Sylvania Wilderness protects its assets well—36 crystalline glacial lakes hidden among thick stands of massive, old-growth trees. For anglers who dream of landing that once-in-a-lifetime smallmouth bass, for paddlers who yearn to glide across deep, quiet waters and along untrammeled shoreline, for hikers who wish to travel under a towering canopy of trees and hear nothing more than the haunting whistle of a loon, Sylvania can be a truly magical place.
One of three wilderness areas within the national forest, Sylvania stretches across 18,300 acres near Watersmeet, an area roughly bordered by U.S. 2 to the north, U.S. 45 to the east, and the Wisconsin border to the south. The adjacent Sylvania Recreation Area acts as a buffer, an additional 3,000 acres of lakes and woodlands with a few developed services like a drive-in campground, nice beach, flush toilets, and running water.
Once viewed as just another tract of good timber, Sylvania’s fate turned in the late 1890s, when a lumberman who purchased 80 acres near the south end of Clark Lake decided it was too lovely to cut, and instead kept it as his personal fishing retreat. He invited his wealthy buddies—some of them executives of U.S. Steel—who also were captivated by the land. Together, they purchased several thousand additional acres and formed the private Sylvania Club.
Begin a trip to Sylvania with a call or visit to the Ottawa Visitors Center (906/358-4724, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Wed.–Sat.), at the intersection of U.S. 2 and U.S. 45 in Watersmeet. The staff can help you with maps, regulations, campsite reservations, and other information. Sylvania’s rules can be quite unique—especially fishing regulations—so take time to ask questions and read through the materials rangers provide. To reach Sylvania itself, follow U.S. 2 west about four miles from the visitors center and turn south on Thousand Island Lake Road. Travel about four miles, following signs to reach the entrance building. All visitors are required to register upon arrival.
The entrance sits in the recreation area, near the drive-in campground on Clark Lake. If you intend to travel into the wilderness area, plan on treating your own water; you’ll find water pumps only in the recreation area. Cookstoves are highly encouraged, too, to lessen the number of feet tramping through the forest in search of dead wood. During summer months, make sure you also have ample bug dope or, better yet, a head net to combat mosquitoes and black flies.
by Laura Martone from Moon Michigan, 3rd Edition, © Avalon Travel