The White River is located in Western Michigan of the Lower Peninsula of the U.S. state of Michigan. The White River rises from the extensive Oxford Swamp in north central Newaygo County and flows out into an upland area. The rural town of Hesperia borders the river here.
Continuing onward, the White River flows in a southwesterly direction through the southern section of Manistee National Forest. The river passes through Oceana County and into Muskegon County and White Lake. The lake and river discharge into Lake Michigan, near the towns of Whitehall and Montague.
The White River system drains a surface area of approximately 300,000 acres (1,200 km²) and includes about 253 miles (407 km) of streams. A wetland river, it is bordered by ooze for much of its length. The swampy conditions make the river and its tributaries an ideal living area for beaver and other wetland small game. During the fur trade era, trappers found the White River was one of the most productive rivers in lower Michigan. Later, loggers harvested old-growth timber along the river. The timbers were floated down to now-vanished sawmills in Montague and Whitehall.
The White river is popular with anglers for salmon, steelhead and trout. Trout fishing slows a bit once the heat of summer settles in, especially a couple miles below the Hesperia dam. Fall steelhead fishing can be either very good or very slow, it’s simply “that kind” of river, with very little middle ground for some reason. Spring steelhead and fall salmon bring anglers to the water below the Hesperia dam due to it being a rather small and wading friendly river system.
Water flow data for White River – Whitehall, MI
White River Map
White River Map from headwaters to Whitehall
Lumbering was the reason people originally came to the area and like other settlements, Hesperia, a part of Michigan’s rich lumbering history, was primarily a logging town through the 1800’s. The White River, flowing through Hesperia, was used to move logs from forests to sawmills in the area.
Daniel Weaver inspired the movement to establish a village on the banks of the White River where Oceana and Newaygo County met. Weaver had earlier settled and developed Fremont (originally known as Weaverville), and eventually moved his family to what is today, the Village of Hesperia. He was instrumental in creating a thriving logging town.
Weaver was attracted to the area by the power of the White River that was important for his interest in operating a sawmill closer to the White River so he would not need to haul the logs to the sawmill he owned in Fremont. When he visited the store owned by Joseph Sweet near the Michigan Avenue Bridge in 1865, he found level land and good waterpower. It was the building of a dam on the White River that spurred the growth of the village and led to its continued existence. The dam eventually provided electrical power to the village around 1911.
Weaver’s, son-in-law, Thaddeus Waters, began laying out the town in 1866 with assistance from William Hoskins, who had erected the first permanent home in the settlement in 1858. John P. Cook, joined the developing community and found the plat less than acceptable so he redrafted the layout with Waters to the present plat. They decided to call the village “New Ocea”. This was later changed to “Hesperia”. Cook, Weaver, and Rowland sections were added later.
Many of the settlements in Newaygo and Oceana Counties came and went as the forests were cleared of trees during the lumbering age in Michigan. What remained through all the years was the White River, the dam and a community of enterprising people. Logging and sawmills, which still operate yet today in the area, were replaced in a large part with agriculture and related commerce. The Hesperia Dam, which was it is believed to have been constructed around 1860, eventually brought to the Hesperia area another significant attraction, bountiful sport fishing.
Guide Services – Hesperia, MI