Pigeon River Country State Forest is located in the northern portion of Michigan's Lower Peninsula; the closest town is Vanderbilt. It is 105,000 acres full of awesome forest views, hiking trails, rustic state campgrounds, lakes, rivers, and, at the right time of year, a chance for some elk viewing.
There are eight rustic campgrounds operated by the state of Michigan, and if you've wondered what those are like, check out our video on what these types of campgrounds offer.
The eight campgrounds range in size from 10 sites to about twice that many. We stayed at the Pigeon River Forest State Campground, which had 19 sites. Some handle larger rigs as big as 40 feet, but several are only capable of taking in much smaller units (and a few that are best for tents only!), so check ahead to be sure your RV will fit if that's how you camp. There also is an equestrian campground that offers horse owners some great wide-open spaces to camp in with RVs and horse trailers, plus tie-out lines for horses and more.
We enjoyed the many miles of hiking trails and diverse landscape -- one day in rainy weather and one day in beautiful, sunny weather. In total, we covered about 12 miles on foot. At one point, we stumbled upon a swampy forest area that was surreal after the more standard pine forest we had been seeing all day. Thankfully, the DNR has established a wooden boardwalk through that area.
We also found the Witness Tree, which is a red pine used as part of the original surveying for the state of Michigan back in 1850. You can learn about that from my short narration here.
In the evening, we took a shot at trying to see some elk. According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, elk were reintroduced to the state in 1918 and now number between 800 and 900. When they are in rut and looking to mate, which apparently happens in September and October, they are known to cluster in large groups in several meadows within the Pigeon River Country.
We stopped at one of these meadows and set up shop for the evening -- having dinner in our Roadtrek before heading out with our camp chairs, binoculars and camera to see what we could see starting around twilight.
Several people we spoke with from the area said its rare to see any elk in the meadows, and that they usually spot them more often while driving around. Never ones to give up on a chance wildlife sighting -- and drawing on our experience of getting to see wolves in Yellowstone because we were patient -- we decided to hang around. It wasn't too long of a wait before we had a cow elk wander into the meadow for dinner. Soon after, she disappeared and a bull elk appeared. While we missed out on seeing any large harems that are known to congregate during mating season, we counted ourselves lucky to have seen the two individuals!
If you go to the Pigeon River area, make sure you're prepared to boondock in your RV. Many of the state forest campgrounds offer wells for potable water and have outhouses for toilet facilities, but you're better off if you can show up self-contained. And keep in mind that there are no electric plug-ins available, so make sure your batteries are topped off, or bring your solar power or generator.
Tenters and backpackers would probably enjoy the more backwoods feel of these campsites, unless of course a big RV lands nearby and cranks up a generator. There are quiet hours in the camp and, despite how remote the campgrounds seemed, the DNR made an appearance a couple of times each day to check things over.
All-in-all, it's a great place to spend a weekend or more -- if you have the luxury to do so. The hiking trails lead you past a river and you can find several lakes in the area that make for some beautiful picture taking, especially as the fall colors kick in. (This is still early and I can only imagine how great these shots could be in a couple of weeks when the area sees its peak for fall color.)
Another thing to note is that you can really get away and have some true down time in this area because cellular signals are nearly nonexistent in much of the area, including those offered by Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint. In the campgrounds, we were sometimes able to land only a 1X signal even with our cellular booster. As you hike and hit some different elevations, you will find spots that can offer you 3G service on Verizon, which is enough to check in with folks via text message and even review emails if you really need to. But for posting pictures and sharing your life online via social media, you'll need to wait until you leave the forest. It's actually a nice change of pace.