City Trails: Where to Find a Little Nature in Michigan’s Downtowns
Michigan is filled with forests, lakes and other places to get away from it all. But what if you’re in the middle of “it all” and just looking for a quick escape amid the hustle and bustle? Take your pick from these trails, riverside paths and other city-adjacent nature walks.
Detroit International RiverWalk
This three-mile span of paths, parks and landmarks was ranked the #1 riverwalk in the country by USA Today readers three years in a row (2021, 2022 and 2023)! Take in views of Windsor, Ontario across the Detroit River as you stroll past Hart Plaza, the GMRENCEN, the Cullen Family Carousel, the 63-foot Milken State Park Lighthouse and lots more. Depending on the season, you can rent bikes from Wheelhouse Detroit, grab a bite and a drink at the café and tiki bar, run through the fountain jets or even take a riverboat cruise.
Dequindre Cut Greenway
Take a detour off the Riverwalk for a two-mile tour of public art on the Dequindre Cut Greenway. Bikers, joggers and one-wheel hoverboarders flock to this paved recreational path linking the East Riverfront and Eastern Market. Formerly a Grand Trunk Railroad line, “the Cut” debuted in 2009 and features ever-changing displays of artwork and graffiti. Mini-plazas dot the sunken path, including the Dequindre Cut Freight Yard, where you can sip on a glass of wine or beer, and the Campbell Terrace, where you can listen to local musicians do their thing.
Newly opened in May 2023, the Southwest Greenway is the just the latest portion of the 27.5-mile Joe Louis Greenway, which will unify several Detroit parks and neighborhoods. Though just a half mile in length, this below-street-level path connects the west riverfront’s highly anticipated Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park with the Michigan Central train station campus and the thriving Corktown neighborhood. The full Joe Louis Greenway is slated to be completed between 2027 and 2032.
Whiting Forest at Dow Gardens
Want to take a walk four stories in the sky? Right in the heart of downtown Midland, the Whiting Forest features 54 acres of woodlands, orchards, ponds and streams. But the coolest part is that you can stroll on the nation's longest canopy walk — a 1,400-foot-long boardwalk soaring 25 to 40 feet above the forest floor. This unique trail is open year-round and is accessible for all abilities and ages.
Pere Marquette Rail-Trail
Thirty miles of paved trails between Midland and Clare, the Pere Marquette is recognized as one of 25 Hall of Fame trails in the country by the Rails to Trails Conservancy. You can begin your walk, jog or bike ride in downtown Midland at the “Tridge,” a three-pronged wooden bridge spanning the confluence of the Tittabawassee and Chippewa rivers.
Bridge to Bay Trail
Walk or bike as you explore trail towns from Port Huron to Algonac. The Bridge to Bay Trail is 50 miles of rail trails, riverwalks, boardwalks and bike paths along the picturesque shoreline of Lake Huron, the St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair. You can sit on a bench to watch the freighters go by, take a detour into one of the many shopping and dining districts, or head to one of the summer’s many festivals and concerts.
Lansing River Trail
Take in all the best Lansing has to offer along the 20-mile, paved Lansing River Trail. This diverse path passes through several parks and natural areas, as well as the downtown and Old Town districts of the city. Explore the Potter Park Zoo and the historic Turner Dodge Mansion, or hit the river in a kayak for an entirely different perspective of our state’s capital city.
Grand River Edges Trail
On the east side of the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids, the Grand River Edges Trail runs approximately 5 miles from Canal Park to Riverside Park. The southern “loop” section of the trail traverses both sides of the river — at the site of the original rapids the city is named for — and passes landmarks including Grand Valley State University and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. At its north end, the trail picks up the 92-mile Fred Meijer White Pine Trail, which you can take all the way north to Cadillac.
Traverse City is an incredible bayside town with beaches, shops, restaurants, breweries and attractions. But wandering down Front Street isn’t the only way to see this charming city. Try biking or walking the 10.5-mile long Traverse Area Recreation Trail (TART), taking you past West End Beach, Clinch Park and the Traverse City State Park. The TART also links to more than 100 miles of other trails, including the Nakwema Trailway, Sleeping Bear Dunes Heritage Trail, the Leelanau Trail and the Boardman Lake Loop Trail, among many others.
Marquette City Multi Use Path
Views of Lake Superior and passing freighters are just two of the reasons bicyclists and walkers flock to the Marquette City Multi Use Path. The 17-mile path network offers countless scenic vistas and passes by historic landmarks such as the Lower Harbor Ore Dock, the Marquette Maritime Museum and Lighthouse, Tourist Park Campground and the stunning 328-acre Presque Isle Park
About the Author: Liz Hill has more than 10 years of experience writing for top Michigan publications to go along with her career as a copywriter in Metro Detroit.