Michigan’s largest cities like Detroit and Grand Rapids offer urban green spaces and recreational facilities to their residents through city parks. These parks play a crucial role in improving people’s mental health and wellness. In this article, we will explore some of Michigan’s largest city parks and the exciting sights and facilities they offer to both residents and visitors.
1. Millennium Park – 1,400 acres
Millennium Park, located in Grand Rapids, MI, is not only the largest city park in Michigan but also one of the largest in the United States, boasting approximately 1,400 acres of diverse urban green space. The park is situated on the southwest side of Grand Rapids, bordering the Grand River, and is predominantly located in Walker, which is part of the wider Grand Rapids Metropolitan area. Millennium Park serves as a connector between three major cities, namely Grand Rapids, Wyoming, and Grandville, stretching between Johnson Park in Grandville and John Ball Park in Grand Rapids.
Compared to other prominent city parks in Michigan, Millennium Park is a relatively recent addition, with its planning commencing in 1998 to commemorate the new millennium, and it officially opened its doors to the public in July 2004. The park is situated on the site of former gypsum mines and gravel pits, which required extensive efforts by the developers to restore the land for recreational purposes.
Between the stunning natural habitats, the park offers exciting recreational facilities. From Memorial Day until the end of August, a six-acre beach with a large splash pad provides the perfect beach day experience in the Grand Rapids area. Apart from the beach, visitors can enjoy basketball courts, volleyball courts, fishing, and playgrounds. The park’s 18-mile long natural trails offer hikers a chance to relish the beauty of Michigan wildlife, including forests, fields, and wetlands. Moreover, the park’s trails connect to other local trails, including Kent County trails and the city of Grand Rapids trails.
During winter, the park offers various activities for recreation, including cross-country skiing and much more. The park maintains winter trails, providing an excellent opportunity for snowshoe hikers, bikers, and snow runners to engage in outdoor winter exercise.
2. Rouge Park – 1,184 acres
Rouge Park, situated in the bustling city of Detroit in the Midwest, was established back in 1925 and once held the title of Michigan’s biggest city park, spanning over 1,184 acres. It was even larger than the world-renowned Central Park in New York City. However, with the construction of Millennium Park, Rouge Park lost its title. Nevertheless, Rouge Park continues to undergo numerous development projects to this day, including a prairie restoration project in collaboration with MetroParks to eradicate invasive plants and enhancements to the archery range, which are being funded by Wayne County.
Located just 15 miles from downtown Detroit, Rouge Park can be easily accessed in just a 20-minute drive or a one-hour train ride. The park is surrounded by various Detroit neighborhoods, such as Warrendale to the southeast, Franklin Park and Weatherby to the east, and West Outer Drive to the west.
The center of Rouge Park is marked by the flowing river, which gives the park its name. The park boasts over 400 acres of forest with numerous hiking and biking trails spanning across miles. Additionally, the park is home to 60 acres of native prairie and a 5-acre marsh, adding to the natural beauty of its surroundings.
The park is designed to be accessible from every neighborhood it borders, with four recreation areas located throughout. One of the largest recreation areas, Brenna Recreation Area, boasts a splash pad and several courts for tennis, basketball, and soccer, and is situated in the northern part of the park. The Rouge Park Golf Course, a complete 18-hole course, is also located in the northern part of the park. The Joe Prance Recreation Area, situated along W. Chicago and W. Parkway, is another popular spot. For those looking to camp, picnic, fish, and engage in other outdoor activities, the Scout Hollow Campground in the center of the park provides a unique and tranquil environment in the heart of Detroit.
3. Belle Isle Park – 982 acres
Belle Isle Park is a distinctive destination that spans over a vast 982-acre island, located in the heart of the Detroit River, just a short 15-minute drive from downtown Detroit. Not only is it one of the most extensive city parks in Michigan, but it also holds the title of being the largest city-owned island park in the entire United States. With countless attractions to explore, Belle Isle Park is undoubtedly a must-see destination.
In the 1880s, Frederick Law Olmstead, the well-known designer of New York’s Central Park, was tasked with developing the park. Over the years, Belle Isle Park has been home to a variety of attractions, such as a botanical garden, golf course, boat club, and aquarium. For several decades, the park was managed as a city park until 2013, when management was taken over by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources for a thirty-year period. Although it is now classified as a state park, it still holds a significant place in Detroit’s history as the city’s primary urban park and is included on the list of city parks.
Visitors can enjoy a wide range of recreational activities on this beautiful island that spans over two and a half miles. The Belle Isle Aquarium, which was once the oldest public aquarium in North America and operated continuously from 1904 to 2005, underwent improvements and reopened in 2012. In addition, the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, a botanical garden and greenhouse erected in 1904, is located in the park. The conservatory features several gardens, including a rose garden, a lily pond garden, and a formal perennial garden, which visitors can explore.
The Dossin Great Lakes Museum is located within Belle Isle Park and features a variety of fascinating exhibits focused on Detroit’s significant role in national and regional maritime history. Visitors can explore the museum’s extensive collection of model ships and view the bow anchor of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, which met a tragic end in 1975. The museum’s emphasis on historical maritime displays makes it a must-see attraction for anyone interested in the region’s rich cultural heritage.
4. Palmer Park – 296 acres
Palmer Park, although smaller than other parks on the list, boasts 296 acres of lush greenery in the heart of Detroit. Conveniently located just 15 minutes by car from downtown Detroit and 45 minutes away via public transit, the park is adjacent to the Palmer Park Apartment Building Historic District, a registered historic place. As part of Detroit’s Regional Parks system, Palmer Park holds its own among the city’s largest parks, ranking just behind Rouge Park and Belle Isle Park.
In 1893, Palmer Park came into existence, thanks to the generous contribution of the land by the former U.S. Senator Thomas Witherell Palmer. The park was established with the aim of preserving the virgin forest. Over time, Palmer continued to donate his land to the city, which ultimately led to the expansion of the park to its current size. It is worth noting that Palmer and his wife were well-known philanthropists in the Detroit area during the 19th century.
The park extends nearly 300 acres and boasts several distinctive landmarks. Among them are the handball courts built back in 1950, a log cabin that was originally intended as a summer retreat for the Palmer family, an artificial lake, and an old fountain. The fountain, named after the entrepreneur Charles Merrill, was constructed in 1904 and boasts Italian Renaissance style architecture. Sadly, many areas of the park have suffered damage due to years of neglect, but in the last decade, community organizations have worked hard to bring the park back to life.
Palmer Park, despite its current state of disrepair, still holds a special place in the hearts of Detroit residents. The park boasts a range of amenities, such as full-sized and junior tennis courts, walkways, a playground, and park lighting, which have undergone a series of upgrades over the years. Recently, a significant initiative has been launched to restore Lake Frances and Witherell Woods. This project includes plans to dredge the lake, naturalize the shoreline, and improve the overall management of the natural ecosystems within the park.