The sun is shining, it’s time to get outside! Bonus: sunshine actually boosts the immune system! Did you know that being outside actually shapes the way a child’s brain forms? Free play outside increases executive function, the sensory input provided by nature increases attention span, and exercise strengthens kids’ muscles. Here is a list of parks in the metro Detroit area where you and your family can spend time outdoors. Take a hike, bike ride, or hit up one of these awesome playgrounds.
Carpenter Lake | Southfield, Free
An easily accessible (although not paved) one-mile loop of wooded path with interpretive signs meanders around Carpenter Lake. Fishing is available with a license. All are welcome to fish without a license at the Southfield Fishing Derby on the first Saturday in May. A large rock installation was recently finished featuring different rock types and lots of climbing opportunities for children.
Bonus: While in Southfield, be sure to stop by “The Duck Pond,” aka American Commerce Centre Nature Preserve. You will love the simple boardwalk with a pavilion and lots of birds!
Huron-Clinton Metroparks | Metro Detroit, $$
Spread across five counties, these 13 parks are a metro Detroit gem. The parks feature beach access, miles of trails, nature centers, disc golf, and many other outdoor activities. Kensington, Metro Beach, and Stony Creek are the most easily accessible via highway. If you’re up for a challenge, Oakwoods Metropark, Willow Metropark, and Lower Huron Metropark are connected via a 30-mile trail loop. The Indian Springs Metropark nature center has a unique glass bubble underneath a pond where you can observe an aquatic habitat. Please note, a metropark pass is required for entry.
Heritage Park | Farmington Hills, Free
Well known for its splash pad and playground, Heritage Park also features several miles of wooded trails. The Nature Discovery Trail engages the youngest hikers with interactive sensory activities and Native American heritage. On a rainy day, spend some time in the Nature Center, where you can see a natural habitat diorama, read books, or pretend to take a kayak trip.
EIC at U-M Dearborn | Dearborn, Free
Stop in at the Environmental Interpretive Center (EIC) to talk to the knowledgeable staff before hitting the trails. With over 300 acres, there are lots of different habitats available to explore, including mature forest, fields, and a lake. February is Maple Syrup season, so be sure to visit the sugaring shack to see how they turn sap into syrup.
Crosswinds Marsh | New Boston, Free
Walking over the heart of Crosswinds Marsh on the boardwalk trails will create memories for your family. Eight trails range in distance from 100 yards to 1.8 miles, making this an excellent choice for little ones. If you are lucky, you might see a Bald Eagle fly from its nest! The sounds of the marshland, including a multitude of birds, frogs, and wind through the rushes, form a unique sensory experience.
Hines Drive (closed on Saturdays for biking) | Wayne County, Free
Every Saturday starting on May 4 (through September 28) from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Hines Drive is closed for biking, skating, and walking. Park at Nankin Mills or Helms Haven Park and enjoy six miles of traffic-free road with playgrounds spread along the way!
The State Park System | Metro Detroit and Beyond, $
Did you know Metro Detroit hosts several state parks? Two are within the city of Detroit: Belle Isle and Milliken State Park (Michigan’s first urban state park). At Belle Isle, you can visit the beach in the summer, feed deer at the nature center, get your flower fix in the winter at the Conservatory, or just take a loop around the island. Other parks within an hour’s drive include Island Lake State Park in Brighton, Maybury State Park in Northville, Dodge #4 State Park in Waterford, Brighton Recreation Area, and Seven Lakes State Park in Holly. Camping is available at several locations, as well as miles of hiking. Please note, a state park pass is necessary for entry.
Dequindre Cut and the East Riverfront | Detroit, Free
The Detroit Riverfront offers three-and-a-half miles of walkways interspersed with parks, plazas, and open greenspace, all along the beautiful Detroit River. The Dequindre Cut is a mostly below-street level greenway that connects the Riverfront with Eastern Market. Bikes are available to rent, or bring your own for a fabulous Saturday excursion.
Cranbrook House and Gardens | Bloomfield Hills, Free/$
Featuring a beautiful Arts and Crafts style mansion designed by Detroit architect Albert Kahn as well as 40 acres of gardens, Cranbrook House and Gardens offers something for everyone. You will find an Asian-style garden with bridges and ponds, formal shrubberies, and dark pine woods full of mystery for a child’s imagination. Admission to the gardens is free. House tours require admission and need to be scheduled ahead.
Nature Centers | Free/$
Don’t let the rain keep you away from experiencing nature. Metro Detroit is home to several unique and wonderful nature centers. Check out the Howell Nature Center, the Stage Nature Center in Troy, the Johnson Nature Center in Bloomfield Hills, and be sure to check your local city website to see if you have a nature center near you!
Bonus: Year-Round Fun!
Matthei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum | Ann Arbor, Free (pay for parking)
At the Matthei Botanical Gardens, you can explore nature no matter what the weather! In the spring and summer, the Botanical Gardens are beautiful. Be sure to check out the Gaffield Children’s Garden! Nearly three-and-a-half miles of trails criss-cross the Arb, providing lots of hiking opportunities. When the weather turns cold, enjoy the warmth and beauty of the Conservatory.
Please remember, getting outside doesn’t have to be complicated. Even going to the neighborhood playground is great. If you’re up for more of an adventure, take a picnic lunch and take a little hike before eating. Whether you are a seasoned, outdoor-adventuring family or newbies to getting outdoors, there is something for everyone on this list!
Where do YOU go to explore nature?