This article about the Sojourn Lakeside Resort in Gaylord was originally published in the September 2014 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. In September’s glow, gather with your crew at this beautifully restored resort on quiet Dixon Lake. (Bonus: A golf Mecca and Pigeon River Country’s wild are close at hand.)
Settled in the woods a few miles past the bustle of downtown Gaylord, you can find the quiet oasis of Sojourn Resort, a revamped version of a legendary property, where guests are invited to relish the simple elegance of nature. Birds serenade from perches in tall pines as you catch sight of the first building on the resort’s campus—a welcome center accented by a striking wooden arch. The building is by turns rustic and elegant. Setting the sensibility is a desk and table made from a single oak tree by a local artist; a metaphor for the resort’s focus on nature and sustainability.
The resort, a 32-acre property on the shores of 82-acre Dixon Lake, was first built by Doc Stevens, who worked on World War II’s Manhattan Project. When he retired he saw opportunity in America’s sprawling new transportation infrastructure, and bought the property in the late 40s, knowing new highways would bring people to the illimitable beauty of the North. He and his wife, Candy, lent their resort an old-west feel, naming it El Rancho Stevens and adding rustic buildings and miles of horse trails. By the early 2000s the resort had closed, a relic of a slower world.
But in 2013, Scott and Janice Lampert saw something else in the old wooden buildings silently flanking the lake. They purchased the resort and carefully renovated the property, trading out the wild west for a new sort of simplicity.
“There is no decision made on the property that was accidental,” explains manager Aaron Gentry. “Everything done here was with absolute purpose toward creating a connection with nature.” Each of the 20 guest rooms feature river rock tiling, minimalist color palettes in grays, creams, and greens, and sinks settled into wooden counters with un-planed edges. “We did that to remind you that it was once a tree,” Gentry says. The linens are crisp and modern, the sort you could readily find in a boutique hotel in Chicago, but you’ll also find antique Rittenhouse chairs in every room. They were original to El Rancho, but they seem equally at home in their new spa-like surroundings.
Sojourn is meant to be a gathering place for one contiguous crowd, where all guests are connected to a central event (meaning that, other than special events—see the resorts’ calendar—you can’t just reserve a room; you must reserve the entire property). Weddings, family reunions, and corporate retreats are all popular at the resort, and it’s easy to see why. The Great Hall can hold 200 guests in its comfortably creaking wooden space, where the tables are surrounded by more Rittenhouse chairs. Wooden beams crisscross to form a towering vaulted ceiling. A stone fireplace begs to host flickering logs. Chandeliers original to the space were painstakingly rewired instead of replaced, so that the resort maintains its connection to the past. A kitschy vintage stage features a hand-painted backdrop from decades past, when phone numbers were only five digits, and a soda could be bought with a single coin. But in the context of the Zen raking-garden, the elegantly landscaped grounds, and the modern minimalist décor, the antique details aren’t dated; they’re a wonderful layer of character.
In the Sandbar reception area attached to the Great Hall, there’s a towering upright piano that looks like it might be able to honky-tonk all by itself if given the chance. It’s from the original El Rancho, and you can tell it’s been played a few thousand times. Gentry laughs when he looks at the piano. “It just shows people from 50 years ago were having a blast here, and we still want people to have a blast here,” he says. “Before you know it someone’s sitting there playing away at it, and people come in closer, and it gathers people together.” This is the point of Sojourn. All its spaces—the beach, the Michigan-shaped pool, the gardens, porches, volleyball and shuffleboard courts—are arranged to let people find the connection between the woods, the past, simplicity, and one another. Sojourn Lakeside Resort, 2332 E. Dixon Lake Rd, 888.458.2282, sojournlakesideresort.com.
Alpine Meadows Executive262 N. Townline Road, 989.732.6006,
This is a course for your whole family. Straightforward and not vexing, the 18-hole, par-three course is dedicated to the pure enjoyment of the sport. Practice on the full-length driving range for a nominal fee, or take a lesson from professional staff to touch up your game. The short course is also ideal for anyone who enjoys walking but might find playing on a longer course tiring.
Gaylord Country Club4893 M32 West, 231.546.3376,
The Gaylord Country Club is one of Michigan’s oldest golf clubs, founded in 1924. The course is a well-groomed parkland design with relatively short distances from tees to greens, in the style of courses from the early 1900s. Enjoy a truly classic game of golf the way it was originally meant to be played in Northern Michigan. Lessons are available privately or for groups from the club’s PGA golf professional.
Tribute at the Otsego Club696 M32 East Main Street, 989.732.5181,
Every local golfer will tell you that if you play one course in Gaylord, it should be the Tribute. Designed by Robbins/Koch, the 1,100-acre course sprawls through the Sturgeon River Valley, offering remarkable vistas at every hole. On a clear day, expect to see the horizon 30 miles away. The challenging course requires focus and precision, but it’s not hard to conjure the necessary mental acuity when you’re surrounded by such beauty.
Your party’s not big enough to justify renting an entire resort? Consider these Gaylord venues.
Otsego Club and Resort
696 M32 East Main Street, 989.732.5181,
Stay right on the links at the Otsego Club. Choose from a variety of accommodations, from sweet alpine-style chalets to log cabins to standard hotel rooms. Expect an immersion in the northern experience; the club is filled with cozy stone fireplaces, warm pine paneling, and rustic log trim that reminds you you’re staying near the heart of the forest.
Alpine Lodge Magnuson Hotel
833 W. Main Street, 800.684.2233,
The Alpine Lodge is family- and group-friendly, with a large atrium featuring pool tables, a pool, a hot tub and plenty of space to lounge amid the inviting stonework details. The hotel hosts occasional craft retreats and has packages that offer discounts on golf and crafting getaways.
Pigeon River Country
The headwaters of the Pigeon River begin northeast of Gaylord in a wild corner of forest rife with wildlife. Hike or bike your way into the deep peace that comes with lungfuls of fresh air and trees rustling their leaves along the riverbank. Home to more than 10,000 kinds of free-ranging wild elk herds, Pigeon River Country is what people mean when they say Up North: 105,000 acres of untamed nature waiting to untangle you from the frenetic pace of 21st-century life.
Go Elk Watching
The best time to see elk is September, when you’ll hear the bulls bugling and breaking brush with their antlers. Another good time is when spring first blushes across the forest, and the elk venture out to eat the new green growth. However, the elk inhabit the area year-round, so you can spy them other times too. Try these spots for the best view (but stay in your car with your binoculars; elk are very timid, though used to cars):
- Fontinalis Road, about three miles north of Sturgeon Valley Road near the Cheboygan County line; look for a small cleared parking area and field.
- At the DNR-signed elk-viewing area on East Sturgeon Valley Road, about eight miles east of Vanderbilt.
- About a mile north of the intersection of Osmun Road and Clark Bridge Road in the Pigeon River Country State Forest.
Ride Your Bike
If you’re in the mood for adventure, ride the 70-mile High Country Pathway, which escorts you to beautifully panoramic backcountry. The trail meanders through a wide variety of terrain, including woodlands, wetlands, ridges and bogs. Be sure to pack a first aid kit and repair necessities, as you’ll encounter few people on the trail. If you’re looking for a shorter ride, try the Shingle Mill Pathway’s 14-mile loop. There are several loops between six and 11 miles long within the Shingle Mill system, so you can customize your ride.
Pigeon River Country was once one of Ernest Hemingway’s preferred fishing and hunting spots, and the area’s Sturgeon River remains a blue-ribbon trout stream, thanks to groundwater tributaries that keep the river cold and create an ideal home for brown, brook, rainbow and steelhead trout. Find a popular angler access point at the west end of Reynolds Road, accessible from Sturgeon Valley Road. Look for a small parking area and a short trail that descends to the river.
138 W. Main Street, 989.732.6564
Kick your day off with a hearty breakfast from Diana’s Delights—the Cheesy Bacon Skillet topped with a fried egg stars Plath’s bacon, a local favorite. Or match your coffee with something sweet—muffins, strudel, and stuffed croissant French toast are all tantalizing choices. In true lumberjack spirit, the portions are generous and the atmosphere casual.
The Bearded Dogg Lounge302 South Otsego, 989.619.0298, beardeddogglounge.com
With a bar made from salvaged flooring from a local convent, booths repurposed from old doors, and funky leather chairs surrounding antique tables, the Bearded Dogg is refreshingly eclectic. We like the Popper Burger, an imaginative melding of jalepeño poppers and burger. Post lunch, head next door to the Old Spud Warehouse, a treasure of one-of-a-kind antiques, apparel, and accessories.
Bennethum’s Northern Inn3917 Old US27 South, 989.732.9288, bennethums.com
Northern Michigan cuisine can be an intersection between rustic and refined, a place where wild woods serve as a backdrop to careful culinary creations. Bennethum’s Northern Inn settles on that line, with wooden tables and chairs and a cozy “Up-North” vibe underscoring the New American menu with an emphasis on seasonal, local ingredients and simple but perfectly balanced dishes made from scratch. If the weather is right, dine outdoors on the patio and listen to northern birds while sipping a Michigan microbrew.