Lakes & Rivers in Gaylord, Michigan
Beaches and Parks
With over 90 inland lakes, Otsego County is truly a water wonderland. Our lakes range from clear water with sandy, white beaches perfect for relaxing in the sun to glistening gems hidden deep in the forest, lined with trees. Whether you’re looking to relax in a beach chair at the Otsego Lake State Park, play a game of volleyball at the Otsego Lake County Park or kayak along still waters that feel away from it all, we have the perfect place for you to get your feet wet.
Many of our lakes offer perfect areas for swimming, with shallow water and gentle waves along strips of beckoning sand. Local favorites for sunning and splashing include Thumb Lake and Otsego Lake, the largest in our county. The County Park also offers a manmade sandy beach near the water. Lay back and relax on a tube or just enjoy the warmth with a good book. All you need to bring is sunscreen and your towel!
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Paddling Our Lakes
If you’re looking for an active way to pass the time on these calm waters, kayaks, canoes and stand up paddleboards offer hours of exercise and entertainment, while allowing you to do some exploring away from the shore. Our lakes are paddle-friendly for everyone with convenient public access sites, sparkling water and abundant natural habitats for a variety of wildlife. A few local favorites include Dixon Lake, Big Lake and Big Chub Lake, but we’re happy to share the full inside scoop on Where to Drop a Kayak in the Gaylord area!
Need to be on the water but left your gear at home? No worries…our convenient list of recreation rentals will take care of all the missing details, right down to the beach towels and dry bags you can rent for the day through Up North Paddlesports.
Boating & Watersports
With over 90 lakes to choose from, we’ve got room for everyone! If kayaking isn’t quite your speed, hit the open stretches of Otsego Lake and Thumb Lake for wakeboarding, wakesurfing and waterskiing. With convenient boat launches and room for everyone, you can experience your favorite watersports in the crystal-clear water northern Michigan is known for.
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When you need a true escape into nature coupled with the peace that only water can bring, seek out the Pigeon River Country State Forest’s coveted sinkhole lakes.
If you’ve never visited one of our 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 even 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.
Sinkhole lakes are popular for fishing, floating and photography. For more information and a map, please visit the Pigeon River Country Discovery Center’s website.
Otsego County is home to the headwaters to five sprawling rivers: Sturgeon River, Pigeon River, AuSable River, Manistee River & Black River.
The Sturgeon River is the fastest flowing in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Not whitewater, but exciting and challenging with its quick and often tricky current, along with leaning trees, stumps, logs, numerous narrow passages and sharp turns. The current does most of the work, but it’s up to you and/or your partner(s) to maneuver your watercraft down the crystal-clear, spring-fed stream, as it winds its way through stunning state forest land. Take a short drive north and check out Sturgeon River Paddlesports in Wolverine or Big Bear Adventures in Indian River to experience all the Sturgeon River has to offer. These outfitters even offer four-seasons of fun with their guided winter rafting excursions.
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The Pigeon River runs through the north-central part of northern lower Michigan, with its headwaters located just a few miles northeast of Gaylord. Launch sites are rustic, and, while navigable, this river is known for offering a true back country experience with sharp bends, possible beaver dams and other obstructions that may require portaging. Running through the 114,000-acre Pigeon River Country State Forest, this river winds through some of the most unspoiled wilderness you’ll find.
While on the AuSable River, you stand a good chance of seeing bald eagles and other wildlife during any season. This gently flowing river is great for beginners and guarantees a leisurely float, with ample opportunities for a quick dip in sandy-bottomed patches along the way. Multiple liveries and launch sites are located in Grayling, just a short drive south of Gaylord.
One of the Manistee’s most pristine stretches can be found in the 4,700-acre Deward Tract in Gaylord. Its cool, narrow waters are home to plentiful brown and brook trout, making this section a fisherman’s paradise. Although scenic, you’ll find more easily navigable waters toward the Grayling area. Stretching from its headwaters in Otsego County to Lake Michigan, this popular river features a slow but heavy current with some deep holes carved into the riverbed.
The Black River can also be found snaking throughout the Pigeon River Country State Forest. This river is only 20 minutes from downtown Gaylord and jumping with the Midwest’s premier brook trout. While the Black River’s claim to fame is most definitely an abundance of this feisty fish, launch sites for kayaks and canoes can be found here.
While on the AuSable River, you stand a good chance of seeing bald eagles and other wildlife during any season.