My Trip to Belle Isle Helped Save My “Michigan-Life”

One gloomy Sunday my family made a life-changing decision –  we visited Belle Isle in Detroit.

Monotony had taken a toll and we had a strong hankering for adventure to the point of serious talks about moving to another state. As an effort to try and stop fighting the urge to leave we decided we would start “galavanting,” looking for fun, and we were determined to find it.

Belle-Isle-Kids-walking-up-to-Aquarium

We heard about the Conservatory on Belle Isle and said to each other, “what the hey, if we go and hate it we could at least go to a hip coffee shop or fun place in Detroit after to make the trip worthwhile, right?!”

We ended up staying till closing because – wow – there’s SO MUCH to do year-round on that small island floating in the waters parting the USA and Canada!

Our hearts would never feel the same about Detroit and Michigan in general, from that day forward. That night, I sat down and wrote a love letter about Belle Isle describing its “rebirth, growth, and how it gives back to the community …”This Island is like you and me,” I said, “beautifully aging, growing fruit, giving hope and inspiration, and it’s doing it by way of change and community.”

Now, years later it has beautifully conserved even more of the grounds making this thriving island a must-visit destination you’ll want to check out if you haven’t already.

And one of the best parts? It’s FREE. Visiting the Island is FREE including the Conservatory, Aquarium, Nature Center and Museum, if you have the state parks pass on your license plate. (And only $11 per car if you don’t.)

5 Fun Facts About the Belle Isle’s Past

Belle Isle has a fascinating history. Knowing some of its past makes a visit to this little oasis even more interesting.

Belle-Isle-Aquarium-Dad-with-boys

Historical Fun Facts about Belle Isle

01. It has 7 Miles of Shoreline, 3 lakes, and a lagoon.

02. The Island/Park was owned by one family until 1879 when the City of Detroit purchased it for $200,000.

03. The Conservatory and Aquarium were completed in 1904 making these structures over 100 years old.

04. Due to structure needs and economic struggle, the aquarium was closed in 2005, making its re-opening in 2012 a momentous occasion. Plus, visiting now comes with a whole new appreciation of the FREE admissions.

05. Belle Isle became a state park as of 2014 so visiting with your park pass is a breeze.

The Must-Sees on Your Next Trip to Belle Isle in Detroit

You’ve got your state park pass, you’ve mapped out your road trip to visit, and you’re ready to drive across the big bridge to spend a day on Belle Isle –  now, where to start, right?

Belle Isle Conservatory

Don’t worry, we’ve got you! Here is a list of things you can do on the island. Many are year-round and the portions that are for the summer are epic so you’ll want to visit in all the seasons to get the full effect.

The Belle Isle Conservatory

Belle Isle Conservatory Banana leaves

The warmth will hit you in the face the minute you walk through the door, ushering you into what feels like another world of beauty. There are paths leading you to several themed rooms including the Cactus House, the Tropical House, a sunken Fernery, and center room housing palms and a giant palm tree reaching to the sky.

The Belle Isle Aquarium

Belle-Isle-Aquarium-Ceiling

Seeing the fish here is pretty cool but even more so is the unique and breathtaking architecture of this building. It’s simply stunning. There are volunteers available to answer questions and one of our favorite things to look at here is the Island replica located in the middle of the building.

Don’t forget to check out the seahorses!

Nature Center

The entire nature center is purposefully interactive. You’ll find games made out of natural materials, forts, animals, reptiles, fish, and bird watching excursions among the many activities they offer.

Another perk is the playground located across the street.

Dossin Great Lakes Museum

This already sweet museum is open during construction for what will be greatly improved landscape and public opportunities including a kayak launch and shoreline, connection to the Iron Belle Trail, and so much more.

Livingstone Memorial Lighthouse 

This special stop is the only lighthouse in the nation made of marble.

The Playgrounds

There are multiple parks sprinkled throughout the island. You’ll find one close by each structure.

The Beach and Swimming

Belle-Isle-Blue-waters-Swimming-area

Swimming on Belle Isle almost makes you forget it’s a river. There are bathrooms and a changing area at the main beach although we enjoy swimming in the north beach section by the boat launch and docks. There, water is bright blue with less waves making it a nicer place to swim for little kids.

Explore the Island

Belle-Isle-Fountain

When we visit Detroit we sometimes like to pop over to Belle Isle for a quick exploration moment. We love to view the island and Detroit skyline from the dock or walk around the James Scott Memorial Fountain.

The Giant Slide

This is so cool – or terrifying depending on who you ask. If you’re not afraid of heights this is for you! The slide rides are $1 per ride and is open June 8 – Labor Day from Wednesday – Sunday from 12 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Watch the Sunset Over the Border at Sunset Point

Belle-Isle-Sunset-Point-dad-holding-sons-hand-watching-the-sun-set

Watching the sunset over the Detroit River and bridge to Canada was a highlight of our year this summer. Watching the sunset with my family was a memory I’ll never forget. We took a few blankets, looked up the sunset timing on the weather app and posted up in the grass close to the water on Sunset Point. We witnessed a proposal, kids playing with their families, and a warm sense of community in the air as the sunbeams shone in all directions.

7 Tips to Consider Before you Visit Belle Isle

As visiting all new places go, it’s nice to have an idea of what to expect or what to bring. Here are 7 tips to consider before visiting Belle Isle.

Belle-Isle-Sunset-Point-Kid-gazing-on-detroit-riverfront

01. Check the times of the facilities you’re wanting to visit to make sure they are open the day you go. The hours and times vary between buildings.

02. Visiting the Island is FREE including the Conservatory, Aquarium, Nature Center and Museum.

Belle-Isle-Dad-with-son-on-dock

03. Entering Belle Isle from the Bridge requires the State Park Pass which costs $11 per year.

04. Bring Snacks, food, or plan for where you’ll eat. There are some great places close by but nothing to eat on the Island itself. If you enjoy Belle Isle as much as our family does and spend a long period there, you’ll want to have a “mission avoid getting #hangry” in place.

05. Want to get a good coffee before or after your trip? Here are some of my favorites:

Anthology Coffee

Astro Coffee in Corktown

The Commons

Belle-Isle-Swimming-Area

06. If you plan to swim, bring a towel and sandals. The sand is rocky making it a little harder to walk barefoot.

07. When staying for the day during the warmer months you’re welcome to set up mosquito tents, tables to create a little “camp” of sorts, and bring bikes.

Exploring Michigan Gems Like Belle Isle and Beyond

We were close to packing up and “getting out of here,” to find a place that fit our exploring nature. I’m so thankful we realized that home already fit and chose to stay living in Michigan.

Belle-Isle-Dock-dads-walking-with-kids

Experience what our great state has to offer has been one of the great joys of our lives.

If you haven’t planned to make Belle Isle part of your adventure itinerary this year, try it out and let us know how your trip goes! Comment below, we’d love to hear from you.

The isle awaits –  Have fun out there, Michigan!