Get Out: Chillin' On A River
Written by Allison Kay Bannister. Photo: Pine River Paddlesports. Courtesy of Jasmine Flintoff


A friend and member of my group often says, “It’s either a good time or a good story.” (Hi, Sue!) In the case of winter rafting with Pine River Paddlesports, it was both. When I first suggested this activity to my group in early 2023, many of them balked. 

Still, eight of us ended up going in February, and, after proving the adventure to be both dry and drama free, a whopping eighteen people joined this year. We not only had a blast, we earned some bragging rights, given that it does, at first notion, seem like a crazy thing to do.

But, this is no polar plunge or white-knuckle, raging-rapids expedition. It’s more of a serene meandering on the winding Pine River in Luther, Michigan, which is nationally recognized as a “Wild and Scenic River.” More emphasis on “scenic” in this instance. The trip they offer lasts a little over an hour, and, if it’s snowed recently, it’s even more charming. If you’re shaking your head right now, just hear me out.    

First, the boats are rigid inflatables that sit high above the water’s surface. They’re sturdy, and unlike other watercraft, they would be pretty difficult to flip. In all their years of hosting winter rafting, the PRPS team say they’ve never had anyone fall in. Can confirm; our group did not break their streak.

Second, if you dress properly—which is true for any outdoor winter activity—it’s pretty easy to just enjoy yourself. Last year, it was below 30 degrees, so lots of layers were required. This year, it was in the mid 40s, and since we were similarly dressed as the year before, a few of us actually got warm.

With our size group, we needed four rafts. The first held four passengers and a guide, who steered from the rear. The remaining boats had 4-5 people in each, with two front rowers and an experienced paddler in back. Those with oars were responsible for keeping the boat moving and headed forward. This did not happen a lot of the time, and we all got a good laugh when we found ourselves spinning like the Mad Tea Party ride or getting stuck on a protruding rock. I will admit that most of these shenanigans did seem to happen with the raft I was on. Hmm! 

Normally, we’d just pass right over these obstacles, but the river was running well below average. The sunshine, while welcomed, cast shadows on the water, too, which made it harder to distinguish dark reflections from large boulders—until we were on top of them! Even with these mishaps, which were only minor, it was incredibly entertaining. And, if there were any egos at the onset of the trip, they were quickly humbled, allowing us all to just relax, have fun, and take any setbacks in stride.   

All of us managed to stick the landing at our end point, gracefully hitting the shore like pros. Most chose to hike the Silver Creek Pathway back to our cars, and that was equally picturesque.

Thinking of trying this? I have two words for you: Do. It.

Even if it’s getting too late for snow this year (jinx!) you can plan for fall or later. Or, if warmer weather is more your speed, they also rent kayaks, canoes, rafts, and SUPs in summer for both the Pine and Big Manistee rivers, and they have camping options, too. Check it all out at