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Awesome Mitten’s Guide to the Award-Winning Detroit Riverwalk

Detroit is known for many things — Motown music, the Big Three Automakers, and Belle Isle to name a few. But, did you know that the city is also home to the award-winning Detroit Riverwalk?

In the Mitten State, there’s nothing like being by the water, and the Detroit Riverwalk is one of the state’s best spots. It’s little wonder why more than 3 million people visit this gem of a waterfront each year.

On any given day, you may see joggers going for a run by the water, cyclists pedaling along, people relaxing by a fountain, hopeful fishermen casting a line, and so much more.

There’s something on the riverfront for everyone, and it’s the ultimate gathering place that you need to experience for yourself.

Cullen Plaza-Detroit
Cullen Plaza | photo via bhoff_detroit

11 Can’t-Miss Points of Interest Along the Detroit Riverwalk

With a marina, retail shops, restaurants, residential areas, and so much more, there’s a little bit of everything along the Riverwalk, as well as a lot to see and explore. Here are some of our favorite spots to stop at as you stroll along the Detroit riverfront.

Hart Plaza

For decades, Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit has been synonymous with having a good time. Located south of the intersection of Woodward and Jefferson Avenues, it’s the go-to spot for summer festivals, concerts, and other fun events.

If you’re strolling along the Riverwalk when there’s an event at Hart Plaza, make sure you stop to soak in the atmosphere. Don’t be afraid to bust a move either!

Cullen Plaza

Cullen Plaza is a true Riverwalk hub and one spot you don’t want to miss. It is home to the Cullen Family Carousel, a glass-sculpture map of the St. Lawrence Seaway, fountains, a playscape, and so much more.

Also, Cullen Plaza is home to Wheelhouse Detroit, which offers bike rentals, and Diamond Jack’s River Tours, which docks at the plaza and offers Detroit River tours.

Dnr Nature Center
DNR Nature Center | photo via exploremichiganmore

William G. Milliken State Park

Believe it or not, the William G. Milliken State Park is the first urban state park in Michigan and is perfect for indulging in your favorite outdoor activities. The park is comprised of both a waterfront park and a harbor.

The harbor opened in 2004 and offers shoreline fishing opportunities, a boat harbor, a chance to see the Milliken State Park Lighthouse, and picnic areas.

The park opened in 2009 and includes a wetlands demonstration area designed with interpretive signs to show visitors how wetlands act as a natural filtration system.

Outdoor Adventure Center

Situated across from Milliken State Park, the Outdoor Adventure Center has been a popular riverside destination since 2015.

Here, you can enjoy the outdoors through simulated activities, such as exploring a trail on a mountain bike, fishing on a boat, walking across a suspension bridge, and seeing a giant aquarium.

Dequindre Cut Greenway-Detroit
Dequindre Cut Greenway | photo via miesdetroit

Dequindre Cut Greenway

Formerly a line on the Grand Trunk Railroad, this urban recreational path opened in 2009 and stretches 2 miles, mostly below street level. The cut is the perfect spot to go for a walk or take a leisurely bicycle ride (there are lanes for both!).

It also includes excellent examples of urban artwork and is meant to act as a link between the east part of the riverfront, many neighborhoods, and Eastern Market.

Aretha Franklin Amphitheater

Once known as Chene Park, this site is now named for the Queen of Soul — Aretha Franklin. The 6,000-seat amphitheater is the site of many concerts and performances during the summer.

Located on the banks of the Detroit River, the park is a fantastic spot to watch a jazz or R&B concert before or after a walk along the riverfront. It has a fountain, a lounge, park trails, and more too.

Mt. Elliott Park-Detroit
Mt. Elliott Park | photo via bwillanthill

Mt. Elliott Park

This park has been completely renovated and is the perfect place for kids to have fun. Plus, it is universally accessible to visitors of all ages.

The park features a schooner-themed water feature that includes water cannons and wind chimes. There are spots to fish off the pier, walkways that wind around the park, LED lighting, a cafe, and restrooms as well.

Belle Isle Park

Belle Isle is arguably one of the most beautiful parks in all of Michigan and includes a conservatory, a golf course, a museum, and a nature center.

Cross over the MacArthur Bridge to spend a few hours here at one of the crown jewels of Detroit Michigan. When the weather is perfect, there may not be a better spot in the whole city.

Belle Isle Park-Detroit
Belle Isle Park | photo via chrisahernphotography

The Uniroyal Promenade

One of the most recent additions to the award-winning Detroit Riverwalk is the Uniroyal Promenade. This half-mile extension completes the East Riverfront and connects Gabriel Richard Park to Mt. Elliott Park, while also providing travelers access to Belle Isle.

The newly celebrated Uniroyal Promenade begins at Mount Elliott Park, winding around a stretch of land that’s the site of the former Uniroyal factory, continuing under the MacArthur Bridge and on to Gabriel Richard Park. 

All told, the Riverwalk extends uninterrupted for 3 1/2 miles and plans are in the works to extend development west to ultimately create more than five miles of connected, developed riverfront.

Related: Read writer Stefanie Caloia’s eye-witness account of the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the promenade.

Other Great Spots to Visit on the Detroit Riverwalk

One of the best things about the Detroit Riverwalk is that there’s so much to see, and it’s impossible to see it all in one trip. If you’re walking along the riverfront, keep your eyes peeled for these awesome sites:

  • Robert C. Valade Park is one of the walk’s newest parks and has a kids’ musical garden, playscapes, a pavilion, and Bob’s Barge — a seasonal floating bar.
  • Roberts Riverwalk Hotel is a historic boutique hotel, featuring tri-level penthouse suites, 106 guest rooms, and many unique room types.
  • Gabriel Richard Park is the easternmost point of the walk and has a fountain, butterfly gardens, fishing outlooks, and more.
Detroit Riverfront-Detroit
Detroit Riverfront | photo via drfro

Great Seasonal Events at Detroit Riverwalk

The Detroit Riverwalk is a great place to visit any time of year, but there are also special events throughout the year that you don’t want to miss.

Mental Health Awareness Month

The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy hosts many programs designed around mental health.

One of them is Mindful Moments. These are stickers placed along the riverfront to offer prompts for visitors to pause, relax, and reflect. The stickers are found at Valade Park, Cullen Plaza, and Gabriel Richard Park.

Another activity is Riverfront Reflections with Inner Explorer, which offers visitors a chance to relax by listening to audio recordings and doing a mindful scavenger hunt.

Reading & Rhythm on the Riverfront

Also known as R3, this interactive literacy program lasts six weeks during the summer. It features readings from community members — including local celebrities — and offers live and interactive entertainment, snacks, and free books.

Detroit Riverfront Run

Those looking for an active activity can participate in the annual Riverfront Run in June.

The race features both 5K and 10K run/walks and is a fantastic way to really see the beauty of the Detroit Riverwalk.

All runners get a special race T-shirt, a commemorative medal, and other great goodies. Make sure to register as soon as possible.

Valade Park Winter Events

If you love winter, you can visit Valade Park all winter long for great family fun. Starting in early December, the park offers s’mores, sledding, games, food, oversized fire pits, and much more.

In January and February, the park hosts a full schedule of events, including wellness activities and themed weekends. Past themed weekends have included Mardi Gras at Valade, Winter Around the World, and a Fire & Ice Festival.

Detroit Riverfront-Detroit
Detroit Riverfront | photo via groceryman54

An Award-Winning Part of Detroit

For the last 20 years, the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy has worked to transform Detroit’s international waterfront into one of the city’s best and brightest spots. The Riverwalk spans over 4 miles along the Detroit River from the Ralph C. Wilson Centennial Park to Gabriel Richard Park.

Whether you want to go for a bike ride, take a leisurely stroll, enjoy attractions in downtown Detroit, or stop somewhere to sit and enjoy a few peaceful moments, the Detroit Riverwalk offers something for everyone.

It’s no wonder that the Riverwalk has been named the best riverfront in the United States by USA Today for three years in a row. The award-winning spot has even beaten other major cities, including Tampa, Boston, and San Antonio.

History of the Detroit Riverwalk

The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy realized what a beautiful space the Detroit riverfront is and formed to transform the riverfront into a world-class attraction for visitors of all ages.

The Riverwalk began with the opening of Cullen Plaza and 3.5 miles on the east riverfront in 2007. This walk takes visitors to some of the most well-known landmarks in downtown Detroit, including GM Plaza, Hart Plaza, and Milliken State Park.

The second phase of the project began in 2020, with the ultimate goal of connecting Mt. Elliott Park and Gabriel Richard Park on the River Walk’s east side.

When all is said and done, the entire Riverwalk will span 5.5 miles, eventually ending at Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge.

Hart Plaza -Detroit
Hart Plaza | photo via hochi666

FAQs About the Detroit Riverwalk

How long is the Detroit Riverwalk?

The Detroit Riverwalk spans more than 4 miles, and there are plans to expand it to more than 5 miles.

What time does the Detroit Riverwalk open?

The Detroit Riverwalk and the Dequindre Cut are both open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Where is the best place to park for the Detroit Riverwalk?

Free parking is available on the west side of the Detroit Riverwalk, and numerous spots in downtown Detroit offer hourly parking.

Where does the Riverwalk start in Detroit?

The Detroit Riverwalk starts at Ralph C. Wilson Centennial Park, which is considered the west side of the path. It ends at Gabriel Richard on the east side of the path.

Plan a Fun Visit to the Detroit Riverwalk Today

A visit to Detroit Michigan any time of year always offers a chance to do something different. Whether you visit Campus Martius Park in the wintertime, Comerica Park in the summertime, or visit a Detroit museum in the fall, there’s always something fun to do.

But a walk, run, or ride along the Detroit Riverwalk offers a chance to see a truly unique side of the Motor City. No matter where you go along the riverfront, there’s something everyone can enjoy.

So, bring your fishing rod and cast a line from shore, hop on your bike, stop and relax in one of the Riverwalk’s public spaces, or just soak up the fun atmosphere.

Along the Detroit Riverwalk, you can find your own spot for some much-needed rest and relaxation while experiencing some of the best parts of the city.