When you think of places to go with your family, do you ever notice that the flashier things come to mind first? The museums, amusement parks and movie theaters are a big draw – and rightfully so. But there really is no place lovelier to spend an afternoon than the park.
And southeast Michigan has a bounty of beautiful parks that offer an array of family fun. Tops among them are the 13 Huron-Clinton Metroparks, which stretch across nearly 24,000 acres of land along the Huron and Clinton rivers.
Meet the parks
The 13 Huron-Clinton Metroparks are Delhi in Ann Arbor, Dexter-Huron in Dexter, Hudson Mills in Dexter, Huron Meadows in Brighton, Indian Springs in White Lake, Kensington in Milford, Lake Erie in Brownstown, Lower Huron in Belleville, Lake St. Clair in Harrison Township, Oakwoods in Flat Rock, Stony Creek in Shelby Township, Willow in New Boston and Wolcott Mills in Ray Township.
Of these, Kensington and Stony Creek are the largest, spanning over 4,000 acres per park, says media relations specialist Lisa Croff. The parks serve about nine million visitors each year.
Each park is a little different and has its own unique vibe, she says. Families should take the chance to travel between the five counties to explore them all.
“Each park definitely has its own personality,” she says.
During every season, all 13 Metroparks are open and offer a wide range of opportunities for family fun. One of the biggest draws, Croff says, are the parks’ bike-hike trails.
“Our staff keeps those cleared all year round,” she says. “Even in the winter you can walk or ride your bike.”
Available activities vary by park and with each season. Be sure to check the official Metroparks website in advance to find out what’s offered and register for special programs.
“We can go from sail boating in the summer to tobogganing and ice fishing in the winter,” Croff says, pointing out that the parks are open 365 days a year. “There’s always something and it’s always seasonal. You can come into the park any day of the year.”
Things to do
Wondering which park to visit with your family? Kensington is the most popular park, Croff says, and has boat rentals, equestrian trails, swimming at two beaches and more. Parks like Delhi and Dexter Huron are known for being more quiet “picnicking-type” destinations.
Oakwoods is known for its cherry blossoms in the spring and Willow has a “great family swimming pool” with a shallow area where kids can play basketball, Croff says. “It’s really known as being a family facility,” she says.
Lake St. Clair Metropark is best known for its 1,600-foot boardwalk overlooking a one-mile shoreline. This, along with its popular beach, make it a great summer destination for families.
Other opportunities for fun in the sun include Lower Huron Metropark’s Turtle Cove Aquatic Center, with its two waterslides and a 300-gallon dumping bucket, and the new-in-2017 “giant triple slide” at Stony Creek (a ropes course is coming here soon, too!).
Canoe rides, kayaking and fishing are among other popular activities at the Metroparks. In the fall, head to Lake Erie Metropark for bird watching – best observed in mid-September.
“They’re a really good place to go to watch birds migrate,” Croff says.
Sports lovers can play golf, tennis, basketball or volleyball at Metroparks or enjoy a meal at one of the many designated picnic areas located throughout the parks.
In the winter, try cross-country skiing or ice skating at Lower Huron Metropark and other locations, or ice fishing at Hudson Mills Metropark.
Nature and farm centers rule
Be sure to check out the interpretive programs at the various parks’ nature centers. These centers give families the chance to learn more about natural, historical and cultural resources.
Hundreds of family-oriented programs are offered throughout the year, teaching kids how to fish or taking them on a bug hunt, for example.
“They’re doing things on a daily basis,” Croff says. “It’s the educational portion of the parks. They can learn things like how a butterfly becomes a butterfly or they can feed chickadees in the winter by hand. It’s really where environment and education meet.”
Homeschooling programs are also often available at the nature centers.
Families can get a taste of farm life by visiting the farm centers at Kensington or Wolcott Mill. Kids can watch cows being milked (check in advance for times) and animal lovers will be interested to know this fun fact about the farm center at Wolcott Mill: “It’s the only farm in Michigan that has all seven breeds of heritage dairy cows,” Croff says.
Planning your visit
Metroparks offer families the chance to explore all 13 parks across five counties for $10 per day or $35 annually for a vehicle pass.
“It gives the opportunity to do things at 13 different parks all under one pass,” Croff says.
From water lovers and nature enthusiasts to those who just want to lounge and take in the fresh air and sunlight, there’s a little something for everyone at Huron-Clinton Metroparks.
So take a break – and head to a Metropark near you!
This post was originally published in 2012 and has been updated for 2017 by Jessica Schrader.