Ah, summer. The days are longer, the weather is hotter and it’s the perfect chance to squeeze in some extra time with the kids. But with the rise of social media and smartphones, tearing your kids away from their screens long enough to enjoy summer fun is a feat easier said than done.
The Michigan Wildlife Council recognizes the importance of connecting our children with the natural world around them. Luckily, with its beautiful lakes, lush forests and massive sand dunes, Michigan has no shortage of opportunity for outdoor adventure. Here are eight local spots and activities to help families soak up the summer sun and fun. Don’t believe us? Try one of these parks or programs for yourself.
1. Outdoor Adventure Center
Just ask any Michigander: The U.P. and the mitten are two totally different worlds. Unfortunately, not all Michigan families ever get the chance to experience the beauty of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – so the Michigan Department of Natural Resources brought that beauty to Detroit.
The Outdoor Adventure Center, conveniently located in the historic Globe Building in downtown Detroit, offers city kids the chance to experience “up north,” with 20 interactive exhibits including the Majestic Elk, Underwater Michigan, Sand Dunes, Duck Blind, Beaver Lodge, Wetland and Treetop. “We inspire, educate and connect our guests to the natural resources in Michigan,” says Linda Walter, director of the center.
2. Free Fishing Weekend
What makes Michigan great? Why, its waterways of course! You’re probably well aware of the five Great Lakes (Michigan, Superior, Huron, Erie and Ontario), but did you know that Michigan also boasts 11,000 other inland lakes and thousands of miles of streams and rivers?
“We like to say you’re never more than seven miles away from fishable water in this state, so there’s no shortage of opportunities for anglers of all ages and skill levels to pursue,” Elyse Walter, communication specialist with Michigan DNR, says.
This inspired the DNR’s annual Free Fishing Weekend, which welcomes fishers of all ages and skill levels to try their hand at the sport June 10-11. Even though a fishing license isn’t required that weekend, purchasing one is a great way to help fund the important work of keeping our state’s waters clean and fish healthy. Find fishing events at the more than 100 state parks on those two dates. In most cases, the event is free and equipment is provided. An $11 Recreation Passport is required to enter all state parks and is valid for a year.
3. Detroit International Wildlife Refuge
Protecting the planet is really important, but how do you get kids interested in helping the jungle when their only experience is with a concrete one? A good place to start is their own backyard.
Nestled just 20 miles south of Detroit and stretching all the way to the Ohio border is North America’s only international wildlife refuge – the Detroit International Wildlife Refuge. While you won’t find a jungle here, you will find 6,200 acres of coastal wetlands, 20 islands, 300 species of birds and 117 species of fish to learn about and protect. It’s a full-time job to keep all the wildlife and their habitats thriving!
Visitors can take part in hunting or fishing expeditions in select areas of the park during select times of the year with a permit. Hike through extensive trails, photograph the environment and learn about the wildlife through interpretation, viewing and environmental education.
“If you want a world-class outdoor recreational experience, you’ll find it right in your own backyard at the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge,” says John Hartig, the refuge’s manager.
4. Detroit Riverfront Conservancy River Days
What do Hart Plaza, the Detroit RiverWalk and the Dequindre Cut have in common? They’re all year-round opportunities for outdoor fun along and near the Detroit River.
“People enjoy the riverfront 365 days a year,” says Sabrina Mercuiro, communications and programming intern with the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. “It’s a wonderful place to walk, run, Rollerblade or enjoy other outdoor activities.”
Swing by any time to take in the view or stop by for one of their special events, like GM River Days, which happens June 23-25. This annual event offers all kinds of family-friendly fun on land and water. Find a huge carnival full of games and rides, plus Jet Ski acrobatics and zip lines, all outdoors and all weekend long.
Any talk of venturing outdoors wouldn’t be complete without a mention of southeast Michigan’s Huron-Clinton Metroparks. There are 13 of them, all within about an hour drive of Detroit. Each offers its own brand of nature fun that varies from park to park but includes water parks, ropes courses, hiking trails, campsites, fishing and swimming. Daily entry is $10 per vehicle or $35 for the year.
6. State Park Explorer Program
Got kids who are already interested in wildlife? The State Park Explorer Program is for them. Taking place at 40-plus state parks scattered throughout Michigan, it lets kids learn about the foliage, environments and animals that live there.
“It’s a great way to get outdoors and experience nature firsthand. We train the staff to be flexible and adjust programming to the age and interest of the audience, and they do a fantastic job of making age-appropriate activities and information part of their planning,” says Karen Gourlay, the program’s coordinator. “Their enthusiasm and passion for outdoor education is contagious.”
Schedules and topics vary by location. The program is free, but the $11 Recreation Passport is required for park entry.
7. Belle Isle
Located in the heart of Detroit, this gem offers the unique opportunity for kids to immerse themselves in nature while making their visit completely one of a kind.
In addition to typical state park amenities, Belle Isle also has the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, Belle Isle Nature Center, Belle Isle Aquarium and Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory.
“These activities are good ways to get kids excited about experiencing nature because they allow the kids to have a real sensory experience with the outdoors,” says Danielle Jackson, event coordinator at the Belle Isle Conservancy. “They can touch and feel and smell, see the things they learn about in their science classes in real life and begin to explore them independently.”
This spot also offers a giant slide, the Livingstone Memorial Lighthouse, the James Scott Memorial Fountain and much more. Admission for most activities is free or minimal, but a Recreation Passport is required to enter the park.
8. Riverside Kayak Connection
If you’ve lived in the D for a few years, you probably think that you’ve seen all there is to see. But unless you’ve taken a kayak tour of the city’s waterways, you’d be wrong.
The Riverside Kayak Connection, located in Wyandotte and on Belle Isle, offers historical, natural and industrial tours of the Detroit River, the Rouge River, the Huron River and the canals off of them, so Detroiters can get a unique view of the city.
“For many Detroit-area residents, paddling could become a new tradition. People who have lived in Detroit their whole lives have no idea that these experiences exist right here,” says Tiffany VanDeHey, owner of Riverside Kayak Connection. “Give paddling a try … you’ll love it.”
About the Michigan Wildlife Council
The Michigan Wildlife Council is entrusted with educating the public about the importance of wildlife conservation and its role in preserving Michigan’s great outdoor heritage for future generations. The council is dedicated to increasing public knowledge about how wildlife and Michigan’s outdoors are managed and funded so that we can continue to enjoy them as we do today. Find out more at hereformioutdoors.org.