Children Walking Across An Indoor Water Feature Stream
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Detroit’s Outdoor Adventure Center Makes An Amazing Spring Day Trip

Detroit is one of those Michigan cities that my family and I don’t get around to visiting often, and I really wish that we did. We are a family of summertime happy campers, so waiting through the winter and early spring for the camping season to start makes us a little stir-crazy – and that’s where the Awesome Mitten Spring Bucket List comes into play.

Since we love being outside, the city is typically not our first choice of day trip location – until we found out about the Michigan DNR Outdoor Adventure Center.   

Children Sitting In Indoor Wooded Area
The trails at the Outdoor Adventure Center – a neat rendering of what you can find on a typical Michigan State Park trail.

Located right at the waterfront along the Detroit River, the DNR Outdoor Adventure Center is a hidden gem nestled between new apartment buildings and the William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor. It’s only a short walk to the Detroit Riverwalk, where there are usually food trucks and activities going on at all times of the year.  

Parking & Admission for the Outdoor Adventure Center

Parking for the Outdoor Adventure Center was easy to find. There is a parking lot behind the building on Atwater Street, or you might be lucky enough to find free parking along Atwater Street. We parked on the street and scurried in while it started to drizzle.

The center is open to the public on Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 am until 3 pm, as well as on the weekend. The kids were on Spring Break so we chose the chilliest day to explore the outdoors, indoors…and a lot of other people had the same idea!

While we paid an entrance fee to the center, they do offer Free First Sundays with complimentary admission and themed activities for everyone to enjoy. If you are looking for a more low-key day, I would suggest visiting during the week, during school hours to avoid the crowds. 

Old Building
The Michigan DNR Outdoor Adventure Center is housed in a historic building in Detroit.

My first impression of the building itself was that it was a beautiful reimagining of an abandoned factory. To put something that encompasses what it means to enjoy the outdoors inside of a building that is so very “city” is a statement to the city of Detroit and Michigan as a state.

A beautiful combination of two of the very best parts of our state – wild nature and bustling city. Plus, the photographer in me is just a huge fan of those factory windows and rich brick. 

Walk Across the Forest Canopy

One of the most popular (and the biggest) exhibits at the Michigan DNR Outdoor Adventure Center is their forest canopy walking bridge. Lovingly referred to as the “Big Tree,” this exhibit is the center of everything. We first checked it out from the top by climbing two flights of stairs and heading up to the suspension bridge. 

Children In Roots Of A Fake Tree
The root system of The Big Tree was so cool to crawl around in! But don’t climb them, it’s the rules!

The suspension bridge ends in the Tower Blind where we felt what it was like to hide in a hunting blind, spotting wild animals from below and learning about hunting in Michigan and the different ways hunters hide from animals.

The kids also were able to enjoy a second round of the bridge by traveling to the forest canopy up through the trunk of the Big Tree and loved every second of it! The Big Tree features roots to play under and a slide as well as a nearby bear den. 

Kids Playing A Virtual Reality Hunting Game
Spotting animals and plants from far away.

The pine forest and trails as well as a waterfall feature wrap around the area with the big tree – there are stepping stones crossing the river. Be careful – the water is real! 

Children Walking Across An Indoor Water Feature Stream
Crossing the stream – don’t fall in!

Michigan Nature at Home

One of my favorite exhibits was “Nature in Your Neighborhood.” This exhibit featured ways to reduce the human footprint on the earth just by making simple changes, right in your backyard. 

Child Learning About Gardening
Learning about how we can create our own raised garden beds and compost piles.

We learned about composting – exciting because we just moved to a home with a compost pile – as well as different birds and frogs that can be found near home and how to start a raised garden bed.

I wish we could have hung out in this area a little longer (there was a lot of great information for adults!), but the kids were eager to get to the good stuff – trying out some outdoor activities. 

Frog Or Toad Exhibit At A Museum
We learned a lot about the critters that can be found right in our backyard!

Hit the Trails and the Water…Indoors!

Aside from learning about nature right around our backyard, I was especially thrilled with the water and trail experiences that could be found indoors. For families that are not avid campers or able to hit the outdoors on a regular basis, immersive experiences like the ones found at the DNR Outdoor Adventure Center are incredibly valuable.

It gets people outdoors, even if they can’t “get outdoors” while living in the city! How cool is that?!

I’m not going to lie, on a busy day like the day we went, there was a bit of a wait for the immersive activities. We waited in line for about 20 minutes for the kids to drive the ATV. Our little guy (6) absolutely loved being able to take the wheel and “drive” his sister down the bumpy Michigan trails! Other immersive activities feature a snowmobile ride and kayaking. 

Two Kids Driving An Atv Virtual Reality
Hitting the (virtual) trails in an ATV.

In addition to the ATV ride, we tried out the trail bike ride and the fishing experience – both were super cool and worth waiting in line for (the line for those was not as long as the ATV line)! The kids loved the real-life feeling of playing pull and tug with a big fish in the lake and were asking to do it again! 

Girl Using A Fishing Pole In Virtual Reality Fishing
Trying out the virtual fishing experience – the fish even tugs on the line!

Make the most of your Detroit Waterfront trip:  

  • Head across the street to the William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor – you can take a sack lunch and eat outside near the water. 
  • A quick walk down the road will take you to the Detroit Riverwalk – pose with “The Fist” monument to Joe Louis and enjoy the carousel and food trucks along the river. 
  • Take a spin on The People Mover!
  • Visit Eastern Market on a weekend and check out the hundreds of vendors. 

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