The Best Hikes for Little Legs

. July 21, 2020.
Michael and Luis Ozuna at First Sister Lake. Image courtesy of Laura Hovey Ozuna
Michael and Luis Ozuna at First Sister Lake. Image courtesy of Laura Hovey Ozuna

During this socially distant summer, many families are searching for creative and contact-less activities that appeal to a variety of ages. Hiking might just be the ideal solution. The local Ann Arbor area is rich with offerings, from ever popular sites such as Nichols Arboretum to lesser known neighborhood gems hidden throughout Washtenaw County. Whether you’re pushing a stroller (or a double stroller!) or ushering along a toddler or tween, here’s a sampling of family-friendly hikes. 

 

DeVine Nature Preserve

Explore wetlands, former farm fields, and the woods on a 1.83 dirt trail through the DeVine Nature Preserve, a 157-acre area nestled between new developments on Liberty Street, west of Zeeb Road. This hidden preserve has a small parking lot off of Liberty. Aim for a dry day as the dirt trails do become muddy and strollers may require moderate to heavy maneuvering. 

 

6110 W. Liberty Rd., Ann Arbor. 734-971-6337.

 

Dolph Nature Center

Tucked into the Lakewood neighborhood, Dolph Nature Center surrounds two lakes, First Sister Lake and Second Sister Lake, and is accessible from the Lakewood neighborhood or the dedicated parking lot off of Wagner. The center’s many trails offer a variety of options, from dirt paths to more narrow trails (which are not as suitable for strollers). 

 

“Although you will need mosquito spray in the summer and boots in most of the other seasons, Dolph Park has so much to offer,” says Laura Hovey Ozuna, a Lakewood resident and mom of two. “The trails are short and manageable for young ones, and they always provide inspiration for imaginative play while we’re walking. My boys really appreciate the variety of animals they get to see: snakes, swans, baby ducks, rabbits, fish, lots of frogs, and we’ve even caught glimpses of foxes! There are also beautiful views at the dock and several observation points in the park.”

 

First, Second and Third Sisters Lakes

For extra credit, consider visiting First Sister, Second Sister, or Third Sister Lakes (or all three!) on Ann Arbor’s west side. These trails may best appeal to hikers ages five and up. All three lakes are located around Dolph Nature Center.

 

375 Parklake Ave, Ann Arbor. 734-794-6230

 

Eberwhite Nature Area

The Eberwhite Nature Area includes Eberwhite Woods, which are accessible from the surrounding neighborhoods, Eberwhite Elementary School, and Liberty Street, close to Siller Terrace. The main 1.5 mile trail is covered in wood chips each fall by the students and staff at Eberwhite, and the trails are mostly stroller-friendly, although the trail can be muddy depending on recent rainfall. Also, note there are stairs leading to the Liberty St. entrance. The recently installed playground on the southeast side of the school offers a fun finish to any hike. 

 

“Our family enjoys hiking through Eberwhite Woods in the early evening,”says Amy Rochow, an Eberwhite mom of two. “It’s a great, shaded reprieve to explore during the summer, and the trails offer ideal lengths for our kids, ages five and seven.”

 

800 Soule Blvd, Ann Arbor. 734-794-6230.

Eberwhite Woods entrance on Liberty St. Image courtesy of Theresa Frasca.

Eberwhite Woods entrance on Liberty St. Image courtesy of Theresa Frasca.

Fox Nature Preserve 

Hunt for fossils and other treasures at the Fox Nature Preserve, a 69-acre Washtenaw natural playground, located near Miller and Zeeb. Impressive glacial boulders of all shapes and sizes offer fun for climbing, sliding, and exploring in this former gravel pit. The trail is stroller-friendly and leads to a pond. Area elementary schools regularly take field trips here, so your child may already know this one!

 

2240 Peters Rd., Ann Arbor. 734-971-6337.

Nora and Loretta Frasca at Fox Nature Preserve. Image courtesy of Theresa Frasca.

Nora and Loretta Frasca at Fox Nature Preserve. Image courtesy of Theresa Frasca.

Furstenberg Nature Area

Ever wonder what’s on the opposite side of the parking lot at Gallup Park? It’s an entirely separate 38-acre nature wonderland. Located on Fuller Road along the Huron River, across from Huron High School, and connected to Gallup Park via a pedestrian bridge, these trails are definitely worth checking out with your little ones. The trails include paved paths, dirt trails, and a boardwalk. The half-mile paved loop is smooth for strollers, while the dirt trails require a little more maneuvering. Restrooms are available.

 

2626 Fuller Rd., Ann Arbor. 734-794-6627.

 

Pioneer Woods and Greenview Park

Across Seventh Street from Pioneer High School lies the 20-acre Pioneer Woods and Greenview Park. The dirt and mowed grass trails traverse woods, a vast meadow, and pond. Many of the loops are extra wide and the variety of scenery and wildlife help encourage little explorers to see what’s around the next corner. A non-profit organization, Friends of Greenview and Pioneer Nature Areas, help promote the native landscape restoration.

 

Behind Pioneer High School. 601 W. Stadium Blvd., Ann Arbor. 

 

Saginaw Forest

Owned by the University of Michigan and used for research purposes (but open to the public), Saginaw Forest is an 80-acre wood surrounding Third Sister Lake. The trailhead is easily accessible from the parking lot attached to 242 Community Church off of Wagner. A wide dirt path loops around the lake and includes a boardwalk, but may require moderate to heavy stroller maneuvering, including over one or more fallen trees near the beginning of the trail. A grassy area near the caretaker’s cabin offers a pleasant place for a picnic lunch, looking out onto the lake’s dock.

 

3900 W. Liberty Rd., Ann Arbor. 734-662-8011.

 

Whether long or short, wooded or meadowed, spending time outdoors can deepen family connections, all while showcasing some of Ann Arbor’s most beautiful, natural offerings. “Hiking with young children can seem intimidating at first,” says Katie Parke, a Hike It Baby Branch Ambassador, a national organization with a mission to connect families to the outdoors and each other, and mom of two. “Having an interesting spot to hike to, like a playground or pond, is great motivation. If all else fails, a snack can help keep little feet moving.” The local Ann Arbor chapter, while not currently hosting in-person hikes, can serve as a resource for outdoor-related questions or virtual hikes on the Hike it Baby Ann Arbor Facebook group.

 

For a complete list of Ann Arbor’s more than 160 combined parks and nature preserves, and updates regarding COVID-19, visit the city’s website. Washtenaw County provides access to 13 parks and 33 nature preserves. Visit Washtenaw’s Parks and Rec website for a list of offerings and updates.