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Hugh Heward Challenge

Recreate history on the Grand River!

The Hugh Heward Challenge

on the Grand River in Mid-Michigan

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Pre-registration is now closed. Walk-up the day of the event is $20 cash only


The Hugh Heward Challenge is an annual paddling event on the Grand River and is open to all paddlers. The event includes three distances:

  • experienced paddlers and racers may prefer the “Full Hugh,” a 50-mile route;

  • recreational paddlers are strongly advised to choose the shorter routes: the 25-mile “Half Hugh” or the 13-mile “Quarter Hugh.”

  • Paddle times are rough estimates and depend on river level, wind speed/direction, weather conditions, and paddler skill level. Racers use the lowest time estimate.

Full Hugh – 50 miles (approx. 8-12 hours or more, 3 portages). Dimondale to Portland. Launch 6-9 a.m. at Lions Park in Dimondale; finish at Thompson Field in Portland. Camping available in Dimondale at Lions Park the night before launch. We recommend Full Hugh paddlers have advanced skills, canoe racing, or multi-day expedition experience and paddle in a racing canoe, tandem canoe, or sea kayak 14 feet or longer. Please reach out to us on our contact form if you have questions.

Half Hugh – 25 miles (approx. 4-7 hours or more). Grand Ledge to Portland. Launch 9-10 a.m. at dam in Fitzgerald Park, Grand Ledge; finish at Thompson Field in Portland. Please bring $3-$5 cash to support Grand Ledge Parks by paying the entry fee.

Quarter Hugh – 13 miles (approx. 2-4 hours or more). Launch 11 a.m.-12 noon at Charlotte Highway Bridge; finish at Thompson Field in Portland. Map to Charlotte Highway Bridge south of Portland

All three routes finish at Thompson Field in Portland, Michigan, the site of the Verlen Kruger Memorial.


Want to stay up-to-date with the Hugh Heward? Like the event on Facebook!

Detailed route map and safety card

Online map of the Middle Grand River Water Trail

The History of the Hugh Heward Challenge

This annual paddling event reenacts a one-day, 50-mile sprint down the Grand River in Mid-Michigan by British fur trader Hugh Heward and his French-Canadian crew in two birchbark canoes on April 24, 1790.

In the run-up to Grand River Expedition 2000, topologist and historian Jim Woodruff challenged his friend and canoeing legend Verlen Kruger—and the entire mid-Michigan paddling community—to match Heward’s feat. Kruger accepted the challenge and invited others to join; the Hugh Heward Challenge was born.

Read the history of Hugh Heward and his entire journey in Jim Woodruff’s paper, Across Lower Michigan by Canoe, 1790.

Questions? Contact us!

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