Doggin' Detroit: Where To Hike With Your Dog When In The Motor City

Doggin’ Detroit: Where To Hike With Your Dog When In The Motor City

By Doug Gelbert

Landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted knitted a series of individual islands together with a series of lovely bridges to create Belle Isle, the queen of Detroit city parks, in the middle of the Detroit River. Dogs can trot the paths and admire the skylines of downtown Detroit and Windsor, Ontario on the opposite shore. Great freighters and recreational sailboats ply the waters around Belle Isle, reached via Douglas MacArthur Bridge from Jefferson Avenue. The park is home to a zoo, conservatory, and aquarium.

To hike with your dog on longer dog-friendly trails, head 60 to 90 minutes west in the Waterloo State Recreation Area. The Waterloo Recreation Area began in the 1930s when the federal government relocated farmers who had struggled for years to scratch a living from the sandy, gravelly soil.

The farms were bought up and 12,000 acres of land designated as the Waterloo Recreation and Demonstration Area by the National Park Service. In 1943, the project was handed over to the state of Michigan and with more than 20,000 acres now set aside, Waterloo State Recreation Area is the largest park in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. The focal point of the park are the dozen or so excellent fishing lakes that lure bass fishermen to Waterloo.

Of the almost 50 miles of footpaths twisting through the hills in Waterloo Recreation Area, half belong to the Waterloo Trail as it circumnavigates Mill Lake. The trail rolls through climax hardwood forests of oak and hickory and checks in on old farm fields. For canine hikers looking for a smaller commitment there are three leg stretchers of about a mile in Hickory Hills, Dry Marsh and Woodland.

At the Gerald E. Eddy Discovery Center are 12 miles of interpretive nature trails that visit a variety of habitats from bogs to logs. In addition to the hiking trails at Waterloo, there are another 15 miles of bridle trails that can muddy up navigation at times. The trails top out on several scenic overlooks. One, called Murder Mountain, according to legend, remembers the killing of early settlers by local Indians.

To find Waterloo Recreation Area take Exit 147 off of I-94 and head north. There are three campgrounds in the park; the facility at Big Portage Lake is open all year.

copyright 2006

Doug Gelbert is the author of over 20 books, including The Canine Hiker’s Bible. To subscribe to his FREE Newsletter on hiking with your dog and receive a copy of Rules for Dogs in 100 of the Most Popular National Park Service Lands, visit In the warmer months he leads canine hikes for tours, guiding packs of dogs and humans on hiking adventures. Tours, ranging from one-day trips to multi-day explorations, visit parks, historical sites and beaches.

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