Island Lake State Recreation Area is a walker's paradise, located in metro Detroit. It features miles of trails, paved and unpaved to meet the needs of walkers and hikers of all ability levels.
I have walked well over 60 miles at Island Lake and it remains one of my favorite destinations-there is enough variety of landscape, nature and trail types to always manage to surprise me. The convenience of the paved trails and a short hiking segment on the dirt trails make this one of the most family friendly trails in the metro Detroit area.
I recently had the opportunity to go for a walk at Island Lake on an unseasonably warm winter Sunday with my daughter, my first jaunt there of 2017 and it reminded me of how accessible and varied this park is.
It was mid-afternoon and the sun was bright and cast a glorious glow on the water, shimmering and dancing, jubilant to be released from the shackles of winter, which although mild, was dreary and gray. We began by chatting about future plans, college, jobs, and then as our jaunt eased into a steady gait, our conversation subsided, a welcome silence only punctuated by the occasional marvel at the grass shaped into mounds by the snow, or a bird darting across the blue cloudless sky.
Using your own imagination, you can easily modify my suggestions to develop your own favorite walks at Island Lake, but here are three basic templates to get started.
- The Paved Trail. This features a gentle, generally quite flat shared bike/walking paved trail. What I really like about it is, that unlike other area parks, very few bikers use the bike path. The serious bikers that bike at Island Lake generally use the roads of Island Lake State Park, leaving the paved trail for walkers and runners. Because there is not an easy short loop at Island Lake on the paved trail, it is not as popular, but I don't mind the out and back options.
Starting at the pavilion of Kent Lake near the canoe rentals. Depending on the amount of time you have and how long you can walk, you can either start heading east from the parking lot for and get close to a mile in before you reach the edge of the park. Here you can continue on under the bridge and connect with Kensington State Park. The loop around the lake at Kensington is about 8 miles, so you really want to be committed if you go that far. But simply turning back at that point allows you to enjoy a walk through wide open parts of the park and features a slightly hilly terrain.
I really like heading the other direction, west.
Although it is still very wide open, which we enjoyed-feeling the bright warm February sun on our faces, but this becomes very hot in the afternoons of mid-summer-so you might want to be out walking before 11 or after 5 for more comfort in the summer months.
The terrain going this way is a bit hillier and features meadow eco-systems and a variety of wild grasses and is a habitat for many small mammals and a variety of birds. There are mile markers to give you sense of how far you want to go, but on walks like these, we often choose a length of time we want to walk and then turn around about half way in. You do cross the park road at one point in this direction so be on the lookout for cars and especially bikers- the road bikes move quite quickly through this flat portion of the park road.
2.Mile One of the Yellow Trail. I love the Yellow Trail as it is the perfect length for a challenging morning hike or run- about six miles.
However, if you do not have time to do the entire Yellow trail loop at Island Lake, or if you have younger children-the first mile is great.
You begin through a narrow pathway with grasses and dense forest welcoming you and providing a nice transition from the parking lot area. Within just a few yards you will have completely forgotten that you are in the heart of one of the most populated counties in metro-Detroit.
The grasses often brush quite close to the trail, especially in the height of late spring and summer, so be sure to use proper precaution for ticks, as deer ticks have been noted in this area. But the path is well marked, descending down hill and winding to a flat area, crossing the Huron River before reaching the first mile marker. Once you see it, you can turn back around and have a nice two mile walk. Definitely be on the lookout for mountain bikers as this is a shared use trail.
Most of the time you will maybe only see one or two bikers on the trail, but there are some tighter turns which impacts visibility so be aware and don't wear headphones while you walk!
3. The Yellow and Blue Trails. Both of these trails are amazing-hilly, but not brutal, lots of turns, trekking through the thick trees of the forest before stepping into a meadow area. You will snake through the park and cross the Huron River a few times.
The Yellow Trail is a bit shorter at around 6 miles, while the Blue Trail is much closer to 9 miles. The Blue Trail tends to have more mountain bikers due to its length. This is old farm land and occasionally you will see remnants of old wooden fences if you pause and look for them on your hiking.
Island Lake Recreation Area also features kayaking and canoe rentals, swimming, a variety of picnic areas and is an important watershed for the Huron River.
It also has a historical maker for a Michigan contingent in the Spanish-American War who used this area as a summer camp. There is also a shooting range, so you may occasionally hear the sound of gunfire, but it is usually quite sporadic and quickly fades into the background, especially if you have a good conversation partner or enjoy being lost in your own thoughts, which is a wonderful past time while walking in Island Lake Recreation Area- another quality gem in our amazing State Park and Recreation System.
Questions for Discussion
- What is the definition of a meadow?
- Why is the Huron River watershed significant?
- What sort of wildflowers did you notice-any invasive species?
- Did you notice any remnants of previous farms?
- Which is your favorite walk at Island Lake?
- What exactly was the Spanish American War and what role did Michigan play?
Looking for more great walks in Michigan? Check out more walks by typing "walks" in the search bar or click here from Michigan Family Travel as well as Jim DuFresne's excellent book, Explorer's Guide 50 Hikes In Michigan, available on iTunes®.