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Frequently Asked Questions
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Before You Visit
- Although most of the forest is located within ½ mile from a road or drivable trail, there are very few road signs in the forest.
- It is always advisable to notify a trusted person about your hiking plans, expected date, time and location to start your hike and also when you plan on finishing your hiking experience. Notify this trusted person when you are out of the forest and plan on heading back home.
- Carry your shelter or know how to build a shelter from materials found on the ground in the forest.
- Carry water, or purify water from lakes and streams.
- County and forest roads are gravel and remote. There are few road signs within the forest boundaries.
- You can receive satellite signals for GPS navigation within the forest. You cannot receive cell signals for navigation or phone service except when you are within a few miles from a gateway community of the Forest. (Vanderbilt, Wolverine, Onaway, Atlanta, Johannesburg, and Sparr). If you are using a smartphone for navigation, ensure you have downloaded your maps.
- Visitors are encouraged to have a minimum of a half tank of gas in their vehicle when exploring the forest along with a general forest map and also a forest road (FR) map.
- Know how to use a compass (and bring one), along with drinking water and snacks. You can refill water bottles at any of the seven campgrounds and at the DNR Headquarters. In addition, you can filter water from streams, rivers and lakes.
- Bring bug repellent. Ticks and biting bugs are especial numerous though June.
- Weather can change rapidly in northern Michigan. Be prepared.
- Bring sun screen.
The passport is required for vehicles entering all state forest campgrounds and state parks. It’s also required for parking at the trail heads of all pathways on this map except Green Timbers. Get an annual passport with your Michigan license plate or at any DNR office, or online at www.michigan.gov/recreationpassport. Additional fees are levied at campgrounds for overnight camping. The Recreation Passport contributes to upkeep of pathways and campgrounds in state forests as well as state parks.
There is NO cell signal in most areas of the forest.
Portable ham radio devices can be tuned to frequencies and locations found online HERE.
You can receive satellite signals for GPS navigation within the forest. You cannot receive cell signals for navigation except when you are within a few miles from a gateway community of the Forest. (Vanderbilt, Wolverine, Onaway, Atlanta, Johannesburg, and Sparr). If you plan to use a smartphone for navigation, ensure that you have downloaded the maps in advance.
Visitors are always encouraged to have a full tank of gas in their vehicle when exploring the forest along with a general forest map and also a forest road (FR) map, along with water and snacks. There are very few road signs in this forest. Newer Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) devices in vehicles can usually identify named roads in the forest.
- Discovery Center and Forest Headquarters: There is a public restroom inside the building that may be used during business hours. When the building is closed there is a new vault toilet outside, located at the trail head of the Shingle Mill Pathway, just south of the small residential cabin by the parking lot.
- Vault toilets can be located in the following locations:
There are no public showers anywhere in the forest.
Note: All pumps and hydrants are turned off during winter months.
- Forest Headquarters: There is a public hydrant in front of the building.
- Pump/Artesian wells can be found in the following locations:
- Pickerel Lake Campground
- Pigeon Bridge Campground
- Pigeon Bridge Campground is an artesian well that flows year-round.
- Pigeon River Campground
- Pine Grove Campground
- Pine Grove Campground is an artesian well that flows year-round.
- Round Lake Campground
- Town Corner Lake Campground
- Johnson Crossing Group Campground
- Elk Hill Campground
The nearest gas station, restaurant, and grocery store is located in Vanderbilt, 12.7 miles to the west.
- Respect the solitude of others. Let nature’s sounds prevail. Travel in small groups. Do not engage in activities or create situations that disturb others.
- For safety, travel with a friend. Always leave your itinerary with someone.
- Carry a map and compass in addition to GPS.
- Drinking water and toilets are available at the campgrounds. Do not drink from streams or springs without first purifying. When toileting outside of a campground, dig a hole no more than 6 – 8 inches deep to stay within the “biological disposer” layer of the soil, and cover after use.
- Extinguish all fires carefully.
- Pack out all litter.
- Plan for variable weather.
- Carry insect repellent in warm months.
- Keep pets under control at all times.
- Do not use soap in rivers or lakes and dispose of gray water at least 100 feet from surface water.
- Camp at least 100 feet from water.
There is NO cell signal in most of the forest. Emergency services are located in Gaylord. Portable ham radio devices can be tuned to frequencies and locations found online HERE.
Emergency / Ambulance Assistance
- CALL 911
- CALL 911
- Otsego Memorial Hospital
Old 27 North, Gaylord, MI 49735
- Michigan State Police Gaylord Office
563 South Otsego Ave. Gaylord, MI 49735
- Otsego County Sheriff
255 West Main St. Gaylord, MI 49735
- Pigeon River Country Headquarters
- Gaylord Operation Service Center
1732 West M-32 Gaylord, MI 49735
Conservation Officer RAP 24-Hour Line
- (800) 292-7800
There is ADA compliant parking in front of the Forest Headquarters building. The path leading to the Discovery Center, the ramped entryway, and the interior of the center are ADA accessible.
Except for a few miles of the MCCCT (Michigan Cross Country Cycle Trail), there are no designated ORV trails in the PRC. ORVs are not allowed on Otsego or Montmorency county roads in the PRC. ORVs are allowed on the shoulder of Otsego and Montmorency county roads outside of the PRC and on the shoulder of all Cheboygan and Presque Isle county roads. Contact the appropriate county road commission for details or updates. PA 288 of 2016 opened many state forest roads to ORVs, but the PRC state forest roads remain closed to ORVs.
In the PRC, snowmobiles may be operated only on roads open to vehicular traffic. On state forest land outside of the PRC, snowmobiles are not restricted except they are not allowed on any hiking pathway.
Horses or other riding animals in the PRC are not allowed on any pathway except the North Spur of the Shore to Shore Riding and Hiking Trail. Besides the North Spur, they are allowed only on vehicular roadways and designated equine trail connectors shown on the map. All pathways are marked with blue paint and blue triangles, called confidence markers because they reassure the user of being on the right pathway. Blue confidence markers on the North Spur show a horseshoe on top of a footprint. If you see another type of confidence marker, do not ride there. On state land on this map outside of the PRC, riding animals are generally not restricted.
Please respect other recreationists and the environment by crossing all waterways on roads and by not watering your horse where people swim or picnic near water.
The North Central State Trail (15’N 35’W) is a north-south old railroad bed converted to a limestone surface for hikers, bikers, equestrians, and snowmobilers. The 62-mile trail runs from Gaylord to Mackinaw City.
There is no charge to visit the Discovery Center. The Discovery Center is an all-volunteer operation, including educational classes offered by the Center. Financial donations are always appreciated.
Each year the Discovery Center opens the last weekend of April and closes the last weekend in October. Currently, hours of operation are Saturday from 10 AM until 4 PM and Sunday from 12 noon until 4 PM.
From I-75, exit at mile marker 290. Drive into Vanderbilt. At the blinker light, turn EAST and drive 11.7 miles along Sturgeon Valley Road. Then turn NORTH on Twin Lakes Road and drive 1 mile. On your left you will see the Pigeon River Country State Forest DNR Headquarters building. Park in front of the building and walk 312 feet along the pathway marked “Discovery Center” to the historic log cabin behind the Headquarters building.
When the Center is open there is always a docent present. The docent will provide a guided tour if requested. Otherwise, you tour the building at your own pace but can always ask questions of the docent.
Yes, group parking is located by the small residential cabin located to the west just as you pull into the DNR Headquarter’s area. This long-term parking has a vault toilet also.
Absolutely! We are an all-volunteer organization. We have two major teams of volunteers. One is a team of docents who are trained and keep the building open on a weekend day. People volunteer from one to 8 days per summer as a docent. The other team is called “worker-bees” and this team helps maintain the building and exhibits. This team is called into serviced 4-8 times per year for a day of work. If you are interested, please fill out the form on our Volunteer page, and a Board member will contact you.
Several of the exhibits invite children to actively participation hands-on. In addition, throughout the year there are several educational classes specifically designed for youth participation.
Not in the building, but you are welcome to provide a bowl and use our hose for thirsty dogs.
The Forest Headquarters is open Mon-Fri, 8:00am - 4:00pm year-round. However, if the staff is working in the forest, it may be closed during business hours. Camping permits, maps, and forest information is located on the porch.
The Headquarters has maps, books, and materials on hunting, fishing, and elk viewing.
All forests are not created equal, this is a working forest. In other words, depending on the species of trees within a forest, certain methods of management are implemented. Some forests are thinned, meaning single trees are removed to allow sunlight to reach the forest floor and encourage the growth of the younger trees. This is usually done with a stand of hardwood species like maple and American beech.
When it comes to managing a forest of aspen trees, this is typically clear-cut. There are several reasons for this. The first being that unlike other tree species that regenerate themselves by dropping seeds, aspen sprouts new trees from the network of roots below the ground. Additionally, aspen is considered to be a pioneer species. That is, is comes to an area first. If it is not removed, the aspen eventually die and over time, that forest type is replaced by a new forest type, like beech-maple or pine-oak forests. This is called succession. So, if aspen is not removed, it will eventually be removed from the landscape.
Aspen forests are super beneficial to wildlife in all stages of its development and having a variety of age classes of aspen forests offers habitat to many species of animals, birds and insects. Some wildlife prefer a stand of aspen that is 2-5 years old while others prefer the mature aspen forests, and of course there are other creatures that like aspen that is anywhere in between those extreme age classes.
The first year after a clear-cut of an aspen forest, there can be up to 70,000 new aspen saplings per acre, all growing up from the buried root system. This dense thicket of young trees makes great nesting areas for ground nesting birds and browsing areas for white-tailed deer and elk.