Winding through Baraga and Houghton County, the Sturgeon River is a large, well-known river system. Driving from Marquette to Houghton on US-41 brings drivers over the river twice, first at Canyon River Falls and then at the Sturgeon River Sloughs. These two spots, combined with the Sturgeon River Gorge, are popular hiking and adventuring locations for tourists and locals alike.
One of the most surprising facts about this river is the location of its headwaters near Herman, MI. In fact, the Silver River of Baraga County and Sturgeon River share the same system of swamps and lakes, draining the land equally. However, while the Silver River cuts straight north to Lake Superior, the Sturgeon heads southwards along the Tama Siding Line along a series of small drops, rapids, and swamps before entering a sheered canyon to the west.
The headwaters have few significant features until Canyon River Falls. There are a few small 'waterfalls', and a tall bluff on the northern bank after the river starts to head west. Two creeks, Tioga River and an unnamed tributary, that have named drops along them, but Sturgeon River itself is very swampy and slow-moving. After a last jumble of rapids, the river flows under US-41 into a slate canyon with sheer walls and deep pools. A roadside park with a trail to the three main waterfalls is also here, though most people are content after visiting the uppermost drop.
After the canyon, the river quickly peters out into a swampy river valley and heads further south towards Sidnaw and Mt Kallio before turning north. Another named series of drops, Tibbet's Falls, is located near Watton, though it is difficult to find and more of a rapids then waterfall. After the Sturgeon River passes Mt Kallio it starts to show traits of a mature river, with huge twists and oxbow lakes located in the midst of a deep river valley. Also known as the Sturgeon River Gorge, the valley is sandy, forested, and a remote treasure of the Baraga Plains.
With the exception of Sturgeon River Falls, an impressive drop over slabs of basaltic rock, the river continues to wind slowly north with few rapids. Prickett Dam is the only dammed section and is primarily used to control flooding further downstream. The backwater is filled with floating logs making recreational use of the lake all but impossible. After exiting the basin, the gorge begins to disappear leaving the river to meander slowly towards its mouth at the Sturgeon River Sloughs at Chassell.
There are two interesting tributaries near the river's end. West Branch Sturgeon River drains a series of swamps located deep in the Ottawa National Forest and has several waterfalls, including the famous and nonexistent Vista Falls, along its route. Due to this river's proximity to the Ontonagon watershed, the waterfalls and general river bed is very similar to an Ontonagon River tributary. The other river is the Otter River, which flows into Otter Lake, a popular fishing and recreational lake just east of Tapiola, MI.
The Sturgeon River has several recreational uses along its route, including hiking, camping, and fishing. To visit Canyon River Falls, park at the roadside park south of Alberta, MI along US-41. The Sturgeon River Gorge and Falls is best visited from a small parking spot near the intersection of Sturgeon Gorge Road and Forest 2270 (Silver Mountain, an excellent peak with stairs to its peak, is a few miles north on 2270). Public access to Otter Lake is just off of Otter Lake-Tapiola Road, at the end of Manninen Road. The Sloughs is also off of US-41, a few miles south of Chassell.