Watercraft Permits Required on the Pine River

Watercraft Permits Required on the Pine River

Did you know that if you bring your own boat to the Pine that you are responsible for purchasing a watercraft permit for the river? We have unfortunately had many paddlers with their own boats stop into our office quite upset because they got to one of the US Forest Service Pine River landings and realized they did not have the permit required to use the landing. Even worse, the permits are often sold out! We wanted to share a bit of information about the permits, such as how to acquire them and where they are needed so you are best prepared for your next trip to the Pine.

Why are permits required?

The Pine River is a nationally designated Wild & Scenic River. The watercraft permits are required through the portion of the Pine that carries the ‘scenic’ designation by the US Forest Service. The Pine is actually only one of two rivers in the entire state of Michigan that requires watercraft permits. The other is the Pere Marquette. The permit system started on the Pine back in the 1970’s, but some paddlers still aren’t aware of it. It was put in place to regulate how many people could enjoy the river on any given day.

Who needs to buy watercraft permits?

If you rent from us or one of the other liveries on the Pine, we handle your permit. You do not need to worry about it. All of our watercraft is permitted, but we have a limit of how many boats we are allowed to rent out each day. If you are bringing your own watercraft, you are responsible for acquiring the permit(s).

When are permits required?

The watercraft permits are only required from the Friday of Memorial weekend through the Monday of Labor Day weekend. They are not required during the shoulder seasons.

Are the permits required on the entire Pine River?

No, the permits are not required for the whole river. The permits are only required for the US Forest Service landings. If you look at a map, the access sites from Briar Patch to Lincoln are run by the State of Michigan and permits are not needed. The access sites from Elm Flats to Low Bridge are the US Forest Service landings and you do need the watercraft permits for either entering or exiting the river at any of those landings. So, if you launch at Lincoln Bridge (State access site) and get out at Dobson Bridge (Forest Service access site), you will need a watercraft permit. However, if you stay upstream of Elm Flats, you will not need a permit.

Is the watercraft permit a daily or yearly permit?

The watercraft permit is a daily permit - you have to reserve it for the specific day you want to go. The permit system is in place to limit how many people paddle the Pine each day. So, if you want to paddle two days on the Pine and want to use the Forest Service landings both days, you will have to purchase two separate permits - one for each day. There is no yearly or multi-day permit available. 

How many permits are allowed each day?

As I mentioned above, each livery on the Pine is limited as to how many watercraft we are allowed to rent each day on the Pine. The pool of permits for paddlers with their own boats is 60 permits each weekday, and 100 permits per weekend day. 

How can I purchase a permit?

Permit sales for each year opens up on January 1st. Saturdays in July and August tend to sell out quickly, so planning ahead is crucial. The best way to acquire permits is by following this link to recreation.gov: https://www.recreation.gov/permits/249990. I did come across a phone number on a US Forest Service website that suggested you could call the number to purchase a permit, but it led me to an incorrect department. So, I believe it is safe to say that purchasing them online is the best route to go. If you did not purchase your permits ahead of time, you can purchase them the day of your trip as long as there is availability.

What is the cost of a permit?

The permits cost $2/permit per day, along with a $6 transaction fee. Keep in mind that you will have to buy a watercraft permit for each watercraft in your group. If you have a group of four kayaks, you will need to purchase four watercraft permits.

Do I need to print off the permit?

You will need to either print off the permit, or have it saved as a PDF to your phone. Your confirmation email will not be sufficient.

Who do I show the permit to?

You only have to show your permit to US Forest Service personnel at the landings if they ask for it. If they are not present, there is no need to show your permit to anyone. They may also be at your ending point and may ask for it there so be sure to take the permit on the river with you.

Ultimately, if you want to bring your own watercraft to the Pine and want to utilize the Forest Service landings, making a plan and purchasing your watercraft permit(s) well ahead of time is the best way to go. Remember, if you rent from us or another livery, there is no need to worry about permitting - we already have those for our watercraft. The rest of our website is full of good information for planning your trip on the Pine, including a map with accurate paddling times. We hope you find these resources useful!

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