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Michigan DNR > wildlife viewing guide > northern lower peninsula > pigeon river

56 Pigeon River Country Elk Range Northern Lower Peninsula

wildlife viewing  |  directions and facility information

 sign for elk viewing area    eagle    snow-covered road  
Photos: eagle:© R W Kropf – Pigeon River Country Association; site photos ©Phil T. Seng


fall colors
Photo: Kenyon, MI DNR

The Pigeon River Country State Forest and surrounding land is home to one of the largest free-roaming elk herds east of the Mississippi River. The nearly 100,000-acre state forest contains native hardwoods and pines that are interspersed with fields and forest openings. The Department of Natural Resources maintains this excellent elk habitat through careful forest and wildlife management.

Wildlife Viewing

bull elk
The elk or wapiti is a large member of the deer family.
Adult males may weigh up to 1/2 ton. Photo: Dave Kenyon, MIDNR

Elk inhabit this site year-round, but certain times are better for viewing than others. Probably the best month is September, when the males (bulls) are trying to establish dominance for mating rights with the females (cows). They are very active during this time, making loud vocalizations (bugling), and breaking brush with their antlers to impress cows and intimidate their rivals. If you plan to visit during September, try to arrive during the week. Elk viewing has become very popular and weekends are crowded. Another good time to view elk is from late April through early May. Elk are active throughout the daylight hours eating the new green growth and there are few people out to see them. Several elk viewing sites have been established on this site. These are not the only places you can see elk, but they are located in known elk gathering spots, and are good places to start.

elk herd at evening
Photo:© R W Kropf – Pigeon River Country Association

The best viewing is done from your car, since elk are accustomed to seeing cars. Use binoculars or spotting scopes for best results. Do not approach elk. Despite their large size, they are timid animals and will not tolerate much disturbance.

Portions of this area are open to public hunting. Contact the michigan department of natural resources for affected seasons and locations.



From Vanderbilt, drive east on Sturgeon Valley Road about ten miles to one of the designated elk viewing sites. For more information, continue east about three miles to Hardwood Lake Road. Turn left (north) and continue about one mile to the Forestry Field Office. This office has maps and information about elk viewing, but hours are variable depending on the season.

Ownership: Michigan Department of Natural Resources (517) 732-3541

Size: 95,000 acres

Closest Town: Gaylord, Vanderbilt

Weather and Driving Directions for Gaylord

Plan Your Trip with travel.michigan.org!


Facilities and Opportunities


Restrooms – vault toilest available at rustic campground.
– Rustic campground includes 19 sites for tents and small trailers. Water access, vault toilets, and hiking pathway at campground. First-come, first-served. No reservations. Check with State Forest Campground Manager for seasonal availability.
Fishing – Brown, brook, and rainbow trout on Pigeon River.
Hunting – Open to public hunting. Check with MI DNR for affected seasons and regulations.

Additional Information:
Pigeon River Country Elk Range Parks and Trail Information


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