Exploring Gaylord’s Sinkhole Lakes

By Christy Walcott

I can spend hours on a white, sandy beach with lapping waves inviting me to jump in and cool off. I can spend even more hours paddling my kayak in a quiet lake, fishing rod in hand, reeling in plentiful panfish and an occasional large mouth bass. But when I need a true escape into nature coupled with the peace that only water can bring, I seek out the Pigeon River Country State Forest’s coveted sinkhole lakes.

Inflatable SUPs are one way to visit sinkhole lakes.

If you’ve never visited one of Gaylord, Michigan’s sinkhole lakes, add it to the top of your to-do list. Not only is venturing out into The Pigeon an adventure in its own right, but the sinkhole lakes add an extra splash of intrigue. Aqua and turquoise on the surface, these small forest lakes take a serious plunge in the center, some reaching depths of 60 feet. When considering most of these glimmering gems are comparable in size to your average pond, that’s an impressive number.

Photo courtesy of Evan Tubbs.

Here’s what you need to know to embark on your own sinkhole lake adventure:

Getting There

This is the biggie – you need a map. There’s an excellent map of sinkhole lakes available on the Pigeon River Country Discovery Center’s website and we have printed copies in our Visitor Center. The lakes featured are easy to find if you know where to look. 

Access Points

Viewing the sinkhole lakes and accessing them are two very different objectives. If you want the up close and personal experience, be prepared for some walking with a steep decline at the end. Section 4, Lost, North Twin and South Twin Lakes aren’t far from the main road and have a solid footpath with a steep finish down to the water’s edge. North Twin and Lost Lakes have log stairs built into their trails. West Lost requires a bit more two-tracking but is reachable and has a flatter entry. You’ll need to hike in to find Devil’s Soup Bowl (and unfortunately, I never figured out where to access the water).

A rope swing entices you at Lost Lake.


These lakes are a unique treasure in our area, so it’s no surprise we want to protect them. Several are stocked annually by the DNR and fishing is permitted, with restrictions. Non-motorized boat use is allowed on Hemlock, Ford and West Lost Lakes ONLY and artificial bait is required. See the Discovery Center’s website for more specific information on fishing.

Non-motorized boats are permitted on West Lost Lake.


On a hot summer day, there’s no doubt you’ll be tempted to jump in and cool off…and you can. Lost Lake and Section 4 Lake are popular for relaxing in a tube. Keep in mind, only inflatable flotation devices are allowed. Erosion is an issue and to preserve the natural state of these lakes, you should follow designated trails and carry (don’t drag) anything you need to bring. Trails are steep, and trust me, you won’t want to bring anything more than a tube and towel! I even gave snorkeling a try in Section 4, and while watching trout swim beneath me was a pretty cool sight, the darkness in the center kept me hugging the edges of the lake.

Floating on Section 4 Lake – Photo courtesy of Amanda Dobrezwski.

You don’t have to fish or float on the sinkhole lakes to appreciate them. The viewing areas are rewarding enough and make an excellent photo. Spend a day out exploring The Pigeon, bring a blanket and picnic lunch, maybe get your toes wet…it’s always an adventure.