Pigeon River State Forest
Guide

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Introduction

The Pigeon River Country State Forest is an extensive 105,049-acre area located a short distance north of Gaylord. It spreads along the high central plateau of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. The forest is teeming with wildlife, ATV tracks, trails, and lakes brimming with trouts and campgrounds for people to enjoy. The campgrounds have limited rustic facilities available for campers to relax in between the many isolated lakes and quiet river bends.

If you are a fan of hiking, camping, swimming, fishing, boating, and wildlife watching, then this is the state park for you. Grab your campervan, your RV, or your tent set up, and head on to one of the eight campsites in the Pigeon River Country State Forest. The park is particularly well known for it's extensive and precious wildlife species. If you are lucky enough, you will be able to see a black bear, bobcat, osprey, bald eagle, elk, and more!

This astonishing nature reserve gained it's name from the Pigeon River that frequently had large flocks of passenger pigeons passing over head in the 1880s. In 1970, a large oil and gas deposit was discovered in this area. The Michigan Natural State Fund was developed to help preserve the area, and since then has purchased over 13,000 acres of privately owned land to expand the forest boundary.

RV Rentals in Pigeon River State Forest

Transportation in Pigeon River State Forest

Driving

This enormous state forest is packed with roads and dirt trails spread over 100,000 acres of land. The closest town is Vanderbilt which is a 20-minute drive from the center of the Pigeon River State Forest Park. There you will be able to get any supplies you need for your camping trip. Otherwise the State Park has minimal facilities, with most of the campsites considered primitive and rustic. The roads are well kept, with plenty of parking spaces.

Parking

Public Transport

Campgrounds and parking in Pigeon River State Forest

Campsites in Pigeon River State Forest

Reservations camping

Elk Hill

This campground is specifically designed for horseback riding enthusiasts since you can bring your horse along. There are ten campsites that allow horse camping. Make sure to follow all posts regulations so that your horse does not disturb the scenic landscape.

First-come first-served

Town Corner Lake Campground

Are you looking for a quiet campsite with beautiful views? The Town Corner Lake Campground has 12 secluded campsites away from the noise of busy roads. Again, there are minimal facilities featuring vault toilets and potable water. It is a fantastic spot to see wildlife and catch your first glimpse of an elk or wild turkey. There is a Pathway spur that connects this campground to the High Country Pathway.

Round Lake Campground

There are ten sites which give you a beautiful view of Round Lake surrounded by tall red and white pines. There is a thick layer of needles below your feet which makes a natural mattress when you pitch your tent. While Round Lake is not a great destination for sport fishing, it is a great spot to cool off or for mini anglers to try their luck with their first hook and line.

Pine Grove Camping

Located among a beautiful array of mature white and red pine, pine grove camping is a little oasis in the forest. There are six remote campsites available and the perfect destination for people looking to be truly removed from society. You will get your solitude from your neighbors and the world in this stunning natural campground.

Rigeon River Campground

One mile down from the Forest Headquarters, you will find this campground located on the banks of the Pigeon River. There are 19 sites available right near the fast flowing river. This campground is particularly beloved by fishermen, as they can fish straight off the bank for brown, rainbow, and brook trout. There are minimal facilities and no hookups available.

Pigeon Bridge Campground

This campground is located near the bridge which crosses the Pigeon River near the Sturgeon Valley. There are ten campsites available from where visitors can visit for hiking, cross-country skiing, and fishing in the river. This place is perfect for large camping rigs, campervans, and big RVs. There is a hand pump available on-site to fill your water.

Pickerel Lake Campground

The Pickerel Lake Campground is the largest and most popular campground. Families especially flock to this one, since there are 39 sites right on the shore of Pickerel Lake. There is a great spot for swimming, a boat launching site, picnicking areas and hiking trails leaving straight from the campground. There are electric campsites available, however, like all other campgrounds in the Pigeon River Country State Forest, it is first-come, first-served.

Dispersed Camping

The campsites located in the state forest are all available at a first-come, first-served basis. The only campground which can be booked in advance is the Elk Hill Equestrian campground. All campsites have fire rings, picnic tables, vault toilets, and potable water. You can self register once you arrive at each of the campgrounds.

There are areas where you can camp with no fees, however, there are several conditions. There are signs that say no camping, and no camping is permitted within a mile of a designated state forest campground. You must also be a minimum of 600 feet from posted sink hole lakes. Make sure to post your camp registration card at your campsite so the rangers know you have registered.

Alternate camping

Seasonal activities in Pigeon River State Forest

In-Season

Fishing

If you are a fan of fishing, you will love the opportunities available at both Pickerel Lake and Pigeon River. Pigeon River Campground is right on the banks of the Pigeon River near an area with high flow. This area is ideal for catching brown, rainbow and brook trout fishing. The banks are also free from trees and allow of plenty of space for a comfortable fishing set up. Keep in mind, when fishing on Pickerel lake that no motors are allowed, so challenge yourself to a fishing expedition while canoeing.

There is also fishing available in Cornwall Flooding, Grass Lake, Pickerel Lake, Town Corner Lake, Osmun Lake, Mud Lake, Tubbs Creek, Sinkhole lake, and South Blue Lake. The rainbow trout, small mouth bass, and blue gill are all species you can find in the river. In the other lakes and rivers, you can also find panfish, perch, small pike, northern pike and more! However make sure to have your All Species Fishing License during the season from April until September to avoid any fines.

Boating

Pickerel Lake allows boating, and if you are a keen boater, you should consider staying at the Pickerel Lake Campground. There is also an excellent swimming beach located right near the boat launching site. So grab your own kayak or canoe out of the trailer and bring it down to the lake for a day of adventure.

There are no gas motors allowed on the lake, which makes it a quiet destination to relax and enjoy the surrounding atmosphere. You can, however, use an electric motor, as that minimizes impact on the nature. The area is ADA-accessible and allows anyone to enjoy the beauty of the lake.

The lake is big enough to enjoy for a day out on the canoe, and if you keep your eyes peeled you might see many aquatic creatures such as fish or even waterfowl.

Horseback Riding

You can stay overnight with your horses at the Elk Hill Campground, however make sure to book well in advance to secure your spot. Since horse riding does have a large impact on the fragile soils in the area, please make sure to follow the park rules on your trail rides.

Horseback riding is permitted on all the country roads, forest roads, along with the designated North Spur of the Shore-to-Shore trail. There are plenty of signs in the area that you can keep an eye out for which will show you where you can ride.

Off-Season

Hiking

Starting at the High Country Pathway, there is a 70-mile loop that crosses four countries through the Lower Peninsula. Backpackers who wish to tackle this challenge typically take five to seven days to complete the route. You will need to bring all your own equipment, since the state forest has minimal facilities.

There are also several shorter trails you can take, including the 3.5-mile Green Timbers trail, which leads to cabin and beautiful view of the Sturgeon River Valley. The Shingle Mill Pathway also connects five trail systems from six to 11 miles long. The walks will feature picturesque views of the Pigeon River. In the summer time all these trails are open to hikers and mountain bikers. In the wintertime, the trails attract Nordic skiers to enjoy the winter wonderland.

The shortest and most accessible hike is a two-mile loop which leaves straight from Pickerel Lake State Forest Campground. The walk will take you through the forest and give you a chance to see some of the beautiful wildlife.

Elk Viewing

Have you always wanted to see an elk in the wild? Because then this state park is the place to go to see herds of these beautiful beasts in their natural habitat. An elk herd was introduced to Michigan in 1918, which bred and lived in protection with the population now reaching around 1,000. They all live in the elk range of southern Cheboygan, Otsego, and Montmorency Counties.

While elk roam the state forest year round, the best time to spot them is in spring or autumn. Once summer comes, which is the most popular time for visitors, the elk becomes a bit more reclusive. If you wish to spot them, the best time is early in the morning or in the evening. Head out to one of the popular elk viewing areas at sunrise or sunset with your camera to catch a glimpse of a massive bull with antlers or elk cows with their calves. Check out the spots along Black River Road, or the intersection of Honeylocust Trail Road and Ford Lake Road.

Hunting

Hunting is permitted within the Pigeon River Country State forest in the exception of in the campgrounds, staff areas and within 450 feet of occupied dwelling. You can also get involved into target practice if you have sufficient backstop and pick up after your self. It is only allowed to shoot anything other than paper, cardboard, clay, or items specifically manufactured for target practice.

Depending on your permits, you can try your hand at shooting water fowl, small animals, or even bigger animals according to the season. Make sure to check the rules and regulations based on the season, as they change frequently.

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