before emptying into Lake St. Clair.



Anyone wanting to paddle the Clinton River should understand that some sections can be challenging, and the water can run very fast and high, especially after a rain event.

When the river runs high, it carries a lot of woody debris downstream that can block passages and create dangerous hazards. 


The lower river from Budd Park in Clinton Township downstream to Mt. Clemens is the best stretch for beginners. The upper river in the Chain of Lakes area in Oakland County is also good for beginners.

As a best practice, you should always check the streamflow gauge nearest to the area you are paddling to assess if the river is running high.

ALWAYS PADDLE WITH THE PROPER EQUIPMENT. Life vests, helmets, a whistle, a first aid kit, and a phone are standard equipment.

NEVER PADDLE ALONE. Always paddle with at least one other person in a separate boat and do not become separated.

BE AWARE OF THE STREAM FLOW. Check streamflow at the USGS gauge nearest to your intended trip. Visually check stream flow before you embark, and if the river is too fast for your comfort level, wait until it recedes.

BE AWARE OF THE WATER TEMPERATURE. Coldwater is extremely dangerous. Learn about protecting yourself from hypothermia.

BE AWARE OF THE WEATHER. Conditions can change rapidly. Be aware of forecasts, and do not go out during thunderstorms or other adverse weather events. Stay alert to changing weather conditions.

BE AWARE OF THE DAYLIGHT. Make sure you leave enough daylight to comfortably finish your trip.

BRING A SPARE CHANGE OF CLOTHES IN A DRY BAG. You will likely get wet. Bring a spare change of clothes in a dry bag to avoid hypothermia.

WEAR RIVER FOOTWEAR. Protect your feet from sharp river rocks—always wear footwear.

KNOW HOW TO SWIM. Make sure you know how to swim before embarking on a river trip.

KNOW HOW TO GET HELP. To get help, dial 911. Make sure you are aware of your surroundings and can communicate your position to emergency responders.

SAFETY SIGNS. Know how to recognize the safety signs throughout the Clinton River. To learn more about the signs click here. 


Water Trail Safety Signs

Signage is posted at several paddle access points along the Clinton River Water Trail. These signs indicate paddlable sections of the river, recommendations for beginners, and provide safety information.

Translated Signs

These signs have also been translated into Spanish and Arabic, the two most spoken languages in the watershed after English.



Online Resource: Totago

CRWC, in partnership with TOTAGO, has developed a web and mobile app experience for the Clinton River water trail. Use the app to plan an ideal paddle and navigate the river in real-time. You can also report hazards in real-time to help improve safety for everyone.

Launch Totago

Water level warning

Water-level warnings are based on minimum and maximum stream heights measured at the United States Geological Survey stream gauge located in Sterling Heights.

Low-water warning: Gauge Height = 8 feet.

High-water warning: Gauge Height = 10 feet






outside with clyde

During the summer of 2020, Clyde paddled the entire length of the Clinton River Water Trail except for the section through Rochester, Michigan (low water conditions). This video series presents his trips along the different sections of the river.











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