A green canopy stretched below me, camouflaging Grass Lake, the overlook’s namesake. Hills marched into the distance, but my attention was consumed by the narrow ribbon of dirt waiting behind me, the High Country Pathway, Michigan’s only IMBA-designated Epic Trail.

I swooped down the singletrack, bouncing over roots and navigating along a narrow boardwalk. Soon, the trail spit me out at the Pigeon River, where my kayak waited and the next portion of my adventure was about to begin. 

Biking over the Pigeon River.

For me, biyaking—simply using a bicycle, instead of two motorized vehicles, for the shuttle between the put-in and take-out–has come to mean hours spent exploring northern Michigan’s sandy two-tracks and twisting singletracks, followed by a paddle down one of its many rivers. For others, biyaking involves towing a kayak with a bicycle then dismantling and carrying the bicycle on the kayak. Whatever the preferred approach, it is the perfect combination of the two sports.

The truck, rigged and ready.

And few places are better biyaking destinations than Michigan. What other state can boast 11,000 inland lakes, 6.5 million acres of state and national forestland, 3,251 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, and 35,000 mapped lakes and ponds?

But during that afternoon on the Pigeon River, I wasn’t thinking about Michigan statistics. Instead, I was immersed in the Pigeon River as it surged through the wild and remote Pigeon River Country State Forest.

Nature’s sculpture on the Pigeon River.

The portion of the Pigeon River from Sturgeon Valley Road Bridge to Red Bridge not only parallels the High Country Pathway but also captures a pristine slice of unspoiled forest, as if one has tumbled back in time. Osprey dive for meals and trout hug the riverbed as an absolute quiet settles across your shoulders. That isn’t to say, though, that you can just float along, giving the Pigeon command of your boat.

Sweepers threaten to trap you beneath overhanging branches, while deadfall creates channels in the river, sometimes resulting in navigational nightmares. Needless to say, portaging is often inevitable.

However, one of the portages is actually among my favorite parts of the paddle. The Taj Mahal of beaver dams completely blocks the river, but the dam boasts a sturdy and wide structure, making it easy to crawl out of your kayak and drag it to the other side of the dam.

Pigeon River rapids.

On that day, I stood for a few moments on the dam, imagining a complex series of rooms and corridors stretching across the expanse of the river while beavers swam below me, busy with their woodsy schedule. The sun glinted off the river, and I caught the slap of a beaver tail, telling me it was time to move on.

As I eased into my kayak, eager to continue the journey, I was already looking forward to my next biyaking outing, where the combination of bicycling and kayaking fuses into the ideal adventure—dirt and water merging seamlessly into one.

Biking & Kayaking Across Northern Michigan

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