If you are longing to give your young children a taste of the true Michigan outdoor experience while visiting the Metro Detroit area, then spend a few hours in the heart of downtown at the DNR Outdoor Adventure Center and Milliken State Park.
Located at 1801 Atwater Street in the warehouse district along the Detroit River, this wonderful facility will provide a great taste of the true Michigan Family Travel experience- nature, culture and togetherness.
We arrived a bit early one Sunday for our trip to the Outdoor Adventure Center so we ate our picnic lunch, then left the free gated parking lot and walked around outside at Milliken State Park and Harbor which is immediately across from the Outdoor Adventure Center. This is billed as the first urban state park. As we proceed along the walkway towards the river, we saw interesting sculptures, a family preparing for a birthday party in one of the park pavilions, a person meditating, families roller blading, and a large freighter.
If you have not had the opportunity to see one of these massive freighters it is amazing. This vessel was so long and tall that it seemingly blocked out the Windsor skyline, leaving us truly awed by the properties of physics that allowed this vessel to remain afloat!
We lingered for a while, the children snapping photos of the interesting juxtaposition of nature and the urban landscape and enjoyed the fresh air.
Michigan has an abundance of interesting lighthouses that have played an integral part of our cultural history and Milliken State Park and Harbor has a replica of one of our favorites- the Tawas Point Lighthouse. A great link for more information is provided through detroitriverfront.org- so be sure to check that out.
It was now a few minutes after noon and we walked across the street to the DNR Outdoor Adventure Center. There is an entrance fee- at the time of our visit it was $5 for visitors 12-62 and $3 for under 12's and seniors.
Then we proceeded left from the admission desk and were plunged into a gallery featuring beautiful life-sized statues of animals one might see "up north." In all honesty, after over forty years of trying, I am resigned to the fact that this replica might be the only elk I see!
There are also historical figures in this gallery providing information about the important contributions they made to the development of Michigan and our nation.
As one proceeds there is a glass aquarium featuring fish one might see in one of the many inland lakes, rivers or one of the Great Lakes. Young children will likely enjoy the immersive feature of this exhibit.
Our daughter had an interesting experience trying to paddle the kayak along the digital river as the kayak gently rocked from side to side. We all enjoyed walking across the wooden suspension bridge connecting the giant woodland scenery.
Of course, spending time among the replicas and artificial scenery is no substitute for the real thing, but I do believe the Outdoor Adventure Center serves its purpose well- to educate, entertain and inspire visitors to take a chance at the real thing. Michigan has such an abundance of great state parks, metro parks, city and township parks that are usually amazingly well maintained and feature outdoor opportunities for young families desiring nature walks, to more intense multi-day backpack immersion.
Although our older children enjoyed it, we all agreed that were they under 12, they would have truly loved it. Still, none of us walked away from our two hours at Milliken State Park and Harbor and the DNR Outdoor Adventure Center feeling disappointed. In fact, we reminisced about great camping trips we have had in Michigan and motivated us to try to get one more in this fall!
Family Travel Questions for Discussion
1. Who was Milliken State Park and Harbor named for? Why do you think they named this park after him?
2. How do freighters float?!!!!
3. What is the significance of the Detroit River to Michigan's development-historically and now?
4. How big are elk?
5. Who were some important figures in Michigan's history? Who was your favorite?
6. How many type of fish did you see in the underwater exhibit?
7. What are some of the fish you might find in a Michigan lake or river?
8. How important is fishing to Michigan?
9. What are some interesting facts about birds you might find in Michigan- the Bald Eagle or the hummingbird for example?
10. What is a yurt?
11. What are some outdoor adventures you are inspired to try?