Pigeon River – High Country Pathway Expedition

Bridge removed; fording required. (Old bridge.)

Highlights: If you want to know what early-Michigan explorers might have experienced then this is the biyaking adventure for you, one of the best in Northern Lower Michigan. Located in the Pigeon River Country State Forest, it combines the rugged Pigeon River with Michigan’s only IMBA-designated trail, the High Country Pathway (HCP). You’ll leave with an understanding of why the area is nicknamed the Big Wild.

Distance: Bike: About 10-11 miles. Paddle: About 12 miles.

Be prepared for dilapidated boardwalks.

Difficulty: This is one of the more difficult biyaking routes on the website. Biking: Rolling over mostly singletrack, with a few stretches of doubletrack, this is a true mountain bike ride. Although well-marked with blue blazes and HCP signs, the first part of the trail is little used, resulting in soft soil and a coverage of leaves, logs, and branches. Within the first mile, you will have to ford the Pigeon River, where a dilapidated bridge was removed. The water is typically not above mid-thigh on a 5’10 person at this crossing so it’s doable; however, the river is usually quite cold (this is an outing that’s best on a warmer day since chances are strong that you’ll get wet both biking and kayaking). The dilapidation continues for a short while with a rundown boardwalk. You’ll encounter a few steepish climbs, but the trail continues to improve, particularly when the HCP joins the Shingle Mill Pathway. Kayaking: Mostly unmaintained—there is some evidence of trees cut here and there—this portion of the Pigeon has it all from riffles to boulders to deadfall to the Taj Mahal of beaver dams. Portaging is to be expected, and you’re bound to get mucky and wet.

Maneuvering around deadfall.

Location: Drop off kayaks at Pigeon Bridge State Forest Campground on E. Sturgeon Valley Road, about 10 miles east of Vanderbilt. Continue another 14 miles to Pine Grove State Forest Campground (see the PDF map below). Warning: the roads are rough and slow. Park your vehicle here and begin the bike ride, following the blue blazes on the trees.

Route finding: See below for two alternative routes*. Biking: As mentioned above, the HCP is adequately marked. It would be difficult to get lost: however, it’s easy to get confused so keep an eye out for the blue blazes. The HCP joins with the Shingle Mill Pathway after about 6 miles of biking. For the most direct route back to your kayaks, follow the markers to Post 14 and then 1. Turn left onto E. Sturgeon Valley Road and continue a very short distance to your kayaks at the Pigeon Bridge State Forest Campground. Kayaking: Before starting on the biking portion, walk down the hill to the takeout. Paddling past it is a possibility, particularly when you’re tired. For the most part, the river is narrow so the route is always obvious. On the other hand, some of the larger beaver dams have created tricky channels, and it’s rarely clear which is the easiest route to take.

High Country Pathway

Websites and Maps: Click here for a PDF map of the route.

* Alternative 1: For a mini-adventure, leave your kayaks as above and drive to the Pigeon River State Forest Campground . Leave your vehicle in the parking area on the other side of the bridge. Bike through the campground, following the markers for the Shingle Mill Pathway and continue biking to Post 9 then Posts 5, 3, and 1. Both the kayaking and biking are about 3-4 miles.

Alternative 2: Leave your kayaks at the Pigeon River State Forest Campground. This shortens both the kayaking and biking by about 3 miles. The only change in the route is that when you reach the Shingle Mill Pathway, follow the numbered posts to 12 then 11 and 10. You reach the campground soon after Post 10.

Biking & Kayaking Across Northern Michigan