Over the years I have read about the Shingle Mill Pathway and really wanted to go check it out for myself. The trail is located in the Pigeon State Forest 10 miles east of Vanderbilt, MI (Exit 290 on I-75). This is also the location of the largest free ranging herd of elk east of the Mississippi river.
My friend Gus has a cottage in Harrison, MI so on Friday night (after work) I went in that direction. He had gave me permission to crash there for the night. The next morning I could drive the rest of the way to the trail.
I really wanted to arrive and get on the trail early. This would be the perfect time to check out the Pigeon River for future trout fishing trips, catch a glimpse of a few elk and hopefully claim the one backcountry campsite at the far end of the 10 mile loop hike.
My hike began around 6:30 a.m. at the Pigeon Bridge Campground. Camping there is $13. If you don’t plan on camping there you can park across the street in a parking lot for free. The campground is equipped with a nice outhouse, water pump, cement fire rings and picnic tables. Most of the people I saw here looked to either be backpackers or mountain bikers.
There are four loop hikes you can take from the campground trailhead. Here you will find a 1, 6, 10 or 11 mile loop. I chose the 10 mile loop as it passed a backcountry campsite that I could use to hopefully break up my hike into 2 days. I chose to hike the trail in a counter-clockwise direction. The trails and loops are extremely well marked so there is no worries of getting lost.
After a few miles you will reach the Forest Area Headquarters. If you need to fill up on water, look at maps, look at animals (stuffed) that you might encounter in the area this is a great stopping point. They were not open but just from the window I could see elk, fox, bobcat, coyote, trout and a few ducks on display. There is also information on the logging that has happened in the area over the years.
I moved on and proceeded to hike about .5 or .75 miles to the second formal campground on the trail. This one was the Pigeon River Campground. It seemed a little more busy and remote. Though the campground was tucked back away from the main road there were more people camping here. Again, the sites had fire rings, picnic tables and an outhouse nearby. From the look of the sites, it was a mix of longer term campers and a backpackers. In the campground you will pass a great place to fill up your water. It has a well that is constantly running.
In leaving the campground I stopped on a bridge to talk to a few fishermen that had not had any luck fishing but were enjoying the nice weather. The forecast was calling for a high in the low 70’s and a low at night in the 50’s. Perfect weather in my opinion.
I had brought my Ben’s Deet Mosquito repellent so I applied some and continued down the trail as the mosquitos were getting quite bad. I found a really small bottle of this great stuff at REI and it fits nicely inside my backpack and doesn’t take up too much room. Once applied mosquitos totally leave you alone and you can stop even thinking about anything biting you.
In leaving the campground you leave the river until the end part of the hike. Along this stretch of the hike though you will pass by a number of lakes. A few of them were created when the underground limestone collapsed and left us with a nice crater shaped lake with clear blue/green water.
I finally found the backcountry campsite near grass lake. I was a bit disappointed by the location as it was right next to the trail so I made the decision to just keep on moving forward and if all went well just finish the 10 mile loop in one day.
Before you start working your way back you circle Grass Lake. It is a large lake and here I encountered a muskrat. It really had beautiful fur and seemed to not be too scared of me. I was able to get about 5 feet away from him while taking pictures.
There are not a lot of ups and downs on this trail but the one hill you do encounter is on the backside of Grass Lake. There is a posted lookout site to see the lake (with bench) but the trees have all grown up and blocked any view of the lake that used to be there. This is a a great place to stop for a rest of a quick bite to eat.
The second half of the trail you pass by a few more lakes, wetlands (great place to hear/see beavers) and one section that looked to be recently logged. I also was amazed at the number of flowers that were in bloom.
Eventually you will get to the last section of the trail. It probably stretches about .2 miles of this cool bridge and would be a fun challenge to the mountain bikers that area allowed on his trail.
By the end of the day my feet were hurting but as I tell people it hurt in a good way.
Next up was a quick tick check at the car. I have a pair of convertible pants so I carefully zipped off the bottom portion of the pants to inspect the pants, shoes and socks. I did find one and quickly flicked him off of my pants. Ticks do not fall off trees on to you so if you do find one high up on your body they climbed up from the forest floor. Even though I did a thorough check I did find two more on me when I came home.
If you are coming here I would recommend coming up on a Saturday morning and setting up at one of the campgrounds (Pigeon River or Pigeon Bridge). Then you can tackle the 10 mile hike with only a daypack. This will also leave free Saturday evening to fish the Pigeon River and hopefully catch a few trout.