Experience all that is Northern Michigan along one of the many trails in Otsego County used for hiking, biking, x-country skiing and snowshoeing. The area abounds with pathways for outdoor enthusiasts of every skill and age level, and all are free to use with no trail passes required. Click here to view an interactive map of forest pathways and recreation areas.
Resources for Trails:
Michigan Trail Maps
Up North Trails
A Quick Jaunt
Sturgeon River Preserve The character of the property is similarly wild, the old cedar and hardwood swamps, the mossy forest floor, and the huge number of upland maples bearing elk rubs, marks from one of the largest elk herds east of the Mississippi. Bull elk use small trees to remove the velvet from their antlers creating “rubs”. Enjoy a .75 mile hike, bird watching, cross-country, skiing, snowshoeing, fishing, and similar low-impact activities at this preserve. Take Old 27 North to Whitmarsh Road and go east three miles. A small parking area is available alongside the road.
Five Lakes Natural Area Owned by Gaylord Community Schools and managed by the Otsego Conservation District, Five Lakes Natural Area is always open to the public for non-motorized activities such as: picnics on the picnic tables, walking your dog, hiking, snowshoeing, cross country skiing on the nature trails, or wildlife viewing. This natural area offers 1.1 miles of narrow flat trails. Take M-32 west to Murner Road. Turn right on Murner Road and travel north until you reach Five Lakes Road (1 mile). Turn left onto Five Lakes Road and follow it for approximately 0.5 miles until you see the Gaylord Community Schools Forest sign on your right.
A Bit Longer
Louis M Groen Nature Preserve This property contains Kujawa and Johannesburg Lakes, along with being the former home to both the Johannesburg Manufacturing Company as well as Echo Valley Resort. Over 11 miles of hiking trails wind throughout this property. Follow M-32 East to Gingell Rd., Turn left on Gingell. The entrance is located at the corner of Gingell and Waters Roads. 2043 Gingell Rd.
Pine Baron Pathway If a short, family outing is what you're looking for, the Pine Baron Pathway, is only six miles from the heart of Gaylord. To reach it, take Otsego Lake Drive west to Old Alba Road, continue west to Lone Pine Road and go north to the trail head. This system of gently rolling to flat terrain has four short loops which average two miles each. The total outside loop is only 6.25 miles, so it makes a nice hike with the kids. There are several benches along the way for resting, as well as some nice clearings; perfect for a trail side picnic. All the trails are clearly marked and easy to follow through peaceful pine forests and mixed hardwoods. Wildlife abounds, so keep your eyes open for the natural inhabitants of the Pine Baron Pathway.
The Long Haul
Jordan River Pathway This 18.8-mile trek is a loop, eliminating complicated transportation arrangements, and features a walk-in campground near its halfway point. The fact that it is a two-day walk makes it an ideal weekend outing for backpackers. It has enough climbs, especially on the second day, to give anybody a sense of accomplishment while many find its logging history an interesting aspect of the hike. Most of all, the Jordan River Pathway is a scenic walk where much of the day is spent either skirting the cedar banks of blue-ribbon trout stream or climbing to overlooks for views of the valley below. It’s also good to remember that the Jordan River Pathway is not an easy trek. You must be prepared to haul a backpack almost 10 miles each day and are constantly climbing in and out of the valley. If you include a side trip to visit to the Jordan River Fish Hatchery, which many hikers do, then it's almost a 20-mile hike. The main trailhead for the Jordan River Pathway is Deadman’s Hill, a scenic overlook posted along US-131, 11.5 miles north of Mancelona or 6 miles north of Alba. From US-131, turn west on Deadman’s Hill Road and drive 2 miles to the parking area and trailhead at the end. If driving north on I-75, depart at exit 282 and head west of Gaylord on M-32.
Pigeon River State Forest ~ All of the Above
This land, which Ernest Hemingway called the "pine barrens east of Vanderbilt" and what Michigan pioneer conservationist P.S. Lovejoy liked to call "The Big Wild", is home to the largest herd of wild elk east of the Mississippi and forms a major part of the watershed of three of Michigan's premier trout streams, the Sturgeon, the Pigeon River, and the Cheboygan Black.
The Pigeon River Forest’s expansive 105,000 acres offers a unique wilderness experience with some of the best hiking in Michigan. Some of the trails are also available to mountain bikes.
High Country Pathway Feeling ambitious? Ready for some real wilderness adventures? Pack your gear head north through Vanderbilt then take Sturgeon Valley Road east to the High Country Pathway. High Country is a 70-mile loop that meanders east through Pigeon River Country, Thunder Bay State Forest and Black Lake State Forest. With rustic camping available at several points along the way, an ambitious hiker can cover the trail in 7-10 days. The terrain is varied, taking scenic vistas, challenging hills, stream crossings and thick growth. Read what the International Mountain Biking Association had to say about this trail!
Shingle Mill Pathway If you would like just a taste of the High Country experience, check out the Shingle Mill Pathway. It is a popular trail system that begins at the Pigeon Bridge Campground, just off Sturgeon Valley Road, 11 miles east of Vanderbilt. The shortest of the five-segment pathway is 3/4 mile and the longest stretches for 12 miles. Trail difficulty increases with the length of each trail, with some steep terrain along the 6, 10 and 12 mile stretches.
A waterproof trail Map is available at the Pigeon River Country State Forest's Visitor Center or our Gaylord Tourism Bureau Visitors Center at 319 W. Main, Gaylord.
Pigeon River State Forest Map