The Sylvania Wilderness is made up of 18,000 acres (7,300 ha) of old-growth forest in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula Ottawa National Forest. As part of the National Wilderness Preservation System, Sylvania represents a unique part of America’s natural heritage: only 4% of all land in the United States is officially designated “wilderness,” of which just 5% is located east of the Rockies. Sylvania is a unique remnant of the once vast stretches of forest, and canoeing its 34 lakes allows you to explore this wilderness the way people did hundreds of years ago. Adjoining the Sylvania Wilderness is Sylvania Recreation Area, which includes a campground, beach, and picnic areas. This large natural area with its old-growth forest and pristine lakes provides habitat for threatened plants and animals including rare orchids, bald eagles, loons and osprey. Camping is permitted at designated sites by permit only. Watersmeet, Michigan is the closest town, but just over the border in Wisconsin, Land O’Lakes is also in close proximity to the park.
Watersmeet, MI and Land O’ Lakes, WI
Park & Permit Info
Combined with its adjacent Recreation Area, the Sylvania Wilderness Area in the Ottawa National Forest offers an outstanding wilderness for paddlers. With 34 named lakes and 18,327 acres in total, there’s enough room to “get lost.”
Visitors must pay fees to enter both the Recreation Area and Wilderness and overnight camping–whether at improved sites in the Recreation Area or in the backcountry–have fees as well. The Ottawa National Forest website has all the details as well as a handy brochure.
Paddlers can keep abreast of the local fire situation via the Michigan DNR wildfire web page.
Maps & Routes
The National Forest offers an online map that is suitable for trip planning and basic navigation. You can also use USGS topographical maps for more detailed navigation and exploration.
Sylvania was dedicated as a wilderness area in 1987, after a rich and varied post-settlement history. Land included in the area was purchased by Wisconsin lumberman A.D. Johnson in 1895. It was spared the saw, however, when Johnson saw how striking the area was. He and friends formed a club to add to the holdings and protect the land as a hunting and recreation reserve. The Forest Service purchased the land in 1967, leading to its preservation today..
Sylvania is known for its clear lakes, old trees, rare orchids, and ample wildlife. The old growth white pine forest, dotted with pristine lakes, provides a home to black bear and white-tailed deer, wolves and coyotes, beaver and mink. Eagles and osprey hunt from above while loons fish the deeps.
Prized game fish in Sylvania include large-and small-mouthed bass, lake trout, walleye and northern pike, plus a variety of panfish. Special fishing regulations apply to the wilderness–only artificial lures can be used, for example–and all bass caught must be released. The National Forest lists the full regulations on its site.