Michigan Family Travel knows visiting family and friends or hurrying to one cultural destination after another can be exhausting.
So, if you have a few hours to get away from your hotel room, family visit, or just find the need to get into nature a bit to get some fresh air and stretch your legs, then you may find Kensington Metro Park in Milford, Michigan to be just the place to go.
The Huron-Clinton Metro Park system is a wonderfully maintained group of parks spread throughout Metro Detroit. Each park features pleasant walking, playgrounds, nature watching and each one is different than the others.
Kensington, located off of I-96 in Oakland County is easily accessible for travelers in the western reaches of Wayne, Oakland counties or the eastern borders of Livingston and Washtenaw Counties.
This is truly a four season park with each season having its own distinctive recreational opportunities for families to enjoy, so please keep it on your list of things to do, year round.
Winter is one of my favorite times to go to the park through, because it tends to be less crowded than in the summer months, especially in the early morning hours.
The first thing I would do is go for a walk on one of the trails at the Nature Center. There are several loops of varying lengths from ½ mile to a little over 2 miles, and some of the trails have spurs that can add a little bit of distance if you are looking for that. For those with younger children, or with less time at the park, you may want to start off with one of the shorter trails, the ½ mile Tamarack Trail, or the Deer Run Trail, at a little over a mile. You could quickly trot through either of these in less than 15-20 minutes or so, but I would recommend planning on 45-60 minutes for either to really soak in the sights and sounds of nature.
Even in the winter, there is so much natural beauty, a variety of birds, and a few remnants of history, that taking a bit longer to savor the walk will do wonders.
At the start of the trails, near the Nature Center, is a dispenser with bird seedfor 25 cents. Stepping away from the Nature Center a mere 25 meters or so you will hear a chorus of chirping. Stop here, stretch out your arm, place the feed in your palm flat, face up, and wait. On most days, within a moment or two, you will see the birds start to tentatively fly into the branches of trees near you. They will likely wait a moment or two to ensure that you seem safe, and as long as you are quiet and still, a bird will likely land in your hand, ever so delicately and quickly take a bit of food and fly into a neighboring tree.
This is a wonderful photo opportunity. On a recent visit, a photographer spent over an hour just in this spot taking photos of the birds coming for food. There is something so incredibly mesmerizing and relaxing by this experience. If your child is a bit cautious and hesitant, you may want to model how to do it, to show how easy it is. Or, perhaps they could just stand a few yards away and watch another visitor demonstrate.
As in most things in nature, patience and stillness is usually rewarded, so you may have to wait a bit on some days to get the birds to land and take your food.
Time to move on to the trails. The trails are located over a large parcel of a former farm, but this does not mean it is entirely flat and open. In fact, the trails are nicely tucked into the woods and feature gently rolling hills. In general, the trails are quite flat, nicely maintained gravel paths that meander through this lovely landscape.
On our most recent visit, we had the good fortune to see small ice formations dangling from the handrail of a boardwalk, glistening in the early morning sun. It was so quiet and still as we stared at this natural beauty that we almost lost track of time. The boardwalk itself was a bit slick from the frost, but that was okay. It forced us to slow our pace for safety, but it encouraged us to better appreciate the sun on the marsh grass, the frost on the tree branches, and the occasional chirping of a bird in the distance.
The trails feature benches to rest from your walk, bird watch, or as our children used to do, to play school. One of the children would be teacher as the others of us would sit attentively, trying to answer their invariably complicated and challenging questions.
The trails are very well marked, feature the occasional sign explaining a tree, or farm history, or landscape feature and soon enough your pleasant journey will be over and you will be back to the Nature Center.
The second activity you might enjoy, depending on your children's ages is to spend time at the Nature Center itself. Although small, this center does feature informative displays of the local wildlife-snakes, fish, birds, fowl. It also features a very pleasant sitting area, overlooking a pond where you can sit and enjoy the view for a moment, warming up from the chilly winter morning.
Be sure to check out the canoe in the lobby. Although I have been here dozens of time, I never really noticed it. It is a true work of beauty, and an engineering marvel, with an interesting history. I am betting you can engage your inquisitive child with lots of discussion about the science behind buoyancy as well as simply imagining what this area would have been like two hundred years ago and how things have changed.
Depending on the age and interest level of your child, I would say you could spend 15-30 minutes here.
Time to move on!
I would next recommend going to the Farm Center. The Farm Center is a small well-tended farm near the Milford Road entrance to the park. You might want to walk the small, paved loop looking at the farm animals- the sheep, the chickens, and definitely check out the beautiful horses, before heading inside the Farm Center itself. The farm center features several hand-on activities for your children to experience "farm life." The kids will likely enjoy using the pulleys to lift the items-perfect time to talk physics!
At this point, you may have worked up a bit of an appetite, so be sure to stop into the Farm Center Grill for a light lunch, snack, or just something to drink. This pleasant space is reminiscent of a barn, minus the animal odor, and you can chat here and talk about the interesting things you have seen and learned so far.
You can easily spend 45-90 minutes at the Farm Center if you do all three activities mentioned here.
So, what to do for your last 30-60 minutes?
I would say, a nice slow drive around the park, stopping at one of the play ground areas and letting the kids run around a bit might be just perfect, before leaving Kensington Metro Park and heading off to the next destination on your Michigan Family Travels!
If you are lucky to have snow during your visit and you are able to stop in on the weekend you may want to rent cross-country skis at the Golf Course, or participate on a winter sleigh ride at the farm center. They also have sledding and snowboarding, but you must have your own equipment (and snow!).
They have a variety of quality special events and programming available throughout the year so be sure to check their website for more info! There is a motor vehicle fee of $10 for day use in 2017 or $35 for an annual car pass. Here is a map of locations for their winter activities.
Enjoy and travel local!
Family Questions for Discussion
1. Who lived in this area 200 years ago-what do you imagine life was like?
2. What are some of the geological features you notice in this area-how was this area formed?
3. What do you observe while walking on the trails?
4. What type(s) of birds are most likely to accept bird seed from your hand-why might this be?
5. What are three facts you learned at the Nature Center?
6. What are animals you observed at the Farm Center?
7. Were there any baby animals?
8. What did you learn about the horses?
9. What do the chickens eat?
10. What were your favorite memories from your time at Kensington Metro Park?
Looking for info on another family walk? Check out our January 2 post about walking at Furstenberg Nature Area in Ann Arbor!