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RV Boondocking and elk watching in the Pigeon River State Forest

| Updated Nov 6, 2021

Now this is boondocking. We drove 11 miles off the Interstate, down a forest road lined by brilliant yellows and red birches and oaks. Then we turned off that and went a mile and a half off down a washboard two-track, pulling into a state forest campground on a little circular lake aptly named Round Lake.

The view outside our window of Round Lake in the Pigeon River State Forest

We haven't seen another car in miles. Its pouring rain. The heater is keeping out the 44-degree weather and we are toasty comfy in our Roadtrek eTrek, watching Game 4 of the American League Playoffs, rooting for our Tigers in the middle of nowhere.

Sunrise with the last of the fog being burned away from Round Lake in the Pigeon River State Forest

I had no bars on my MiFi data card or my Samsung Note 3 smartphone. But when I put the data card in my Wilson Seek cell phone booster with its external antenna magnetically attached to the top of the Roadtrek, I suddenly have four bars of pure Verizon 4G connectivity.

In the middle of nowhere.

Free camping…boondocking along a two track deep in the Pigeon River State Forest in a golden forest

TV. The Internet. Lights and heat. Water. Food, Ciffeee. Our own shower and bathroom. The comforting sound of rain drumming on the roof.

This is why we Roadtrek. This is why we boondock. This is heaven, albeit a little wet.

The Pigeon River Country State Forest and surrounding land where we are camped is home to the largest free-roaming elk herd east of the Mississippi River. The nearly 100,000-acre state forest contains native hardwoods and pines that are interspersed with fields and forest openings. It looks like the color up here peaked last week. But its still jaw-dropping gorgeous. The nice thing about boondocking is you can sleep with the blinds up. The morning came with the rain gone, the sun spotlighting the color across the fog shrouded lake. What a way to wake up.

I suspect there's another week or so of color left before they leaves start dropping fast.

A bull elk can weigh half a ton

Elk inhabit this forest year-round, but certain times are better for viewing than others. Probably the best month is September, when the males (bulls) are trying to establish dominance for mating rights with the females (cows). They are very active during this time, making loud vocalizations (bugling), and breaking brush with their antlers to impress cows and intimidate their rivals.

But even now, a month past the rut, they're still pretty perky.  I awoke Friday morning to the sound of them bugling, their high pitched, nasally noises echoing through the piney woods around our campsite from somewhere towards the east..

The girls… a herd of cow elk in the Pigeon River State Forest

The elk or wapiti is a large member of the deer family. Adult males may weigh up to 1/2 ton

The boys…. bull elk in the Pigeon River State Forest. Michigan has the largest herd  east of the Mississippi

Want to visit this place? Come up I-75 to Exit 290 at Vanderbilt, then drive east on Sturgeon Valley Road about 11 miles to the forest trail leading to Round Lake. There are a couple of pit toilets and an old fashioned hand water pump. But no amenities. We've been here before. In the summer, you might find one or two other campers here. But during the week and off season, chances are you'll be have the whole place to yourself.

If you want to visit one of the several designated elk viewing sites, continue east about three miles to Hardwood Lake Road. Turn left (north) and continue about one mile to the Forestry Field Office. This office has maps and information about elk viewing, but hours are variable depending on the season.


Mike Wendland

Published on 2013-10-18

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

25 Responses to “RV Boondocking and elk watching in the Pigeon River State Forest”

October 19, 2014at5:12 pm, Linda Calvey said:

You’ve got the expensive model…I would be happy with a Poplar 190 on a Ford chassis

October 17, 2014at9:19 am, Dave Snowise said:

Can’t wait to hear all the stories around the campfire

October 17, 2014at4:31 am, Kathy Howell said:

Back then the road was 2track afraid tree was taken out to widen road

October 17, 2014at4:28 am, Kathy Howell said:

Used to camp in the winter ,backpack in 2,3miles on snowshoes see the elk .wonderful place their used to be a tree everyone put initials on it n date went back to 1960’s people started marking.on tree .not sure if still there just off road in

October 17, 2014at1:11 am, Jackie Hogan said:

Beautiful spot. What state are you in? I would really like to downsize to an eTrek, but at age 82 I can’t justify the cost. My 26-1/2 ft. Lazy Daze with car in tow is becoming cumbersome to me, so would like to simplify with one all-purpose vehicle. Yours looks perfect. I enjoy following your adventures, especially in the UP, where I have spent a fair amount of time.

October 15, 2014at12:34 pm, Richard Weber said:

There’s Rick in his RS Adventurous!

October 15, 2014at7:57 am, Teresa Lamont said:

Beautiful wish I was there

October 15, 2014at7:24 am, Winona Kratz said:

Can’t beat a RoadTrek!

October 14, 2014at11:11 pm, Cheryl Chester said:

Very Pretty and I love the RV. How’s that saying go ” Take me away Calgon well I say Take me away RV.

October 14, 2014at9:42 pm, Cyndy Hodges said:

Is this ya”ll?

October 14, 2014at8:30 pm, Sandy Hickernell said:

Sounds good to me

October 14, 2014at7:43 pm, Gary said:

Oops – I just noticed the 2013 dates. Oh well, we did enjoy finding Round Lake Campsites.

October 14, 2014at7:41 pm, Gary said:

Mike, I saw your post a few weeks ago and decided to find Round Lake. If you noticed the card left on site 7, we were there the night of the 12th. Left early morning 10/13. We must have missed crossing paths by a few hours. We had the whole camp to our selves. There was a Dodge Minivan parked off in a cove, but we never saw the people. We scrounged up plenty of firewood and had a VERY peaceful Sunday evening at Round Lake.

Gary & Stephanie
PW Plateau TS

October 21, 2013at3:39 pm, Thom L. said:

Reading your article mentioning watching Elk… For any readers who may be visiting the North-Oregon Coast area there is a nice Elk preserve about 30 minutes southeast of Astoria called the “Jewell Meadows Wildlife Area” . . . a google search will give you directions. And while there is no overnight camping in the area, it is worth the side trip if visiting the coast.

Happy Trails,

October 19, 2013at11:29 pm, Mike Wendland said:

And Jim we’ll keep right on blogging here…lots of news everyday.

October 19, 2013at11:27 pm, Mike Wendland said:

Jim… hopefully a couple more trips before we have winterize… then the holidays…then winter camping… then the Gulf Coast… the Texas Hill Country…Arizona and then… it’s warm again!

October 19, 2013at10:33 pm, Jim Temple said:

Mike, what are your plans this winter? Hope to be able to continue following your blogs in the off season.

October 18, 2013at7:56 pm, campskunk said:

that’s my kind of camping – absolutely nobody around. must be nice. i too sleep with the curtains open when i’m way out in the woods.

October 18, 2013at4:34 pm, Mike Wendland said:

I should also point out that you can also camp when its colder… we did so once in February down to minus eight Fahrenheit. But the vehicle winterized…we brought our own bottled water for cooking and drinking and washing and used straight antifreeze to flush the toilet. No problems. We’re planning another winter camping trip In January in Michigan;s Upper Peninsula.

October 18, 2013at4:31 pm, Mike Wendland said:

Water freezing is not an issue unless you have a very prolonged cold snap where the thermometer gets to 28 degrees F or below. That said, I don’t worry as long as we have the heat on and it doesn’t go down the low 20’s.
Last night, it got to 34 degrees outside. In our eTrek it was a very comfy 57 degrees. We could have set the heater to make it warmer but that’s what we keep it to at night at home so we did the same in the eTrek.

October 18, 2013at4:28 pm, Mike Wendland said:

Boondocking…dry camping… pretty much the same thing. It means totally self-contained. Technically, you can boondock in a Walmart or your driveway. Typically, though, we mean out in the wilderness somewhere.

October 18, 2013at1:28 pm, Liz said:

Added that to my list of future camping spots. Sorry in advance if we intrude on your privacy one of these falls.

My question is how do you handle the water this time of year, with night temps dropping below freezing? If camper is heated, are you safe from lines freezing?

October 18, 2013at12:17 pm, Barbara K said:

Looks fabulous!

Just a question that’s been lurking in my mind recently – what’s the difference between boondocking and dry camping? Is dry camping staying totally without water in the RT? Isn’t boondocking not in a camp site?
Just a curious mind wishing to know 🙂

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