Wicked Good Travel Tips / Featured  / 5 Ways to Connect With Nature in Detroit, Michigan
Detroit Skyline
4 May

5 Ways to Connect With Nature in Detroit, Michigan

Most people instantly think one of two things when they hear Detroit: automobiles and the Motor City. So, is it even possible to connect with nature in Detroit?

While it’s true that Detroit was once a bustling city known as the automobile capital of the world, there are some incredible opportunities for both residents and visitors in Detroit to experience the great outdoors.

Detroit Skyline

A Little About Detroit
In the early 1800’s Detroit was the capital of Michigan; however it lost this title in 1847 when the capital building was moved to Lansing to draw people further into the state. Although no longer the state capital, Detroit still claims the highest population in the state with over 4 million city residents.

Geographically, Detroit’s location within Michigan can be found with this simple trick: hold out your left hand, palm facing down. Detroit is located around the knuckle where your thumb meets your palm. Directly situated on the Great Lakes system, the city is a major port and international crossing connecting the United States and Canada with both a bridge and tunnel.

When most people think of Detroit, nature is a common afterthought as several of the city’s hidden gems are sadly disregarded. If you are planning a trip to the “mitten” or are proud to call Michigan home, check out these 5 unique ways to connect with nature and the enjoy the beautiful outdoors!

Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge

Detroit River Wildlife Refuge

Detroit is home to the only International Wildlife Refuge in the United States. This refuge encompasses over 6,000 acres along the Detroit River and the western shores of Lake Erie (one of the Great Lakes). Comprised of islands, wetlands, shoals, and marshes; the refuge creates a sanctuary for millions of migrating birds every year. Because of this, the area and wildlife are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge offers scenic walking trails, boating, and even fishing and hunting in permitted areas. Depending on the time of year, big game hunting such as turkey and white-tail deer or small game hunting of fox, coyote, squirrel and rabbit are allowed. There are also dedicated areas that permit hunting of migratory birds. Before visiting, make sure you check all hunting and fishing guidelines as these regulations can vary throughout the year.

Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory

Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory Detroit

Opened in 1904, The Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory is the oldest running conservatory in the United States. In addition to a greenhouse and botanical garden, the conservatory building is split into five different ‘houses’ each with a different theme:

⦁ Palm House – tropical trees and tall palms
⦁ Cactus House –houses both succulents and cactus
⦁ Fernery – showcases vegetation that thrives in humidity and cooler conditions
⦁ Tropical House – home to fruit trees such as banana, fig, and orange
⦁ Show House – beautiful flowering plants

Also located in the Detroit River, adjacent to the conservatory, is Belle Isle Park. At nearly 1,000 acres, the park is a city favorite for its aquarium and dedicated 13 acre nature preserve.

Campus Martius Park

Campus Martius Park, Flickr by Daniel Lobo

If you are looking for a little green among the city’s urban jungle make sure to check out Campus Martius Park, a 2.5 acre greenspace in the heart of downtown Detroit. Dubbed “Detroit’s Gathering Place,” the area offers a grass lawn, a skating rink in the winter, state monuments, fountains, and occasional live music. The park is also surrounded by botanical gardens, adding a burst of color in the spring and summer showcasing Michigan’s state flower, the apple blossom. Lights allow the park to be enjoyed into the evening, making it a great place to enjoy the outdoors and connect with others. In the near future, the park is even adding several new restaurants, featuring outdoor seating and patios!

Kensington Metropark

Kensington Metropark Detroit, Wikimedia
Image:  Wikimedia Commons by Dwight Burdette

Kensington Park is a local favorite, and one that should be added to all lists of things to do and see. The park is located just outside of Detroit’s urban core and showcases the best of Michigan’s ecology and wildlife. While visiting Kensington Park check out the following:
⦁ Trails – Enjoy one, or all, of the four nature trails, including the 1.85 mile Wild Wing Trail, a popular spot for bird watching. The multitude of habitats within the park make it a wonderful stop all outdoor enthusiasts.
⦁ Nature Center – Stop by the Nature Center and talk with the park’s guides, they are always available to field questions on the wildlife and share interesting facts!
⦁ Fishing – Test out your fishing skills in one of the designated fishing areas, or take a small boat out onto the water for a relaxing afternoon.
⦁ Water activities – Boating, kayaking, paddle boarding, and canoeing are all popular activities available at Kensington Park.
⦁ Swimming area complete with large Splash ‘n’ Blast water slides
⦁ The Farm – Get a glimpse of life on the countryside by visiting the old farmhouse and nearby petting zoo.

Detroit Zoo

Detroit Zoo, Wikimedia
Image:  Wikimedia Commons

No nature and outdoor activity list would be complete without including the Detroit Zoo. The zoo recently opened the new Polk Penguin Conservation Center – the largest penguin facility in the world. However if penguins aren’t your thing, there are also 280 different species of animals, so there is sure to be something for each member of your family. At 125 acres, the Detroit Zoo is the largest paid family attraction in the state of Michigan.
Many view Detroit as a concrete jungle, with little more than automobile factories and industrial parks. In fact, Detroit holds many surprises that nature lovers can enjoy. There are numerous options for outdoor activities that allow you to connect with nature, even in the heart of the Motor City. Make time to check out these five locations featuring the outdoors, and share your favorite in the comments.

About the Author: Bryan Koontz is Founder and CEO of Guidefitter, an online community for hunting and fishing trips. In addition to the outdoors, Bryan finds joy traveling to unique and odd destinations and documenting his journeys. Bryan holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Mechanics with Honors from Penn State University and an MS in Mechanical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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