A Guide to Elk Viewing in Michigan

Elk herds are one of Michigan’s best-kept secrets and they roam in an area most people can go and see every day! 

An elk standing under a tree
Michigan Elk | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan

Share This

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!

When to View

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'll Need

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 in Michigan

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 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.

In 2018, Michigan celebrates the 100th anniversary of elk being reestablished in the state. 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.