Hugh Heward Challenge


The Hugh Heward is an annual paddling event on the Grand River and is open to all paddlers. The event includes three distances- experienced paddlers may prefer the “Full Hugh,” a 50-mile route; recreational paddlers may prefer a shorter route: the 25-mile “Half Hugh” or the 13-mile “Quarter Hugh.”

All three routes finish at Thompson Field in Portland, Michigan, the site of the Verlen Kruger Memorial. The event includes great company with fellow paddlers and food. Any food money collected in excess of expenses will support the maintenance of the Verlen Kruger Memorial.

The annual presentation of the Jim Woodruff Award takes place at the event as well. This award is presented to a paddler for outstanding behind the scenes contribution to the Grand River and the paddling community.

See you in 2018 on April 28, 2018! Want to stay up-to-date with the Hugh Heward? Like the event on Facebook! 

Routes and Launch Times

Check-in begins 30 minutes before published launch times. Paddle times are rough estimates and depend on river level, wind speed/direction, weather conditions, and paddler skill level.

  • Full Hugh: 50 miles (approx. 10-12 hours or more). Dimondale to Portland, MI. Launch 7-9 a.m. at Lions Park in Dimondale; finish at Thompson Field in Portland. Camping available in Dimondale at Lions Park the night before launch. Map to Lions Park, Dimondale, MI
  • Half Hugh: 25 miles (approx. 5-7 hours or more). Grand Ledge to Portland, MI. Launch 9-11 a.m. at dam in Fitzgerald Park, Grand Ledge; finish at Thompson Field in Portland. Parking pass available for those launching at Fitzgerald Park. Map to Fitzgerald Park, Grand Ledge, MI
  • Quarter Hugh – 13 miles (approx. 2-4 hours or more). Launch 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. Launch at Charlotte Highway Bridge; finish at Thompson Field in Portland. Map to Charlotte Highway Bridge launch site

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

Helpful Hugh Hint: Make arrangements in advance for car spotting. Drop your gear at the launch with a trusted person, drive to the finish, park your car, and get a ride back to the launch. Arrange car spotting yourself or a through third-party vendor, such as Trailspotters.

Please review the route map and safety card. All paddlers must sign the waiver of liability form at check-in.

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 birch-bark 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.