Belle Isle is undisputably Detroit's premier attraction. The 983-acre state-controlled island park (the largest in the country) was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, who also designed New York's Central Park. The Strand is a six-mile paved roadway that circles the outer perimeter of the island; take a leisurely drive or hop on your bike, run, or walk around the island and enjoy the views of Windsor, the Ambassador Bridge, and the Detroit River. There are also several hiking and nature trails that run through the center of the island through 200 acres of woodlands, not to mention the protected wetlands and hidden beaches. There are multiple large shelters for picnics and family events, piers for fishing, a giant slide, a water slide (enjoy all day for $3), mini golf, a petting zoo, a driving range and putting greens, tennis courts, soccer fields, baseball diamonds, basketball courts, paddle boats, the Dossin Great Lakes Historical Museum
, the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory
, the Scott Memorial Fountain
, the Belle Isle Casino
(for private events), and so much more.
Second only to Belle Isle, the Detroit RiverWalk is one of Detroit's most impressive assets for tourism and recreation. Efforts have been underway since 2003 to develop a public-access walkway along Detroit's riverfront and serve as a catalyst for further economic development. The long-term goal is to have a paved RiverWalk that extends five and a half miles from the Ambassador Bridge to the MacArthur Bridge (the gateway to Belle Isle). The RiverWalk connects with the Dequindre Cut Greenway
(which itself connects to Eastern Market, with long-term plans for a trail leading all the way to Midtown and connecting with other trails), the William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor
, Michigan's only urban state park (construction is also underway for a new education and recreation center at the base of the park which will serve as an office for the Department of Natural Resources and event rental space). Three miles of the RiverWalk are already complete, running from Joe Louis Arena to the state park and including Rivard Plaza
(which has a carousel, fountain, café with plenty of seating, and bike rental shop). Numerous group activities, fundraisers, and annual events are also held here.
Campus Martius Park
Located in the heart of downtown Detroit's commercial district and surrounded by some of the city's best architecture, the 2.5-acre Campus Martius Park is an urban green space and community gathering place that hosts concerts, festivals, and other events year-round on Detroit's official Point of Origin
. The centerpiece of the park is the Woodward Fountain
featuring 100 water jets that can shoot streams 100 feet into the air, all set to choreographed lights and music (it's Detroit's mini Bellagio). In the winter, Campus Martius displays a 60-foot Christmas tree on the covered fountain and has an ice skating rink. Fountain Bistro, located right next to the Woodward Fountain, offers some of the best bar/restaurant seats in Detroit.
Steps away from Campus Martius Park at Michigan Avenue and Lafayette is Lafayette Greens, an urban garden built by Compuware in the footprint of the demolished Lafayette Building. This hybrid garden-park features raised beds, fruit trees, and a children's garden with a mindfulness towards design aesthetic, providing a peaceful green space in the midst of an urban environment. With a half acre of growing space, the organic produce grown at this community garden is donated to Gleaners Community Food Bank, Alternatives for Girls, and other community organizations and food distributors.
New Center Park
A unique green space located on the corner of Second Avenue and West Grand Boulevard across from the Fisher Building, New Center Park produces free concerts and outdoor events during the summer season (with the occasional ticketed event). Weekly events include Wednesday Night at the Movies, Alfresco Jazz & Blues on Thursdays, and the Saturday Showcase.
Gabriel Richard Park
Serving as the eastern-most point for the RiverWalk at the base of Belle Isle, Gabriel Richard Park has been enhanced with a plaza and pavilion, fountains, fishing outlooks, butterfly gardens and a labyrinth. There is also a RiverWalk Café.
Donated by Senator Palmer in the 1800s, Palmer Park is comprised of 296 acres of lawns and historic woodlands, a public golf course, tennis courts, outdoor pool, hiking and biking trails, a lake, a historic log cabin, and more. It's like being "Up North" … in the city of Detroit. Some of the many events held in Palmer Park, organized by the People for Palmer Park, include children's tennis lessons, story time, bike rides, Little League, free Thai Chi, free yoga, and group walks.
East Side Canals
There is a whole system of canals on Detroit's east side that are prime for canoeing and kayaking. The Creekside Community has one mile of lakeshore parks that are dotted by an underutilized canal system (for those who wish to explore the much-discussed ruins of Detroit, the dilapidated docks and crumbling boat houses are a sight to see). Put in at the lagoon at Maheras Gentry Park and paddle the three miles of canals that wind through Creekside. For guided tours, contact Riverside Kayak Connection
The Conner Creek Greenway
The Conner Creek Greenway will eventually stretch from the Detroit River to 8 Mile Rd., tracing the original Conner Creek. It will link parks, green spaces, and neighborhoods with hike and bike trails. Portions have already been completed.
Located in Corktown, Roosevelt Park stands in the shadow of the abandoned Michigan Central Station, one of Detroit's most iconic (and most-photographed) buildings. Plans for the site include building a skate park and an outdoor sculpture park and mural project. Right now you can play "urban put put
" with the majestic train station as your backdrop (the course was designed by Lawrence Tech students using reclaimed car parts, concrete, and road construction materials). The park is also home to several annual events, including the Detroit Cornhole Championship
and the ending point (and party center) for the Tour de Troit
Detroit Dog Park
Detroit's first official off-leash dog park is taking shape in Corktown at the Macomb Playlot near the train station (because everything in Corktown is near the train station). Construction isn't yet complete but is fully funded, approved, and well underway.