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A Pretty Lake to Paddle & Portage

Editor’s Note: Our newest map and the first in our series; Classic Paddles of Michigan, covers the Pretty Lake Complex in Luce County in the eastern Upper Peninsula. Here is Jim DuFresne’s timely feature on it. You can order the new map from our eshop.

By Jim DuFresne

It was a calm evening after a late spring in the land of the Big Two Hearted River, a deadly combination that leads to swarms of mosquitoes and black flies following me out on the lake.

I was trying to slip a 4X tippet into the No. 12 dry fly. I’d stop, whack a half dozen mosquitoes from the back of my neck and then spear that eyelet again with the tippet. After three unsuccessful attempts, I dropped the fly line in frustration and grabbed that bottle of Muskoil to douse my head with chemicals. That’s when I saw the loons.

A pair sat perfectly still on the smooth surface, not more than 20 yards away from my canoe. We eyed each other for a few seconds, and then they disappeared into the lake only to suddenly reappear on the other side of the boat.

They played this game of hide-and-seek for about five minutes before vanishing for good. The trout suddenly seemed unimportant. I covered myself with enough DEET to melt a 10-pound-test line and then settled back in the canoe to simply enjoy this serene little body of water they call Pretty Lake.

It is, even when the bugs are out.

“I never get anything big from those lakes, I think 14 inches is the longest trout I have ever caught,” said Bruce Richards, the former head engineer for Scientific Anglers of Midland who has fished and paddled the area for years. “But it’s really scenic, isn’t it? Pretty Lake is one of my favorite areas to fish in the Upper Peninsula.”

Located in Lake Superior State Forest, 27 miles northwest of Newberry in Luce County, Pretty Lake Complex is a designated High Conservation Value Area that stretches across 2,200 acres including the North Branch of the Two Hearted River.

The centerpiece of this non-motorized tract is nine lakes connected by a system of trails and short portages. These small lakes – the largest is only 66 acres – are nestled in a forest of white pine, spruce, cedar and poplar trees. Scattered through the area are marshes, wetlands and bogs as there is little elevation here.

The portages are easy and short; most are under 100 yards in length. Two Lakes – Pretty and Pratt – can be reached by a vehicle and serve as entry points. The rest of the lakes are explored either by hiking or paddling as off-road vehicles, outboard motors, or even trolling motors are banned in the complex.

A young paddler pulls his boat across a portage at Pretty Lake Complex, a non-motorized area in the Upper Peninsula.

The majority of visitors enter the quiet area from Pretty Lake State Forest Campground, a rustic facility of 18 sites with a small day-use area and a carry-in boat launch. The most charming places to pitch a tent, however, are the eight walk-in/paddle-in campsites on the shores of Beaverhouse Lake and Camp Eight Lake.

There are more than 3 miles of trail in the complex that connects the Pretty Lake campground to the rest of the lakes and the backcountry campsites. The hiking is easy and the trails, most of them old two-tracks, are well marked. But they can be wet or even a muddy quagmire in the spring or after heavy rain. Easy, level hiking does have its price.

But it’s better to arrive with a canoe for this is a paddler’s paradise that is especially well suited for a family’s first overnight canoe trip. The lakes are calm, the portages are short, the setting wilderness-like.

From the Pretty Lake campground, it’s a quick paddle across the 47-acre lake. If your canoe is light or the water high, you can slip into Brush Lake through a small stream at the southwest corner.

If not, then it’s a 140-foot portage. Brush Lake is even smaller at 9 acres, and from its west side you can carry or even pull your canoe to Camp Eight Lake. Two short portages and 15 minutes of paddling, and you have reached the heart of this quiet area.

Camp Eight is the largest lake at 66 acres and serves as a watery crossroads, providing access to most of the lakes in the system. To the south is Long Lake, while to the west is Bullhead and Beaverhouse lakes and to the north Deer Lake.

A backcountry campsite at Pretty Lake Complex.

Also, arrive with a fly rod. Pretty Lake Complex offers a quality fishing experience thanks to special regulations and the stocking efforts by the DNR Fisheries Division. Beaverhouse has largemouth bass along with walleye but the majority of the lakes are managed for splake, brook trout and rainbows.

It’s best to bring a tent and plan to spend a night or two. The magic of this small chain of lakes suddenly appears on calm evenings in the summer when you can watch small groups of trout rise to the surface as they follow the shoreline to feed.

And finally, pack lots of bug dope. This little bit of heaven can be hell when the black flies are out.

Camping & Additional Information

Regardless of where you camp – Pretty Lake or at one of the eight backcountry campsites – you need to register and pay a nightly fee at the state forest campground. Camping is first-come-first-serve as reservations are accepted. In the backcountry you must stay at a numbered site and cannot disperse camp elsewhere in the complex.  Backcountry sites feature vault toilets, fire rings and picnic tables.

For more information contact or stop at the Newberry DNR Customer Service Center, 5100 M-123, Newberry; 906-293-5131.

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