You needn’t wear spandex to cycle comfortably. Southeast Michigan has a prime array of green terrain between urban stretches for riders to be one with nature and put rubber to the dirt road. Looking for leisurely rides fit for the entire family? Plenty of parks host paved pathways that wind through picturesque landscapes too. Whether your tot’s a beginner or you’re searching for a challenge, one of these trails is sure to cater.
To compile this list, Metro Parent chatted with experts at Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance to find some popular routes and off-the-beaten-path options. We also included Huron-Clinton Metroparks and a few other popular family areas in Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties (and you can find a few more ideas as well as trail maps over at the TrailLink Rails-to-Trails Conservancy).
So grab a bicycle and shift into high gear for a summer of scenic exploration, or try out a cycling event in southeast Michigan!
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A compact 14 miles takes mountain bikers on a tipsy-turvy route in a thickly wooded area. Dirt paths give way to bridges over spring-fed streams. The MTB Project considers Addison Oaks one of southeast Michigan’s “best kept secrets” and notes the trail drains well after heavy rains.
This 982-acre state park juts from the Detroit River. Pedal on the paved bike trail that circles the island. An $11 recreation pass is required for vehicles, but find free parking, the Belle Isle Nature Zoo, Dossin Great Lakes Museum, the giant slide, aquarium and more. You can even throw on a swimsuit and dip into the river.
Traverse 24 miles of paved paths (more to come!) beside the Huron River, which winds through the scenic backcountry of Washtenaw County. Find recreation and river access, including Gallup Park in Ann Arbor and the Ford Lake Overlook in Ypsilanti Township. Distinct signage helps riders navigate the trails.
A quickie but a goodie and a viable link to the Metro Parkway Trail and Metro Beach, this two-mile stretch passes through the woods parallel to the spillway between Velger Boat Harbor on Lake St. Clair and Shady Side Park (parking here) in Mt. Clemens.
Part of a route planned to link Port Huron to South Haven, the Clinton River Trail presently connects the West Bloomfield and Macomb Orchard trails. Put rubber to the turf for 16 miles of partly-paved and limestone paths that wind along a former rail line that spans Sylvan Lake, Pontiac, Auburn Hills, Rochester Hills and Rochester.
More than 16 miles of bike lanes connect Corktown and southwest Detroit as well as plenty of hotspots in between. Serious bikers can continue their cycle along the Underground Railroad Bicycle Route Detroit Alternate, which winds through Detroit, around Lake St. Clair and beyond, with many historic sites along the way.
Check out the hustle and bustle and paved routes along the scenic Detroit RiverFront. Bring or rent a bike and tackle The Dequindre Cut, a 1.15-mile shortcut fit for walking, jogging and biking. Hop on the Cut at Lafayette Street, Gratiot Avenue and Woodbridge Street. For more fun, refresh at the RiverWalk Cafe, Detroit RiverFront Playpark, Cullen Family Carousel and Mt. Elliott area splash feature. And the RiverFront’s just a short bike ride to Belle Isle.
Go off-cycling and explore the terrain along these trail segments connecting green spaces like Lake Erie Metropark, cities like Detroit and Dearborn, and other hotspots in Wayne, Oakland and Monroe counties. Ultimately, 250 miles of trail, including over 26 downriver cities and townships, are at your disposal.
Hines Park’s paved trail spans more than 20 miles from Northville to Dearborn Heights. Popular among walkers, joggers and cyclists, the route begins near the Dearborn campus of the University of Michigan and continues northwest, parallel with the Middle Rouge River through several parks and intersects with the I-275 Metro Trail. Note the low-lying land next to the Rouge River routinely floods after heavy rains.
The park offers a 3-mile loop in the main part of the park for novices. Those feeling a bit more adventurous can take to the paved, 11.7 miles hike/bike trail beside the Huron River and traverse the woodlands. Requires a $10/vehicle day pass or $35/annual (allows access to all other 13 Huron-Clinton Metroparks, too).
Keep fit with this vast network of trails, from beginner to challenging routes totaling 25 miles. Take detours through Kensington Metropark in Milford, the James F. Atchison Memorial Park in Lyon Township, and Lyon Oaks County Park in Wixom.
Open and receiving TLC since the 1970s, this trail covers 26 miles in Oakland and Wayne counties. Try out a variety of entry points. Beware, the paved path does skirt the expressway and cross main roads in spots. Eye on Michigan notes that most improvements are north of I-94. The I-275 Metro Trail intersects with the Hines Park Trail and uses part of the trail to cross the I-275/I-96 interchange.
Tour the wooded wetlands and green meadows and catch glimpses of the Huron River as you bike eight miles of paved path. The luckiest riders may spot a coyote or a red fox. And beware of the “challenging hill” that’s bound to try the legs of the littlest members of the family. Requires a $10/vehicle day pass or $35/annual (allows access to all other 13 Huron-Clinton Metroparks, too).
Traverse “Michigan’s great outdoors” and bike the hilly and wooded terrain at this popular park. Keep an eye peeled for waterfowl and an array of activities and hotspots, including beaches with stunning sunsets, the Splash ‘n’ Blast, and disc golf. Requires a $10/vehicle day pass or $35/annual (allows access to all other 13 Huron-Clinton Metroparks, too).
Just a short stint from Mount Clemens, take a relaxing ride on a three-mile paved hike/bike route with scenic sights of Lake St. Clair. Stop at the gazebo to check out Huron Point. At the entrance, the path even links to a trail that parallels Metro Parkway for easy access to the suburbs. Try your hand (and foot) at court sports and foot golf onsite at the park. Requires a $10/vehicle day pass or $35/annual (allows access to all other 13 Huron-Clinton Metroparks, too).
Mountain bikers won’t be disappointed with this 10-mile trail that winds through a variety of terrain. For a family-friendly ride, the park also hosts an extensive network of wider routes. Note that no motor vehicles are permitted on park property.
These 1,258 acres of green meadows and woodlands feature family activities aplenty, including golf, shoreline fishing, canoe launch spots and court sports. You can pedal from one to the other on the four-mile paved bike/hike trail. The older kids can burn some real steam by continuing on the route through Willow and Oakwoods Metroparks for a total 30-mile round trip! Requires a $10/vehicle day pass or $35/annual (allows access to all other 13 Huron-Clinton Metroparks, too).
Canton residents, this one’s for you! This mixture of dirt and paved routes features two miles of smooth leisure riding and mountain biking on tougher terrain. This trail runs from Canton Center Road to Haggerty Road and connects Heritage Park and the I-275 Metro Trail – so if you’re looking to extend your ride, another 33 miles await.
Start at 13 Mile Road and pedal the two miles to 15 Mile Road. In the future, the trail will expand and turn into a six-mile route that will connect to the I-275 Metro Trail, a 30-mile path for real biking enthusiasts.
Take in a combination of urban and wooded beauty on this 24-mile linear trail that begins at 24 Mile Road and takes riders to the City of Richmond. An extensive 180-mile network of trails intersects with the MOT for riders looking to build endurance.
A green gem embedded in Northville Township, there are leisurely and mountain biking trails, no matter your family’s preference. (Note that the Yellow Trail mountain biking route is closed December-April; call for dates.) You can fish, admire wildlife, horseback ride or hike between jaunts. An $11 Michigan Recreation Passport required for each vehicle.
This “comfortably-wide,” 11-mile paved path parallels the Metropolitan Parkway through urban Macomb County. Find more scenic trails to the north and east where the route connects to the Clinton River Park Trail and the Clinton River Spillway Bike Path respectively.
This 5.7-mile trafficked loop wraps through the woods and features a waterfall, bridges over rocky ravines, bypass lanes, wild flowers in the spring and summer, and kaleidoscopic foliage in the fall. Best used from March until November.
The flat terrain and grassy meadows offer cyclists a three-mile, easy ride. The interpretive trails offer pleasant views of the Huron River. Find voyageur canoe launch sites and an interactive nature center too. This 1,756-acre park near Flat Rock continues on, connecting 12 more miles of paved hike/bike trails in Willow and Lower Huron metroparks (it all adds up to 30 miles of biking round trip!). Requires a $10/vehicle day pass or $35/annual (allows access to all other 13 Huron-Clinton Metroparks, too).
Michigan’s first non-motorized rail-to-trail offers bikers a picturesque 8.9-mile linear park, located in northeast Oakland County. The 8-foot wide route has three bike stops/parking spots and traverses through Rochester, Rochester Hills, Oakland Township, Orion Township and the Village of Lake Orion with no shortage of striking nature scenes along the way.
Polly Ann Trail, complete with a number of trailheads, connects Orion Township, Oxford Township, Addison Township, the Village of Oxford and the Village of Leonard along a 14-mile stretch. The untouched landscape gives way to a number of recreational and public spots along the way. Hint: Find restrooms at the Blanka Trailhead in Leonard.
Escape the hubbub of the city mere miles outside Pontiac at this recreation spot, featuring a 9-mile looped route (note: signage offering two optional, difficult stretches) fit for mountain bikers. Two miles in, pedal the main climb to seek your reward of a fast descent and three miles in you’ll get a great view of Pontiac Lake.
This 5.1-mile route is flat but “flowing,” a cinch for veterans of the trail but a bit of an added push for newbies. Tackle the Dragstrip section, log piles and technical options for a challenge. Note: the trail can be muddy after a heavy rain.
Crossing an array of ponds, roads and boat launches, the trail features a number of stops for cyclists, too. Bike beside the river and keep an eye out for Blue Herons, Kingfishers and Sandhill cranes. Jaunt through Holly and Fenton to see historic buildings framed by wooded stretches.
Here, cyclists interested in an easy ride can find six miles of paved pathway, while their mountain-bike counterparts can hit 14 miles of hilly, heavily forested dirt terrain. Those without can even rent bikes. Helmets are a must. Requires a $10/vehicle day pass or $35/annual (allows access to all other 13 Huron-Clinton Metroparks, too).
Find two trailheads in West Bloomfield – one at Sylvan Manor Park, the other at West Bloomfield Woods Nature Preserve, introducing bikers to a seven-mile pathway. The 54-acre linear park offers picnic spots, bike racks, benches and mileage markers.
Looking for a workout that doesn’t leave you wheezy? Discover this 4.5-mile paved bike path that winds through New Boston near I-275 and I-94. The flat route makes for a relaxing ride through woodlands, around the Washago pond and stretches along the Huron River. For those looking to break a sweat, note the course connects to Lower Huron and Oakwoods metroparks for a 30-mile ride, roundtrip. Single-speed and tandem bikes available for rental. Requires a $10/vehicle day pass or $35/annual (allows access to all other 13 Huron-Clinton Metroparks, too).
This post was originally published in 2016 and has been updated for 2017.