A Guide to Elk Viewing in Michigan

They’re one of Michigan’s best kept secrets and they roam in an area most people can go and see every day! Pure Michigan’s wild elk herd is flourishing, with over 1,000 elk living in an 105,000-acre area in the northeast Lower Peninsula. This fall, when you’re looking to get away, take a trip up to the Pigeon River Country State Forest near Gaylord and see if you can catch a glimpse of a Michigan’s majestic elk!
 
Elk
Photo courtesy of Michigan DNR
 
The most popular time to view elk is during the fall breeding season. In September and October, they are feeding in open grassy areas and the bulls, or male elk, are especially vocal.  To get you started on you elk viewing adventure, use the elk viewing guide to familiarize yourself with the area, and pick your route.
What you need for a great elk viewing trip:
  • Binoculars or spotting scope.
  • Paper map. Pro Tip: Cell phone service is very spotty, so we recommend printing the elk viewing map.
  • Patience. Wildlife viewing is never a guarantee, enjoy everything around you!
  • Drinks, snacks, and a tankful of gas.
 
elk viewing map
Photo Courtesy of Michigan DNR
 
Elk have a remarkable story in our state. Once common in Michigan, they actually disappeared from the landscape in the late 1800s due to unregulated harvest and lack of quality habitat.  The elk herd today dates back to 1918, when seven elk were brought to Wolverine, Michigan from the Western United States.

Currently, the Pigeon River Country State Forest is home to hundreds of elk, where forests are managed or cut with purpose.  Managed forests provide year round food sources and are diverse in the types and ages, which is effectively controlled with timber cutting. Hundreds of acres of openings planted to cover elk and other wildlife enjoy, and are great places to view elk.
 
Wild Elk Bugling
Photo courtesy of Gaylord Convention and Visitors Bureau
 
2018 is the 100th anniversary of elk being reestablished in Michigan. Today’s elk population goal is another story.  Healthy and thriving, it has managed to stay between 500-1,000 elk, with a goal of providing great recreation through viewing and hunting while balancing the negative impacts of too many elk, such as habitat degradation, disease, and property damage.  Regulated hunting is today’s tool to manage the number and location of elk in northern Michigan.  Approximately 36,000 Michigan hunters apply annually at a chance to hunt an elk. Typically, between 100-200 elk licenses are available annually.

Make a plan this fall to see part of Michigan’s history in the great wild of the Pigeon River Country State Forest.

About the Author: Katie Keen is a wildlife communications coordinator for the DNR in Cadillac, who spends her working hours with hunters, landowners, educators and media representatives to help with their DNR-related needs. In her off-time, she is a hunting-landowner who loves to educate folks about the DNR.