Detroit is a big city - maybe not so much population-wise anymore, but in terms of area, Detroit is huge! Most are surprised to learn that the entire cities of Boston and San Francisco as well as the borough of Manhattan can comfortably fit within the land area of the City of Detroit. That’s not including the sprawling suburbs which stretch the concrete landscape tens of miles outside of the city limits. The car culture is certainly strong in the Motor City, and sprawl is just one way that’s manifested in Southeastern Michigan. But where can the nature lover go when the endless miles of city and suburb get to be too much? Here are some of the best parks and trails in the Detroit area for when your need for nature beckons.
Starting in the heart of the city, Belle Isle is one of Detroit’s oldest parks. The island in the middle of the Detroit River and abounds in natural wonders. You can go for a swim, rent a kayak, check out the beautiful aquarium, oggle at the vintage yachts at one of the nation’s oldest yacht clubs, take a peek in the Conservatory, explore the wooded areas and trails, or watch the sunset over the skyline of Detroit. There are so many things to do on Belle Isle. It’s truly an oasis in the city.
Over the past few years, the city has revitalized the riverfront and turned it into a beautiful promenade that connects multiple parks along the Detroit River. The Riverwalk currently stretches for almost five miles along the Detroit River, and soon a new stretch will open to create a continuous path all the way to the MacArthur Bridge to Belle Isle. Starting at Atwater Street, the Dequindre Cut is a rail trail that heads Northeast from the Riverwalk and stretches 2.5 miles to Eastern Market. The graffiti on the overpasses along the trail is definitely worth renting a bike or lacing up the shoes for a short run. Plus, at either end you have delicious food and drink at Eastern Market or Atwater Brewery - you can’t go wrong.
Just outside of Detroit, Lakeshore Drive offers spectacular views of both million dollar mansions and Lake St. Clair. Going for a bike ride or run along the shore is a must for any architecture fan. The route stretches about three and a half miles from the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club and ends at the War Memorial. Along the way, Albert Kahn-designed mansions will make you drool, and constant lake views on the other side will bring you back to reality. It’s fun to venture into the neighborhoods, too, and see some great examples of Colonial and Tudor Revival and even some International Style homes.
I’d be remiss to not include Rouge River Park on the list because of the impressive revitalization effort of the Friends of Rouge Park. It’s located about 14 miles outside of downtown (I mentioned how large Detroit is, right?) near the absolutely gorgeous Rosedale Park neighborhood (which is worth a visit as well). It is much more natural than the previous parks with secluded, natural trails along the river that feel like you’re in the wilderness rather than inside the limits of a major city. The park and trails are really well maintained and kept super clean thanks to the Friends of the Park. There are also monthly events in the park like fun runs and 5Ks if you’re a runner.
Metro Detroit has 13 beautiful Metroparks which dot the suburban landscape and ensure you’re never too far from nature. In addition to the Metroparks, there are numerous Rail Trails, and one of the best is the Paint Creek Trail. The Paint Creek Trail runs from Rochester about nine miles to Lake Orion. It’s a well-maintained limestone path with pretty views of the creek and surrounding wooded areas. Plus, there’s a year round Cider Mill at about the halfway point if you need to replenish your carbs. The Rochester Riverwalk, the Clinton River Trail, and the Macomb Orchard Trail intersect it, leading to even more ways to get away from it all. It’s a bit outside of the Downtown area (about 25 miles North), but it’s one of the best maintained and easily accessible trails in the area.
There are many, many more parks and trails in Metro Detroit, so you’re never too far from being immersed in nature. I’d encourage you to step outside of the concrete jungle every once in a while and find your favorite park to get away from it all.
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