With a shaggy chocolate mane and a crown of showy antlers, the eastern elk may be Michigan’s most spectacular mammal, sometimes weighing in at close to 1,000 pounds. Elk are rare in the Midwest, but about 1,000 of them—the largest free-roaming elk herd east of the Mississippi River—populate this state forest and the surrounding countryside.
Although its primary draw is the opportunity to spot the elk herd, this 97,000-acre state forest north of Gaylord  has miles of hiking trails, good fishing, and scenic rustic campgrounds. The Shingle Mill Pathway passes through deep woods and across rolling, hilly terrain. Keep an eye out for the forest’s “other” wildlife, which includes bear, coyote, bobcat, beaver, otter, woodcock, turkey, bald eagle, osprey, loon, and blue heron.
For more information on the state forest, stop by the Pigeon River forestry field office (off Sturgeon Valley Rd., 989/983-4101).