Looking for a place to get away from the crowds for a hike or mountain bike ride?

I have seen more people on area trails this spring hiking, mountain biking and running than at any point in the last 40 years, which is how long I’ve lived up here. So last weekend I headed up to mountain bike the 10-mile Shingle Mill Pathway, located east of Vanderbilt in the 106,000-acre Pigeon River Country State Forest. It’s one of the great wilderness tracts in the Lower Peninsula. It’s home to the largest elk herd east of the Mississippi River. There are deer, black bear, bobcat and reports of an occasional wolf having been spotted in the area in the last few years.

There are a couple of drive-in campgrounds along the pathway. Neither is open right now. I figured that would keep running into other people along the trail to a minimum, and I was right. Over the 10-mile loop ride I came across eight people hiking; not together, easy distancing.

The trail is also part of the High Country Pathway, a 77-mile loop passing through four counties in the heart of the northern Lower Peninsula that offers unique opportunities for backpackers. It passes through several bogs and swamps on the north end that don’t allow for mountain biking.

The scenic, wild rushing Pigeon River is central to much of the trail. You are along side it throughout much of the first three miles and again during the last mile.

Along the way you cross the river twice, cruise by a couple of scenic blue sinkhole lakes, past small lakes and lily ponds and climb to a panoramic overlook of Grass Lake and views of distant hills.

Shingle Mill offers several loops and most offer views of the wild, rushing Pigeon River, which is one of the few rivers in the state to flow north. You can tailor your excursion to less than a mile, but most want a little longer exposure to this haven of peace and wilderness.

It’s one of the truly great mountain bike rides in the Lower Peninsula. An “old school” DNR track that zigs and zags through the forest, and it has an abundance of roots to dodge and bounce over. You do get plenty of fairly smooth hard pack trail to also enjoy during the 10-mile ride. It also makes a nice hiking trail. A couple of times, once cross country skiing and the other mountain biking, I have been fortunate enough to come across elk near the trail.

What a thrill.

Editor's note: This article was updated 5/29/20 to correct the species of wildlife seen on the trail. 

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