Located in the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan, there is ample opportunity to backpack along the wet and wild High Country Path. Hikers have many options ranging from several days journey of exploring and fishing to a daylong route between two trailheads. Perhaps the most notable feature of the journey is the fact that is crosses Pigeon River Country State Forest, an area inhabited by the largest free-roaming herd of elk east of the Mississippi. Also along this 70-mile stretch lies some of the best native brook trout waters in the entire Midwest. Black River, Pigeon River and McMasters Creek are known coldwater destinations. Numerous lakes including Duby Lake, Tomahawk Lake, Round Lake and Clear Lake are popular northern pike and bass fisheries.
Starting from the Nature Trail at Clear Lake State Park the trail travels north into a sandy area comprised of jack pines and aspen then opens on to Tomahawk Creek Flooding where anglers find bluegill, crappie, largemouth bass and northern pike. Within the next several miles, two overnight options include Tomahawk Lake and Shoepack Lake State Forest Campgrounds. North of Shoepac Lake hikers are offered a route along a circular trail that is easy to follow and well marked with interesting sinkhole sites. The High Country Path continues for the next 27 miles through undeveloped areas lacking of drinking water but plentiful with stream and lakes where purification is required. Several waterways must be negotiated including the well-known brook trout waters of Canada Creek and Black River. The next notable area is Duby Lake, lush with wildlife and unfortunately insect life as well. Views of Duby Lake are via a short spur. Ahead lies McLavery Lake, a remote lake surrounded by picturesque paper birch. It too, must be viewed via a spur trail (0.5-mile). Beyond McLavery Lake on the approach to Dog Lake Flooding, bug repellant is absolutely necessary during the warmer months of the year. The positive feature about this low-lying area is that it is home to numerous species of birds including the occasional bald eagle. After Dog Lake Flooding the trail turns south while forging higher ground enroute to Pine Grove State Forest Campground and Pigeon River at approximately 7 miles. Drinking water is available at Pine Grove. Southbound from Pine Grove, maple and beech dominate the landscape reaching Shingle Mill Pathway (18 miles of hiking opportunities) at about 4 miles and then the Pigeon River again in about 2 miles. The two trails overlap for a distance of 1.5 miles to Pigeon River State Forest Campground. Another 2 miles of hiking carries the backpacker to Pigeon Bridge State Forest Campground where the trail swings eastbound through woodland that has evolved into aspen, jack pine and red pine forest. As the High Country Path forms its lower loop, a spur trail heads off in the direction of Round Lake State Forest Campground, another overnight spot that offers fresh drinking water. Approximately 9 miles of second-growth forest is explored prior to reaching the next campground, Town Corner State Forest Campground (0.5 mile off main trail). This second-growth forest, with its saplings of tender aspen is what attracts one of the largest free-roaming elk herds east of the Mississippi River. Expect to see white-tailed deer and a flurry of bird life as well. The remainder of the 70-mile loop swings northeast reaching Clear Lake Nature Trail at its southwest corner ultimately reaching the High Country Pathway point of entry.
In addition to the trailhead located east of Clear Lake State Park entrance, other trailheads are available in Pigeon Bridge State Forest Campground, Elk Hill State Forest Campground, Pigeon River State Forest Campground, Pine Grove State Forest Campground, Round Lake State Forest Campground, Town Corner State Forest Campground, Jackson Lake State Forest Campground, Tomahawk Lake State Forest Campground, and Shoepac Lake State Forest Campground.
For a detailed map, write to Pigeon River Country Association, P.O. Box 122, Gaylord, MI 49735.
Directions: From Atlanta, MI, Clear Lake State Park is located approximately nine miles north of Atlanta off M-33. The High Country Path is reach by first hiking a 0.75-mile path east of the park across M-33.
Elevation: 950 feet
Elevation Gain: 100 feet
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