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For years I’ve heard how much fun it is to paddle the Sandusky River. Most people know this river an excellent fishing river and hundreds can be found wading this river in Fremont, OH below the Baldville Dam during the spring walleye spawn. While the Sandusky River doesn’t actually flow through Sandusky, OH, it eventually flows into Sandusky Bay.
This winding, shallow, rocky river is a perfect day-trip destination. It has a high-banked shoreline, it’s winding, is fast moving at high water and crosses under several bridges. There are several possible trips that one can take on the Sandusky. This report covers the trip from below Tinkers Dam in Tiffin, OH to Wolf Creek Park in Fremont, OH. This trip covers about 15 miles.
Other trips can be run between Upper Sandusky, OH. and Tiffin, OH. Paddling the Sandusky below Tinkers Dam in Tiffin is reliant on a little help from Mother Nature. Regular paddlers suggest the minimum flow to paddle the Sandusky is 1500 cfs and the most would be 10,000 cfs. Some have also described Class III conditions at the top end of that scale. On this trip I launched at about 1800 cfs and the river was quickly lowering as the day went on.
Launching is easy from the Pioneer Mill Restaurant at the base of Tinkers Dam. Having dropped a shuttle vehicle earlier that morning at Wolf Creek Park, near Fremont I was ready to put some miles under my belt. Temps were in the mid 60’s and warm for mid spring and the water temps we’re close behind topping out at 58 degrees. Being early morning, the parking lot at the Pioneer Mill Restaurant was empty and access to the river was easy. I shared the shoreline with several early morning fishermen and river wanders sipping on their coffee.
As the morning haze continued to rise, I slipped into the Sandusky and was quickly reminded how powerful even small waterfalls can be. The sound was deafening and I paused in an eddy to take in the water crashing over the edge of the dam. Turning my perception eclipse down river, I played in several eddies and practiced my ferries in the upper part of the river below the dam. Most northwest Ohio rivers are mostly muddy and low gradient, but below Tinkers Dam, the Sandusky picks up steam and is a characterized by rocky shelves that create fun lines to pick your way down stream. There are several islands near the put-in and there are many different channels you can choose to run. Just below one of the larger islands there is a ledge on river right that offers some nice surfing waves at higher water.
Dropping below the islands is part of a washed out dam below the Huss St. Bridge. At low water there are some fun eddies to play in and at high water the waves increase to II+III size waves. Be careful because the current can be tricky here. There are also some jagged rocks and broken pieces of dam that could be dangerous. At high water it is advised that you scout this run from the bridge above.
I blasted through the Huss St. Rapids and continued to flow down the river into a wider rocky section that will really challenge your river reading ability. Since the water was pretty shallow, picking a line was harder and I know I left some plastic on some rocks. Some of the locals call this part of the river “fire-ball” because it looks like a big white turbulent “fire-ball” as you blast through. Even in my 17-foot boat, I could surf and play for a bit. There are several surfing and ferrying opportunities in this section of river and it is very visible from the roads above.
The Sandusky rounds a bend and flows past one of several hunting clubs in the area there are some fun surfing rapids that flow over two very small low head dams. I played for a while and enjoyed the high banks and the old buildings of the club overhead. There are eagles nests in this area (below county road 38) and it is recommended that you don’t stay very long in this spot. I didn’t see any eagles in this section of the river, but knowing they were around foreshadowed an encounter later in the day.
As you get further from Tiffin the Sandusky gets deeper and the banks get higher, the current slows and the river begins to wind through prime northwest Ohio farmland. You’ll pass Old Fort, OH and under an awesome turn of the century bridge. I pulled out near Old Fort for a stretch of the legs and for a quick snack to revived the energy reserves. The river continues to wind and flow though pretty much uninhabited land and farmland until about mile 11 of the 15-mile trip. I hit an unexpected section of rapids in a pretty secluded area. It was a fun and surprising change of scenery after flowing over fairly uneventful water over the past few miles. I played and darted out of eddies for a half hour before I decided to peel out and continue on my trip.
I also had the opportunity to view a bald eagle cruising above its Volkswagen sized nest. It was amazing to watch this gigantic bird circle and try to draw my attention away from the nest. Realizing that I was an unwelcome guest, I didn’t waste any time moving on down river. Somehow, I could still feel like I was being watched as I rounded a bend and out of sight.
The last stretch home was all-out, straight forward paddling. The river begins to back-up because of the Baldville Dam above Freemont and the river widens and the current becomes more slack. Cottages start to dot the shoreline and you can tell you’re getting closer to civilization.
The take out is easy and well marked. Several years ago they put in a new boat launch ramp at Wolf Creek Park and it makes for an easy landing. Easy access to parking and boat loading capped another great day on the water. Just down river from Wolf Creek Park is the Broken Paddle canoe livery. It offers camping and canoe rentals for visitors.
To the put-in at the Pioneer Mill Restaurant continue into Tiffin on Route 53, in Tiffin turn left on route 100 (at the Dairy Mart, cross the Sandusky river and right before you enter downtown Tiffin, turn left on Riverside Drive. If you use mapquest or yahoo maps. The address for the Pioneer Mill Restaurant is 255 Riverside Dr. Tiffin, OH 44883. You can find directions easily online.
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