Grand River (Michigan)

The Grand River (Ottawa: Owashtanong, "Far-Flowing Water")[3][4] is a river in the southwestern portion of the southern peninsula of Michigan, United States, that flows into Lake Michigan's southeastern shore. It is the longest river in Michigan, running 252 miles (406 km) from its headwaters in Hillsdale County on the southern border north to Lansing and west to its mouth on the Lake at Grand Haven.[5]

Grand River
A map of the Grand River
Physical characteristics
  locationSomerset Township, Hillsdale County, Michigan
  coordinates42.0867°N 84.42245°W / 42.0867; -84.42245[1]
Grand Haven, Michigan
43.05835°N 86.25088°W / 43.05835; -86.25088
Length252 miles (406 km)
Basin size5,572sq.mi.
  average5,048.87 cu ft/s (142.968 m3/s) (estimate)[2]

The river was famous for its mile-long, 300-yard-wide, and 10-to-15-foot-tall rapids, for which the city of Grand Rapids was named. These rapids were submerged following the construction of numerous dams, starting in 1835, and flooding of areas behind the dams. The river has not had any rapids for nearly a century.


Island Park on the Grand River at Grand Ledge

The headwaters of the Grand River begin from natural springs in Somerset Township in Hillsdale County near the boundary with Liberty Township in Jackson County.[6] From there, the river flows through Jackson, Ingham, Eaton, Clinton, Ionia, Kent, and Ottawa counties before emptying into Lake Michigan. The river runs through the cities of Jackson, Eaton Rapids, Lansing, Grand Ledge, Portland, Ionia, Lowell, Grand Rapids, and Grand Haven.


The Grand River is one of three major tributaries of Lake Michigan, including the Fox River (Green Bay tributary) on the western shore, and Kalamazoo River on the southeastern shore. It falls in elevation from 1260 ft. in the highlands of its headwaters to 577 ft. at its mouth on Lake Michigan. Its waters drain northward through the lake, then south and east through the Great Lakes waterways into the St. Lawrence River, which flows northeasterly into the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the Atlantic Ocean. The Grand River discharges an estimated average 5,049 cubic feet per second (143.0 m3/s).[2]

Its watershed is the second-largest in the state, draining an area of 5,572 square miles (14,430 km2), including 18 counties and 158 townships. Much of the basin is flat, and it contains many swamps and lakes. The basin is composed of four sub-basins: Upper Grand, Lower Grand, Thornapple, and Maple, where the four major tributaries flow: the Flat, Rogue, Thornapple, and Maple rivers.

Tributaries of the river include (beginning near river source and travelling downstream): Portage River, Red Cedar River, Looking Glass River, Maple River, Prairie Creek, Bellamy Creek, Flat River, Thornapple River, Rogue River, Coldbrook Creek, Plaster Creek, Bass River, Buck Creek and Crockery Creek.


There are fourteen dams on the main branch of the Grand River. Some 218 dams were built on its tributaries; these have divided the ecosystem into a set of dysfunctional local streams. 228 of these dams are registered with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

The main branch dams are:[7]


  • Grand River (6th Street)
  • Grand River


  • Lyons (removed in 2016)
  • Grand Ledge
  • Portland
  • North Lansing
  • Webber (hydroelectric)


  • State Street
  • Moore's Park (hydroelectric)
  • Sanitation
  • Smithville (hydroelectric)


  • Liberty Mills
  • Crystal Lake
  • Mirror Lake
  • Lake LeAnn North
  • Lake LeAnn South


It is estimated that 22% of the pesticide usage in the Lake Michigan watershed occurs in the Grand River drainage, which accounts for only 13% of the lake's total watershed. The river is a trout and salmon stream for much of its length.


As the glacial ice receded from what is the central Lower Peninsula of Michigan around 11,000 years ago, the Maple River and lower Grand River served as a drainage channel for the meltwater. The channel ran east to west, emptying into proglacial Lake Chicago, the ancestor of Lake Michigan.

About 2,000 years ago, the Hopewell Indians settled along the Grand River near present-day Grandville. Their presence is still seen in the preserved burial mounds.

By the late 17th century, the Grand River band of Odawa had established villages on the banks of the Grand River at the sites of what would later become several towns and cities, including Grand Rapids, Forest Hills, Lowell, Lyons, and Portland.[8] For these peoples, as well as for later explorers, fur traders and settlers, the river served as an important navigational trade route and cultural hub.[3]

The river formed part of a major demarcation of land ceded by Native Americans enabling U.S. settlers to legally obtain title to land in the area. In the 1821 Treaty of Chicago, the Odawa, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi ceded to the United States all lands in Michigan Territory south of the Grand River, with the exception of several small reservations.

The city of Grand Rapids was built starting in 1826 on the site of a mile long rapids 40 miles upstream from the river's mouth, although these disappeared after the installation of a run-of-river dam in 1866 and five low-rise dams during a river beautification project in 1927.

The Grand was important to the rapid development of West-Central Michigan during the 1850s to 1880s, as logs from Michigan's rich pine and oak forests floated down the Grand River for milling. After the Civil War, many soldiers found jobs as lumberjacks cutting logs and guiding them down the river with pike poles, peaveys, and cant hooks. The men wore bright red flannel, felt clothes, and spiked boots to hold them onto the floating logs; these boots chewed up the wooden sidewalks and flooring of the local bars, leading one hotel owner to supply carpet slippers to all river drivers who entered his hotel. The "jacks" earned $1 to $3 per day and all the "vittles" they could eat, which was usually a considerable amount.

In 1883, heavy rains during June and July brought water levels on the river to record highs. The flooding was bad enough, but the rising water overwhelmed lumbering booms—river enclosures used to sort and organize logs for transport to saw mills—in Lowell, Grand Rapids as well as Grand Haven and Robinson townships. As water rose, the logs escaped the enclosures, much like cattle fleeing stockyards. Soon, Kent and Ottawa counties had a 'stampede', as millions of logs flowed uncontrolled down the river and became trapped in bends or against bridges. The result was a logjam of incredible proportions that clogged the river for 47 miles (10 million Feet of logs trapped in Lowell, 95 million Feet of logs trapped in the "Big Bend" northeast of Grand Rapids, 80 million Feet of logs trapped in Ottawa County).[9]

Grand River Avenue (or Grand River Road) was built early in the settlement of Michigan and ran from the head of navigation on the Grand to downtown Detroit. It formed an important part of an early route between Chicago and Detroit, along with the Grand itself, from Grand Rapids to Grand Haven on Lake Michigan.

A fish ladder installed in 1974 replaced the West Side Water Power Canal headgates removed in 1960. In recent years, Grand Rapids Whitewater, a private nonprofit organization, is working toward restoring the rapids to the river in Grand Rapids. The project, which began in 2019, will remove five dams between Sixth street and Pearl street to restore an 18-foot drop in the Grand River's elevation.[10]

Points of interest

Two of Grand Valley State University's campuses are located on the banks of the Grand River. The main campus in Allendale and the Pew Grand Rapids campus in Grand Rapids both border the river in separate locations miles from each other. The Grand is home to GVSU's rowing team, and the crew boathouse sits parallel to the river on the Allendale campus's north side.[11]

Coast Guard Station Grand Haven is situated near the mouth of the river in Grand Haven. The station gives Grand Haven its nickname Coast Guard City USA.[12]

Parks, docks and recreational facilities

  • Millennium Park (Grand Rapids), the largest park in western Michigan, larger than Central Park, NY


At least 80 bridges cross the river's 250-mile span, with most bridge structures clustered in metropolitan/municipal areas along the river. County road and state highway crossings can be found in less densely populated areas along the waterway:

List of Bridge Crossings
Route Type City County Location
US 31 US Route Grand Haven Ottawa 43°4′30.98″N 86°13′4.74″W
M-231 Michigan Highway 43°2′24.36″N 86°5′30.83″W
68th Avenue County Road 43°0′55.26″N 85°57′20.04″W
I-96 Interstate Highway 42°58′19.60″N 85°52′36.22″W
M-11 (Wilson Avenue SW) Michigan Highway Grandville Kent 42°54′54.34″N 85°46′1.11″W
Kent Trails Grand River Bridge Trail Pedestrian Bridge Wyoming
I-196 Interstate Highway 42°56′50.88″N 85°42′39.27″W
Wealthy Street SW City Street Grand Rapids 42°57′21.99″N 85°40′56.37″W
US 131 US Route 42°57′42.29″N 85°40′39.34″W
Fulton Street West City Street
Pearl Street NW City Street
Bridge Street NW City Street
I-196 Interstate Highway
6th Street NW City Street
Leonard Street NW City Street 42°59′5.06″N 85°40′22.35″W
Ann Street NW City Street
I-96 Interstate Highway
North Park Street NE City Street
Jupiter Avenue NE City Street
M-44 (Northland Drive NE) City Street
Knapp Street County Road 43°0′20.78″N 85°32′33.39″W
M-21 (Fulton Street) Michigan Highway 42°57′19.31″N 85°28′31.36″W
Segwun Avenue City Street Lowell 42°55′30.67″N 85°20′34.47″W
South Division Street City Street 42°55′46.33″N 85°19′53.72″W
North Bridge Street City Street Saranac Ionia 42°55′58.50″N 85°12′48.13″W
Fred Meijer Grand River Valley Trail Pedestrian Bridge Ionia
M-66 Michigan Highway
Cleveland Street City Street
West Bridge Street City Street Lyons 42°58′55.04″N 84°57′0.08″W
David Hwy County Road
West Grand River Avenue City Street Portland 42°52′14.69″N 84°54′10.89″W
West Bridge Street City Street 42°52′11.03″N 84°54′14.71″W
I-96 Interstate Highway 42°51′38.80″N 84°55′2.49″W
Kent Street City Street 42°51′24.59″N 84°54′43.95″W
Charlotte Highway County Road 42°48′55.46″N 84°53′39.74″W
Benton Road County Road Clinton
West State Road County Road
Bridge St City Street Grand Ledge Eaton 42°45′17.07″N 84°44′37.61″W
I-96/ I-69 Interstate Highway
Webster Road City Street
South Waverly Road City Street Lansing Ingham
Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd City Street
North Grand River Avenue City Street
East Cesar E. Chavez Avenue City Street
East Oakland Avenue City Street 42°44′36.2688″N 84°33′0.6078″W
East Saginaw Highway City Street 42°44′27.02″N 84°32′57.88″W
Lansing Riverwalk Grand River Railroad Bridge City Street
East Shiawassee Street City Street
East Michigan Avenue City Street 42°44′0.9024″N 84°32′59.0706″W
East Kalamazoo Street City Street 42°43′47.69″N 84°32′50.91″W
I-496 Interstate Highway 42°43′32.38″N 84°32′44.84″W
South Washington Street City Street
Lansing River Trail Pedestrian Bridge
West Elm Street City Street
M-99 (Northbound) Michigan Highway 42°43′11.69″N 84°34′2.36″W
M-99 (Southbound) Michigan Highway
Island Avenue City Street
Lansing River Trail Pedestrian Bridge
Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard NB City Street 42°43′11.75″N 84°34′2.42″W
Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard SB City Street 42°43′12.95″N 84°34′7.22″W
South Waverly Road City Street Eaton 42°42′33.50″N 84°36′11.01″W
South Creyts Road City Street 42°40′15.36″N 84°38′32.15″W
I-96 Interstate Highway
South Bridge Street City Street Dimondale 42°38′41.02″N 84°39′0.96″W
M-99 (Southbound) Michigan Highway 42°37′52.19″N 84°37′22.96″W
M-99 (Northbound) Michigan Highway
North Waverly Road County Road
West Columbia Road County Road 42°34′55.79″N 84°36′4.85″W
Bunker Highway County Road 42°33′10.88″N 84°37′19.05″W
Petrieville Highway County Road 42°32′8.12″N 84°37′26.00″W
East Knight Street City Street Eaton Rapids 42°30′45.95″N 84°39′14.29″W
State Street City Street 42°30′33.45″N 84°39′17.94″W
Smithville Road County Road
South Waverly Road County Road 42°29′20.05″N 84°36′3.85″W
Gale Road County Road Ingham 42°28′52.01″N 84°34′50.44″W
Kinneville Road County Road 42°27′56.44″N 84°34′5.74″W
South Onondaga Road County Road 42°26′42.76″N 84°33′37.77″W
Old Plank Road County Road Jackson 42°26′31.08″N 84°33′27.59″W
Tompkins Road County Road 42°23′27.41″N 84°32′29.81″W
Rives Eaton Road County Road 42°24′13.57″N 84°29′8.82″W
Jackson and Lansing Railroad Railroad 42°24′15.43″N 84°26′57.62″W
Churchill Road County Road
US 127 US Route 42°24′8.7″N 84°25′45.17″W
Lansing Avenue County Road 42°23′45.24″N 84°24′49.63″W
Berry Road County Road
Maplegrove Road County Road
Parnall Avenue County Road
I-94 Interstate Highway 42°16′18.09″N 84°24′31.36″W
Monroe Street City Street Jackson
North Street City Street
Ganson Street City Street
Pearl Street City Street
Morrell Street City Street

See also


  1. "Grand River". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey, United States Department of the Interior.
  2. United States Environmental Protection Agency. "Watershed Report: Grand River". Archived from the original on 2021-07-02. Retrieved 2021-07-02.
  3. Richmond, Rebecca L. (1906). "The Fur Traders of the Grand River Valley". Publications of the Historical Society of Grand Rapids. Grand Rapids, MI: Historical Society of Grand Rapids. 1: 36. OCLC 13895154.
  4. Siegel, Jane (1993). 'A Snug Little Place': Memories of Ada Michigan, 1821–1930. Ada, MI: Ada Historical Society. p. 18. OCLC 29485380.
  5. "National Hydrography Dataset high-resolution flowline data". The National Map. U.S. Geological Survey. Archived from the original on March 29, 2012. Retrieved May 19, 2011.
  6. "Upper Grand River Water Trail Development Plan, May 2017". Jackson County Drain Commissioner. Retrieved 15 February 2021.
  7. State of Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Grand River Assessment, FR20 June, 2017, Hanshue and Harrington. Table 12
  8. McClurken, James M. (2009). Our People, Our Journey: The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press. pp. 12–13. ISBN 9780870138560.
  9. Judd, Terry (July 12, 2008). "Grand Jam of 1883". Muskegon Chronicle. Retrieved June 30, 2013.
  10. Grand Rapids Whitewater
  11. "Driving Directions, Maps, and Parking Information". Grand Valley State University. Retrieved September 16, 2010.
  12. King, W. W. (1931). "Venereal Disease among Coast Guard Enlisted Personnel during the Fiscal Year 1930". Public Health Reports. 46 (23): 1360–1365. doi:10.2307/4580061. ISSN 0094-6214. JSTOR 4580061. S2CID 86605934.
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