The Best Fall Trails to Hike or Bike in Metro Detroit

Come fall, come the non-swelteringly-hot outdoor activities. Take advantage of Michigan’s cool weather, vibrant fall colors, and picturesque landscape in the metro Detroit area, which can still provide that “up north, detached from real life” feel if you know exactly where to go for it. Luckily for you, we’ve knocked out step one -- here's a list of 10 different trails worth checking out. Grab your bike, your best hiking shoes, and a bottle of water: It’s time to hit the trail.

Rouge River Gateway Greenway (Hines Park Trail)

Dearborn to Northville
This winding 20-mile trail begins near the beautiful University of Michigan-Dearborn campus, where you’re able to access the Henry Ford Estate and a number of side trails that’ll take you through its backwoods (this is a great area for birdwatching, by the way). But if you stay on the main path, you’ll continue to swoop along the Rouge River all the way up to Northville, passing both urban and natural landscapes. Pro tip: If you start in Dearborn, park at the back of Andiamo restaurant, which is right next to the trailhead.

I-275 Metro Trail

Novi to New Boston
You can access this 33-mile excursion from the Plymouth portion of the Rouge River Gateway Greenway, or from trailheads in Novi and New Boston and various stops throughout. Taking you around Oakland and Wayne County, the I-275 Metro Trail was built to counter the 1970s fuel crisis, later falling into shambles. It was then saved and rehabbed by MIDOT and a crew of dedicated volunteers. If you don’t mind noise from the nearby highway and a couple bumpy patches, it’s a fun way to watch the leaves turn without getting too far into nature.

West Bloomfield Trail

West Bloomfield
This pretty (but often busy) almost 7 mile rail trail offers a respite from the hustle and bustle of West Bloomfield, about 30 minutes northwest of Detroit. With a nature preserve on one end and a community park on the other, the limestone path crosses peaceful wilderness and marsh-like areas that offer several birdwatching stops. Travel off of the main path and onto one of the side trails to spot foxes, woodchucks, and rabbits, and at the many ponds, cute little turtles, and chirping waterfowl.

Paint Creek Trail

Rochester to Lake Orion
Michigan’s first non-motorized rail to trail takes you through historic Rochester, Rochester Hills, Oakland Township, Orion Township, and the village of Lake Orion. Made up of nearly 9 miles converted from the former Penn Central Railroad (which you can still see remnants of), Paint Creek Trail curves through shaded woods with a tunnel of trees arching overhead. Throughout the path, you’ll get a chance to stop at the Paint Creek Cider Mill for a donut and cup of cider, along with several nature overlooks that give access to fishing areas. The trail isn’t paved, but still makes for a very smooth bike ride or run -- you might even cross paths with a deer or two.

Milford Trail

If you get there right on time, the massive Kent Lake always promises a beautiful sunset from atop its hilly terrain. A little more than four miles of wetlands and woodlands take you around the lake and over a dam, dipping up and down to give your walk, jog, or ride changing intervals (but not too much -- it’s good for any level of experience). When you reach the end, you can either connect to the 9.5 mile loop at Kensington Metro Park, or grab a quick bite to eat in Milford’s charming Downtown district, which is basically frozen in time.

Independence Oaks County Park River Loop

This short paved trail -- just over two miles -- is one of your best bets for a family outing. Take the kids on an afternoon bike ride and stop at one of its many picnic tables for an outdoorsy lunch in the crisp Michigan breeze. You’ll pass the headquarters of the Clinton River, where you’re all but guaranteed to spot waterfowl and grassy meadows full of bluebird houses. The loop also includes several boardwalks, fishing outlets, and play areas, so you really could spend an entire day there.

Maybury State Park Hiking Trail

The picturesque Maybury State Park in Northville offers a secluded, easy, and relaxing four-mile walking loop that’s great for kids to enjoy, too, considering it has stops at play parks and picnic areas (just don’t make them do the entire trail). In October, colorful leaves float down from the trees and transform the serene park into a picture-perfect snapshot of fall in Michigan. But the trail is never too busy, so you can get in a good dose of quiet, reflective nature time -- medicine for the soul, we believe.

Macomb Orchard Trail

Shelby Township to Richmond
A whopping 23.5 miles of rail-trail run through northern Macomb County. At one end, you’ll find Richmond’s cityscape, and at the other end, vast countryside full of crop fields, dairy farms, and fruit orchards. Varying landscapes ensure you don’t get bored easily, but do watch out for road crossings -- some of these areas get pretty busy, so you might be better off carrying your bike across if you’re riding. The trail often traverses open land, but near Armada, you’ll find shaded refuge under what’s been dubbed a “cathedral of trees.”

Stony Creek Metropark -- West Branch Mountain Bike Trails

Shelby, Oakland, and Washington Townships
For the adventurous type, a 14-mile bike path runs through the heart of the sprawling Stony Creek Metropark. Mountain bikers will enjoy gravelly hills and deep woods far from civilization (though note: bikers must wear helmets), but it’s also accessible to hikers and those just looking for a one-upped walk. Don’t be afraid to venture into other parts of the park, though, because there are 27 miles of trail, all ranging in levels of difficulty from easy nature walks to more difficult climbs.

Detroit International Riverfront

Downtown Detroit
With the reddish lights of Windsor, Canada illuminating the opposite end, this stroll along the Detroit River is most beautiful in the early evening. Five-and-a-half miles make up the Detroit Riverfront, which runs from the western-standing Ambassador Bridge to the eastern-located Belle Isle. You’ll pass the iconic skyscrapers of Downtown Detroit, like the GM Renaissance Center, and the lovely Milliken State Park and Harbor, dotted with bobbing boats. Weather permitting, there are always plenty of family-friendly activities to partake in, such as movies under the stars, free concerts, and carnivals. Come back to the Riverfront in June for what’s arguably the best view of the Ford Fireworks, one of the world’s largest fireworks displays.

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Ashley Zlatopolsky is a Detroit-based writer who loves going on hikes. Follow her fall adventures on Twitter at @ashley_detroit.