Cedar River Nature Preserve

The Cedar River flows into the southwest shore of  South Lake Leelanau. The location on the map appears to be a large unsettled area. That is because it is an official nature preserve. I recently paddled back there with family in search of a lake which I thought may have bluegill. Before we set out, a friend mentioned to me that the lake holds many gar, like logs strewn throughout the lake. To my surprise the lake was wide open and shallow, nearly half a mile long, holding many large snapping turtles, 1-4ft deep in places and many stumps. I got up on my Freedom 14 kayak and stood looking over the lake and I could see at least 5 huge snapping turtles maybe 30” long and indeed, there were the gar I heard about in crystal clear water, feeding on fish, chasing them to the surface to snap up a meal. This lake is among several which could be discovered by kayaking up the river inlet. After looking around and standing up for the view nearly an hour we decided to head back. There was some wind once on the open water of  South Lake Leelanau.  I remember hearing the song of birds and the seeing a bald eagle perch itself up in one of the pine trees on the western side of the Cedar River.

Small lakes and ponds such as these are an important part of the environment. These wetland zones are buffers to the nutrients that find their way down our streams. River macrophytes (aquatic plants) which are found along shore, will gather phosphorus and nitrogen nutrients which otherwise might cause intense algal blooms. The beautiful sight of pond lilies and other aquatic vegetation show a sign of an active part of the environment which purifies the watershed.

The Leelanau Conservancy informs us that the Cedar River Preserve is 380 acres and has been open to the public since 1990. This preserve is only accessible by boat. The nearest access points are along roads from the south shore of the lake or Solon Park, on the north side of the town of Cedar. There is no parking directly by the water but on a nearby field, which is easy to miss the sight of at first. It will take nearly an hour one way and consider the wind to paddle against.  Read more about the Cedar River Preserve and others in Leelanau at this link:

Before leaving, I strongly suggest bringing a snack, drink, camera, or for sightseeing a pair of binoculars. On the way remember there is a huge weed bed flat at the river inlet to catch some fish. If you love plants and other wildlife do not miss the unique undisturbed ecosystem of rare plants and animals. Take care when stepping onto any soil  because the fen may not be stable enough for supporting human weight. There are no trails on the Cedar River Preserve so everything needs to be done from your boat.

So get out and enjoy this adventure!


5 thoughts on “Cedar River Nature Preserve”

  1. I enjoyed reading this, Jason. In fact, you have inspired me to visit the preserve. I have an inflatable SUP and I am thinking of taking it out there.

  2. Jason Safronoff

    Great idea! Take some photos and share them. I was thrilled to see all those turtles but I did not get any more photos because I was looking around. When you get to one of the small lakes the wind is usually better for standing up and looking around. It will be fun.

    1. Jason Safronoff

      I also went to the one on the south side of the river. There are two more ponds to the north side if you got more time.

  3. I always enjoy your articles, Jason, but this one especially. A couple of years ago we took the pontoon boat ride up the Cedar River offered at the Leelanau Birding Fest & thoroughly enjoyed it. Saw lots of birds, though being in a pontoon boat meant we had to keep to the main channel and didn’t afford us the opportunity to explore byways; so it was exciting to read about your explorations.

  4. Jason Safronoff

    Thank you! I should take that pontoon boat ride into consideration or at least a kayaking down the river.

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