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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 27, 2024

NOTE: MGROW is unable to provide insurance or on-the-water and shore-based safety support this year, so this is a FREE self-supported event. No registration or fee is required and paddlers are solely responsible for their own safety.


MGROW invites dedicated paddlers to paddle the Middle section of the Grand River on the fourth Saturday in April in honor of British explorer Hugh Heward’s legendary journey in 1790.

The Hugh Heward Challenge is open to all paddlers.  Paddle times are rough estimates and depend on river level, wind speed, wind direction, weather conditions, and paddler skill level.  Racers use the lowest time estimate.

Quarter Hugh – 13 miles (approximately 2 to 4 hours or more).  Charlotte Highway bridge to Portland. Recommended launch time is 11:00 a.m. -12:00 noon at Charlotte Highway Bridge to finish at Thompson Field in Portland around 4 p.m.


Half Hugh – 25 miles (approximately 4 to 7 hours or more).  Grand Ledge to Portland.  Recommended launch time is 9:00-10:00 a.m. at the dam in Fitzgerald Park, Grand Ledge to finish at Thompson Field in Portland around 4 p.m. (Please bring $3- $5 cash to support Grand Ledge parks by paying the entry fee.)


Full Hugh – 50 miles (approximately 8 to 12 hours or more). Dimondale to Portland. Recommended launch time is 7-8 a.m. at Danford Island Park or Lions Park in Dimondale to finish at Thompson Field in Portland around 4 p.m. No overnight camping in Dimondale this year.

NOTE: the Full Hugh is recommended for experienced paddlers only. There are several hazards between Dimondale and Fitzgerald Park, the halfway point, including but not limited to:

  • Full or partial construction boom blockage at the I-96 overpass

  • Moores Dam Portage

  • Old Town Dam portage

  • Railroad trestle near MLK Blvd

  • Takeout dock at Fitzgerald Park directly above the Grand Ledge Dam portage

There may be other hazards – river conditions can change quickly. Paddle safely and be alert.

Route Map and Safety Card here.

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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