Northern Michigan top fall outdoors destination

When it comes to fresh water fishing, I don’t know how you could argue anywhere is better than Michigan. The entire state is surrounded by the Great Lakes, and is home to countless natural inland lakes and some of the most beautiful rivers in the country. The hunting, which is steeped in a rich history and culture, is also fantastic. For me, Michigan becomes better the farther north you go, with Gaylord, being a favorite destination. 

As a fella who loves the fall, I can’t wait for chilly air, changing leaves, open hunting seasons and fish aggressively feeding. Each year, as fall begins to set in, I try to find my way north before all those perfect attributes arrive further south where I live. This year, I was back in Gaylord to fish, hunt and explore the local scene. The trip did not disappoint. 

On a frosty late September morning, I joined my friends, Nick Green, public information officer for Michigan United Conservation Clubs, and Chris Sebastian, public affairs coordinator for Ducks Unlimited, for an early season ruffed grouse hunt. Nick is the expert. He has two well trained bird dogs, which are indispensable when the trees are still green and thick with foliage. 

A couple of years ago, Nick and I shot sharp-tail grouse with his dogs in North Dakota. I was eager to hunt behind Calvin and Summit again. As they worked the cover, and we were walking down an overgrown logging road in the Pigeon River Country State Forest in search of ruffies, my mind wandered back to many of the incredible outdoor experiences I’ve had in Northern Michigan. Carp fishing Beaver Island. Steelhead and salmon on the Pere Marquette. Brown trout on the Au Sable. The list goes on. Combined, it’s these memories mixed with the reality of the state being so rich in outdoor opportunity that keeps drawing me back. 

The bird hunting ended up being tough. In two days of busting brush over many miles, the three of us never killed a bird. We flushed plenty, but because the leaves are still so thick on the trees the grouse disappear as soon as you hear the unmistakable beating of their wings as they take flight. I did have one decent shot opportunity, but missed. Oh, well. It doesn’t matter. It was the opportunity to spend time with great friends while marching through the wilderness I sought, and found. Nick says the best grouse hunting takes place in late October. 

We stayed at Treetops Resort just a couple of miles east of Gaylord. This beautiful destination is home to five golf courses, downhill and cross country skiing, and is in close proximity to trout fishing on the Pigeon River and Sturgeon River. The accommodations are top notch. General Manager, Barry Owens, said, “Treetops is a special place. It started in 1947 as small little downhill ski resort, and has grown into a world-class destination for golf, skiing and access to all the surrounding outdoor activities.”

I didn’t have time to fish like I had hoped during this quick trip, but a number of other people in our party did go out to Lake Michigan to fish Grand Traverse Bay where they caught lake trout and whitefish. It was hard to drive over the Pigeon River multiple times without breaking out a fly rod, but grouse were the goal and I was committed. I know the trout fishing is excellent right by the resort, and I won’t go back without wetting a line. 

Paul Beachnau, the executive director of the Gaylord Convention and Visitors Bureau, said, “Ernest Hemingway used to hang out in the Pigeon River Country. I think that helps put into perspective how incredible this area is for hunting and fishing.”

Gaylord is home to many great restaurants. Two I thoroughly enjoyed are the Big Buck Brewery, where I paired a couple local beers with a nicely prepared filet mignon and the Alpine Tavern, where I was able to satisfy my craving for fried lake perch. A trip to Jay’s Sporting Goods, is another must when visiting Gaylord. This gigantic, independent outdoor retailer has everything you could ever need for hunting and fishing in the area. 

To learn a lot more about all the outdoor opportunities around Gaylord, check out the recent episode the Driftwood Outdoors Podcast I recorded with Paul and Barry. It’s available on all major podcasting platforms and the Driftwood Outdoors website. And visit the Gaylord CVB website at

See you down the trail… 

Brandon Butler

Pic: Brandon Butler and Chris Sebastian stroll down a logging road in the Pigeon River Country State Forest near Gaylord, Michigan in search of ruffed grouse. (Credit: Michigan Out-of-Doors) 

For more Driftwood Outdoors, check out the podcast on HERE or anywhere podcasts are streamed.


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