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Natural Rivers

Michigan's Natural Rivers program is a river protection effort that protects the natural quality of select river systems throughout the state by regulating their use and development through zoning rules.  The Natural Rivers Program was developed to preserve, protect and enhance our state's finest river systems for the use and enjoyment of current and future generations by allowing property owners their right to reasonable development while protecting Michigan's unique river resources.

There are 16 designated Natural River systems in Michigan. The designation includes the mainstream, as well as most of the tributaries. Nearly all construction, land change/earth moving, and placement of structures is regulated within 400-feet of any designated stream segment. Please consult with Natural Rivers Program staff for specific regulatory determinations.

For more information, please email DNR-NaturalRivers@michigan.gov or reach out directly to the appropriate permitting staff.

Michigan's Designated Natural Rivers

Au Sable River

The Au Sable is a major tributary to Lake Huron. It drains a north-south basin that includes 1,932 square miles in north-central lower Michigan. The basin is approximately 90 miles long and 10 to 30 miles wide. The river basin is partially within the Huron National Forest and includes parts of Otsego, Montmorency, Crawford, Osco, Alcona, Roscommon, Ogemaw, and Iosco counties. Zoning standards for the Au Sable River system are found on pages 1-21 and 46-50.

Betsie River

The Betsie River is located in Grand Traverse, Benzie and Manistee counties. The stream originates at Green Lake near the village of Interlochen and flows in a westerly direction to its outlet into Betsie Lake and Lake Michigan near Elberta and Frankfort. A large part of the river lies within the boundaries of the Fife Lake and Betsie River State Forests and flows through the Betsie River State Game Area near its mouth. The Betsie River drains a surface area of approximately 165,800 acres and includes about 93 linear miles of streams, 52 miles of which is mainstream. Zoning standards for the Betsie River system are found on pages 1-21 and 23-25.

Boardman River

The Boardman River is located in Grand Traverse and Kalkaska counties in northwest lower Michigan. It rises in the Mahan swamp in north central Kalkaska County and flows in a southwesterly direction for 40 miles. Turning north for nine miles, it empties into Grand Traverse Bay at Traverse City. The Boardman River system drains a surface area of approximately 186,000 acres and includes about 130 linear miles of stream. Zoning standards for the Boardman River system are found on pages 1-21 and 33-35.

Flat River

The Flat River flows through the counties of Montcalm, Ionia and Kent. The mainstream originates in the Six Lakes area and flows approximately 70 miles until it joins the Grand River at Lowell. Zoning standards for the Flat River system are found on pages 1-21 and 41-43.

Fox River

The Fox River system is located in Alger, Schoolcraft and Luce counties in the eastern half of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The mainstream of the Fox flows south from northeastern Alger County through flat sand plains and lowland hardwoods to its confluence with the Lake Branch of the Manistique River, which continues on the Lake Michigan. The Fox's East Branch, West Branch and Little Fox are its main tributaries. The East Branch joins the Fox River Mainstream about a mile above the Manistique River and is nearly equal to the Mainstream in length and discharge. The basin is approximately 26 miles long and 10 miles wide. Zoning standards for the Fox River system are found on pages 1-21 and 62-64.

Huron River

The Huron River system flows through the southeast Michigan counties of Oakland, Ingham, Livingston, Washtenaw, Monroe and Wayne. The mainstream originates in Big Lake and the Huron Swamp northwest of Pontiac and flows roughly 125 miles to its mouth in the marshlands of Pt. Mouillee on Lake Erie. Zoning standards for the Huron River system are found on pages 1-21 and 28-31.

Jordan River

The Jordan River is located in the northwestern part of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. The mainstream is 33 miles in length with headwaters in northwestern Antrim County, from whence it flows southwesterly to the center of the county, flowing north by northwesterly through the county and the southern part of Charlevoix County. It empties into the South Arm of Lake Charlevoix at the Village of East Jordan (Figure 1). The river has two major tributaries, the Green River and Deer Creek with numerous minor tributaries to both the mainstream and Deer Creek. Zoning standards for the Jordan River system are found on pages 1-23.

Lower Kalamazoo River

The Kalamazoo River system drains an area of approximately 2,020 square miles as it flows through portions of the southwest Michigan counties of Allegan, Barry, Eaton, Van Buren, Kalamazoo, Calhoun, Jackson, Hillsdale, Kent and Ottawa. Zoning standards for the Lower Kalamazoo River system are found on pages 1-21 and 59-61.

Pere Marquette River

The Pere Marquette River located in portions of Lake, Mason, Newaygo and Oceana counties, the Pere Marquette River system drains an area of approximately 740 square miles. Roughly 53 percent of the watershed is in Lake County. The mainstream starts at the confluence of the Middle Branch and Little South Branch, known as the "Forks" and flows in a westerly direction for approximately 67 miles to its mouth at Pere Marquette Lake, just south of the City of Ludington. Zoning standards for the Pere Marquette River system are found on pages 1-21 and 36-39.

Pigeon River

The Pigeon River is located in the north-central part of the southern peninsula of Michigan. Its headwaters are located a few miles northeast of Gaylord. The river then flows in a northerly direction to its mouth at Mullet Lake, a distance of 42 miles. The Pigeon River system drains a surface area of approximately 88,000 acres and include 80 linear miles of stream. Zoning standards for the Pigeon River system are found on pages 1-21 and 43-46.

Pine River

The Pine River watershed is located in the northwestern portion of Michigan's lower peninsula. It has a drainage area of 265 square miles, and ultimately discharges to Tippy Dam Impoundment in Manistee County (Figure 1). The watershed includes parts of four counties: Wexford, Osceola, Lake and Manistee. The mainstream is approximately 49 miles long and is formed by the confluence of the North Branch and East branch of the Pine River near Tustin in Osceola County at an elevation of 1,102 feet (336m). Zoning standards for the Pine River system are found on pages 1-21 and 50-53.

Rifle River

The Rifle River watershed is located in Ogemaw and Arenac counties, draining an area of approximately 385 square miles. The river originates in northeastern Ogemaw County and flows for approximately 60 miles in a southeasterly direction to its confluence with Lake Huron. Zoning standards for the Rifle River system are found on pages 1-21 and 39-41.

Rogue River

The Rogue River is a major tributary of the Grand River. It drains an area of approximately 234 square miles in Newaygo and Kent counties. Its headwaters are a series of ditches that drain the old Rice Lake bed in southern Newaygo County. In this area the stream has been dredged and straightened for drainage purposes leaving limited fish habitat. Zoning standards for the Rogue River system are found on pages 1-21 and 31-33.

Two Hearted River

The Two Hearted River is located in northern Luce County in the eastern third of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The 35-mile long mainstream flows from the northwest portion of the county in a northeasterly direction to Lake Superior. It has five major tributaries: the East, South, West and North branches, and Dawson Creek. The mainstream itself starts at the confluence of the South Branch and West Branch. Zoning standards for the Two Hearted River system are found on pages 1-21 and 57-59.

Upper Manistee River

The Upper Manistee River watershed is located in the northwestern portion of Michigan's Lower Peninsula. It has a drainage area of 590 square miles. The watershed includes parts of five counties: Antrim, Otsego, Crawford, Kalkaska and Missaukee. The mainstream is approximately 78 miles long and originates in southeast Antrim County (approximately six miles from the village of Alba), at an elevation of 1,250 feet. Zoning standards for the Upper Manistee River system are found on pages 1-21 and 53-57.

White River

The White River is located in Newaygo, Oceana and Muskegon counties, in west central lower Michigan. The White River rises from the extensive Oxford Swamp in north central Newaygo County and flows in a southwesterly direction into White Lake then Lake Michigan, near the towns of Whitehall and Montague. The White River system drains a surface area of approximately 300,000 acres and includes about 253 linear miles of streams. Zoning standards for the White River system are found on pages 1-21 and 25-28.