Adventure Saturday: Visiting Detroit’s Belle Isle park
It was a sunny, brisk day when my sister and I decided to head to Detroit for lunch and to tour Belle Isle Park, a 987-acre island located between Detroit and Windsor, Canada. I visited Belle Isle on school field trips and family outings when I was a child but I couldn’t remember the last time I visited as an adult. It’s been on my list of places to visit for a while so I thought it would be a nice outing for Adventure Saturday!
My sister and I decided to stop for lunch on the way so HopCat in Detroit was our decision. It was fairly busy but our wait was only about 15 minutes. I had yummy quesadillas and Kim had mac n’ cheese with bacon. HopCat has an extensive craft beer menu so we sampled some good beer too!
Belle Isle has a rich history connected with the city of Detroit. It became a city park in the late 1800’s. Visitors first had to take a ferry to visit. The current 2,193-foot vehicle bridge was built in 1923 (after the original bridge burned in 1915) to connect the island to mainland Detroit. In 2013, Belle Isle became Michigan’s 102nd state park (Detroit still owns the property). Since the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) took over the management of the island, many updates have occurred. The Belle Isle Conservancy also does a lot to raise funds and renovate many of the attractions, including the aquarium and conservatory.
Belle Isle has five miles of shoreline, offering a spectacular view of the skylines of Detroit and Windsor, the Ambassador bridge and freighter traffic along the Detroit River. There are so many attractions and beautiful structures on the island. We drove the entire island looking at various structures, including the police station and old horse stables.
The Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory’s 85-foot dome can be seen from a distance. The conservatory was designed by Albert Kahn and modeled after Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. The temperature inside the conservatory was balmy in the low 80s. There are five areas to explore – the Palm House, the Fernery, Cactus House, Tropical House, and Showroom. I loved wandering through paths outlined by diverse plants. We chuckled at some of the names of the plants and marveled at the size and shapes of many others. It’s fascinating to see so many different plants that hail from all over the world.
The Belle Isle Aquarium is also an Albert Kahn-designed building. It opened in 1904 as the third largest aquarium in the world and operated until 2005. The Belle Isle Conservancy re-opened the aquarium in 2012 and has been doing renovations. The tanks inside contain fresh and saltwater fish – some really large and exotic! Most eye-catching is the arched ceiling with gorgeous green tiles. A lot of work has been occurring to repair and replace broken tiles damaged from water and time passing.
The Dossin Great Lakes Museum, a driving range, Nature Zoo (formerly the nature center), and much more is on the island. I was impressed with the numerous updates and work done on the island over the past few years. I can’t wait to return to Belle Isle in the warmer spring to walk the island and explore more of the attractions. My sister and I decided Belle Isle would be a fun location for one of our weekly Sunday family dinners (there are so many great picnic spots!).
A Michigan Recreation Pass is required for vehicle entry onto the island (pedestrians and bikers can access the island for free). There is no charge to visit the aquarium, zoo and conservancy. Check hours for the attractions before going as they vary for each location.