Argo Cascades: Wednesday Activity Review
For years I have heard of the Argo Cascades for tubing or kayaking but I have to admit I didn’t even know where along the Huron River they were. Tubing the Argo Cascades was on our Summer 2017 Bucket List. In June 2017, friends invited my daughter and I to join them tubing. They provided great guidance for our first trip. We returned two more times that summer and more in the years since.
Ad: Video and photos shot with Campark ACT74.
About the Argo Cacades
The Argo Cascades are a man-made spillway around the dam on the Huron River. A series of 9 drops and pools make up the Cascades. The Cascades opened in May 2012. The Argo Cascades are open to tubes, rafts, and kayaks.
Before our first trip, I had heard of the Argo Cascades, but had no idea where they actually were. The Argo Cascades start near the Argo Canoe Livery (1055 Longshore Drive). The entrance to the cascades is near the railroad bridge that crosses over Main St and the Huron River between M-14 and Depot St. The Cascades end near the Broadway Bridge over the Huron River. I always thought the Cascades were further up river.
Tubing on the Argo Cascades
We had a great time tubing the Argo Cascades. Personally, I was surprised how much work it was. While there is a current through the cascades, it is easy to drift out of the current and drift to the sides of the pools. Returning to the current requires paddling and kicking or hopping out of your tube. My daughter prefers the hopping partially in and out of the tube, while I prefer to paddle/kick my way back to the current.
On our first trip, we went down the Cascades 3 times. On our second trip, we stopped after two trips since dark clouds were rolling in. Each trip is roughly 30-40 minutes based on how often you drift out of the current and how quickly you navigate back to the current.
Parking for Argo Cascades
Argo Park has a small parking lot, but spaces can usually be found on weekdays. I have visited several weekday afternoons in summer 2018 and found parking up the hill at the lot on Longshore. Use the trail to walk down to the Cascades since Longshore is very narrow.
If you are visiting in the evening or on a weekend, the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center is a great place to park. The lots are Blue lots from 6a-5p Monday-Friday. Since we visited on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings, we parked in UM lot M87 at the corner of Broadway & Wall. I have also driven my husband to work and used his Blue Permit to park on weekdays. From there, we crossed Broadway at the traffic light with Pontiac Trail. There is an entrance to the Argo Cascades a short walk north on Pontiac Trail. (Note, I made the map below for my husband telling him where to park after work – do not park where noted without the appropriate UM permit unless it is after hours).
Tube rentals are available from the Argo Canoe Livery. Rentals cost $10/tube for 2 hours. Rental tubes must stay in the Cascades. One person per tube, minimum ages 8 and above.
The Argo Canoe Livery is open 9a-8p from Memorial Day through Labor Day. From Labor Day through October 8, they are open from 10a-7p on weekends only. The last tube rental is 2 hours before the livery closes.
Personal tubes are allowed on the Argo Cascades. Purchasing your own tubes is a more economical choice if you plan to do it more than once or twice. With your own tube, you can continue beyond the Cascades into the Huron River. Exit points are Island Park, Nichols Arboretum, and Furstenburg Nature Area. You cannot tube all the way to Gallup Park as the last one mile does not have a strong enough current.
There is no minimum age for personal tubes. Although, I recommend the Argo Cascades for children who can swim. For younger children, I would recommend a double tube or tubes that can be linked. I have a knack for drifting out of the current, so my daughter was frequently a pool or two ahead of me. With a double or linked tube, you will be guaranteed to stay with your children.
There is no place to inflate personal tubes at Argo Cascades. With a small SUV, I cannot fit 3 inflated tubes in the back of the car. We have an electric pump that I used to partially inflate the tubes at home (one about 80%, one about 50%). Then, I purchased a pump that is powered by a car battery to inflate them on site. Battery powered or rechargeable pumps are also available. If you use a pump that is powered by your vehicle battery, I recommend leaving the engine running so you don’t drain your battery. This happened to my friend on our first visit.
What to Wear
You will get wet, so wear swim attire. I wore a t-shirt over my suit.
Water shoes or waterproof sandals with straps are a must! Shoes (non-flip-flops) are required if you are renting tubes, but are optional if you are bringing your own tubes. We forgot ours on one visit and went barefoot. Aside from rocky terrain under the water, the path from the cascade exit to the path along the cascades is tiny bits of gravel. My daughter compared it to stepping on LEGO pieces. The asphalt path also gets extremely hot. My feet were burning and I had to take breaks when there was grass.
Of course being on the water in the summer, sun screen is a must.
Life jackets are recommended. I will admit that we do not wear them. I especially recommend them for children and weak swimmers.
The first two times we went to Argo Cascades we had take-out dinner from Zingermans. I called in our order in advance for curbside pickup. Then, it was just a couple of blocks to the Kellogg Eye Center parking lot. If you park at Kellogg, Riverside Park is behind the building and a short walk from the parking lot. Check out our Riverside Park Playground Profile. We had a cooler with fruit, drinks, and room for leftovers. Longshore Park is also a good choice for a picnic if you park at the Cascades.
There are also picnic benches at the Argo livery that would be good for a picnic.
In August 2019, we decided to try floating to Island Park on a Saturday evening. We parked one car at Kellogg and one car at Island Park. We did the Cascades 4x, and on the last run exited to the river and continued to Island Park where we had a picnic dinner waiting in the car. Check out our Island Park playground review.
We left all of our valuables locked in our car including our phones. Our one challenge was the car key. With newer cars, we have the proximity sensor in our key fobs with an integrated key. Our key detaches from the fob and I attached it to my swim suit strap. Make sure it is secure, you don’t want to lose it at the bottom of the cascades.
Unfortunately, my car can be a little too determined to prevent me from locking my key in the car and refuses to lock when the fob is in the car. When getting my car serviced, I asked them for advice. They recommended placing it in the gas compartment since it can only be opened by a lever inside the car.
Argo Cascades can get very crowded on hot weekends. I have heard it described as tube to tube. It is less crowded in the evenings. The livery rents tubes until 6p (8p closing time). Personal tubes are allowed until dark. We have started our weekend tubing adventures after 6p. While it wasn’t crowded to start, it definitely got even less crowded as the evening progressed. It has also been manageable on weekday afternoons.
My experience has also been that there are less kayaks in the cascades in the evening than during the daytime when there are river trips. We definitely prefer tubing with less kayaks. The last kayak rental for the river trip is at 4p, although we still saw kayaks in the cascades until almost 6p.