Belle Isle Bike Ride
Need new ground to explore? Grab your bike and head to Detroit's secret island.
Laura Watilo Blake
Sandwiched between Detroit and Windsor in the middle of the Detroit River, Belle Isle is an urban recreational oasis with 5 miles of scenic shoreline and plenty of family-friendly activities and attractions, such as a swimming beach, giant slide, aquarium, botanical garden and nature zoo. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted — the same guy who created New York’s Central Park — the 985 acres aren’t so easy to cover on foot, which is why the island is truly built for biking. In fact, it is a tradition that goes back more than 100 years.
In 1898, the League of American Wheelmen was granted funds from the city of Detroit to build a gorgeous two-story Bicycle Pavilion designed to store 400 to 500 bicycles and provide a resting spot for cyclists and protection from inclement weather. While it no longer serves in that capacity, biking continues to be a popular pastime on Belle Isle, which became a state park in 2013. Ever since, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has been busy making much-needed improvements to the island’s facilities and rebuilding biking, hiking and bridle trails.
As you meander through the park, don’t miss the many architectural gems, such as the William Livingstone Memorial Lighthouse, a 70-foot tower made from Georgian marble and the only marble lighthouse in the United States. Then there’s the Beaux Arts-style aquarium and the glass-domed conservatory housing exotic trees and plants from around the world. Meanwhile, the James Scott Memorial Fountain is a work of art and an iconic Detroit landmark built after an eccentric Detroiter left money to the city with the intention that it be used to build a monument dedicated to him.
If you don’t have your own bike, get one at Wheelhouse Detroit (313-656-2453, wheelhousedetroit.com), a bike tour and rental company on Detroit’s Riverwalk. From there, it’s a 12-minute ride north to the park’s entrance on the far end of the MacArthur Bridge.
Need another reason to bike to Belle? There’s a fee for entering the park by car. Michigan drivers must pay a one-time fee of $11, good for entrance into all state parks for a year. Out-of-state drivers pay $31 for the year or a single-entrance daily fee of $9. But anyone can pedal (or walk) into the park for free. 844-235-5375, michigan.gov/dnr
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