Parks in Ann Arbor: 8 Favorite City Spots to Get a Nature Fix

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Parks in Ann Arbor: Furstenberg Nature Area

There are TONS of parks in Ann Arbor hiking: big ones, tiny ones, parks for dogs, parks with canoe liveries, with playgrounds, with fitness trails….it’s mind-boggling.

So how do you find the one that’s perfect for you?

Well, it’s been a tough job, but somehow, we managed to narrow our list down to 8 favorites.

Psst! Schedule Me on Pinterest!

Hopefully, within the group, you’ll stumble on at least one new find. And we hope you’ll love it.

NOTE: Combine park time with a walking tour of downtown Ann Arbor; our guide helps you plan your day.

And tell us about the ones we didn’t list. Leave a comment, or tweet or insta us: @headroamer.

Here, for quick reference, is our list:

Below, you’ll see our Seclusion Factor rating. 10 means “You won’t see anyone.” 1 means “We hope you want to make new friends, because you’re going to see a lot of people.”

No one, by the way, scored a 10.

You can also get your bearings with our brief movie, originally made for Jumprope (and in phone-friendly format through Google Web Stories).

Parks in Ann Arbor: Bird Hills Nature Area

Parks in Ann Arbor: Entrance to Bird Hills Nature Area

Navigation Tip: To get to Bird Hills Nature Area, GPS “Bird Ave” rather than “Bird Hills Nature Area.” Otherwise, it’s easy to go right past Bird Ave, where the parking is.

Tucked just south of Huron River Drive, Bird Hills is a beautiful forest that is indeed on hills, and is also indeed filled with birds. The little suckers are notoriously hard to capture on an iphone camera, but trust me, the songs fill the air and it’s pretty darn wonderful.

Parks in Ann Arbor: The beautiful Bird Hills Nature Area

Kid Friendly? Yes. It’s easy to do a short 1-2 mile hike that will just tire young walkers enough—without exhausting them. Those who are up for steep climbs will find them.

Dog Friendly? Yep, as long as they’re leashed. Keep in mind: It’s the woods, so definitely take tick precautions during the season.

Seclusion Factor: 6. You may get lucky and have it all to yourself. But since it’s relatively small and necessary to stay on the paths, you’ll know if you have company.

Parking: Not a lot, but enough, due to low visitor volume. We love that.

We also love this comfy bench, which is pretty much inviting you to sit and listen to the bird song.

Parks in Ann Arbor: A great resting spot in beautiful Bird Hills Nature Area

Parks in Ann Arbor: Argo Park and Canoe Livery

Parks in Ann Arbor: Argo Park and Canoe Livery

You could be forgiven for thinking that Argo Park is about its Canoe Livery and not much else. When you google it, “Argo Park Canoe” is what comes up.

But if canoeing is not your thing, don’t skip this lovely place, with trails that take you on both sides of the Huron River.

Parks in Ann Arbor: Argo Park and Canoe Livery

On a Saturday morning, you can watch the high school and uni crew teams practicing on the river; see them in action in the movie above.

You can also rent a canoe or kayak for yourself, and navigate the Cascades. They’re a blast; I’m pretty beginning level, on the kayak front, but I’ve managed them solo no problem. You can see the cascade without rowers in the movie above, or you can visit the Argo Canoe Livery website for pics.

Added bonus: Those boating from here can stop at Island Park, a small canoe-accessible-only spot in the Huron en route to Gallup Park down the river.

Kid Friendly? Absolutely, with or without the watercraft—though they’ll love going through the Cascades.

Dog Friendly? Yes, on leashes.

Seclusion Factor: 2. Argo’s popular, though if you’re just there to walk and enjoy the river views, you’ll feel the quiet as you move away from the boat launch.

Parking: Excellent and plentiful.

Parks in Ann Arbor: Furstenberg Nature Area

parks in Ann Arbor: Furstenberg Nature Area's beautiful trees arch overhead

Tucked away off of Fuller Drive, Furstenberg Nature Area is an Ann Arbor spot that plenty of Ann Arborites have never heard of.

Stretched over 38 acres, Furstenberg boasts a wide variety of habitats, from a swamp in an oak savanna….

parks in Ann Arbor: the oak savanna and swamp at Furstenberg Nature Area

…to a serene boardwalk that stretches under trees filled with birds. (You’re likely to run in to quiet folks with binoculars.)

parks in Ann Arbor: Furstenberg Nature Area's boardwalk

Bonus: As the boardwalk stretches over water to connect to Gallup Park, you can spot fish and—if you have extra good wildlife karma—turtles!

(I went on a sunny day and my turtle pictures turned out lousy, or I’d show you.)

Kid Friendly? Very. The trails are flat, there’s a lot of boardwalk, and the nature teaching opportunities are spectacular. There are bathrooms in the parking lot.

NOTE: The water here is filled with tannins, which turn the toilet water crime-scene red. It’s a bit scary to look at, but harmless.

Dog Friendly? Leashed are welcome.

Seclusion Factor: 4-8, depending on the day. Popular with birders, the parking lot can fill up by late morning on weekends. Still, the trails are spacious, the habitats are many, and if you want solitude, weekday mornings are wonderful.

Parking: Plentiful.

Parks in Ann Arbor: Gallup Park

Parks in Ann Arbor: Gallup Park Canoe sculpture

One of Ann Arbor’s most popular outdoor spots, Gallup is hardly a hidden gem. Yet it’s so big, it’s pretty easy to find your own secluded little patch of it.

Combine it with Furstenberg—they’re connected—for a wide-ranging nature walk. My favorite spots in Gallup are the relatively secluded walkways the cross the Huron just past the fishing pond.

Parks in Ann Arbor: a secluded spot in Gallup park

Gallup’s also got a swanky canoe livery. Many folks coming from the Argo Cascades turn their boats in here and get a ride back, but you can easily make this your initial launch point. There’s a cafe and plenty of bathrooms.

Kid Friendly? Duh. Spectacular playground, near a fishing pond especially for youngsters. (There’s also a butterfly and hummingbird garden, though at time of writing they’re being refurbished and thus off-limits to the public.)

Parks in Ann Arbor: the playground at Gallup Park

Dog Friendly? Leashed are welcome.

Seclusion Factor: 1. You can find some quiets spots, particularly if you go early and on a weekend. But kinda the whole point of Gallup is that it’s popular and social.

Parking: Excellent and plentiful.

Parks in Ann Arbor: Matthaei Botanical Gardens

Parks in Ann Arbor: Matthei Botanical Gardens entrance

Over on Ann Arbor’s east end, the Matthaei Botanical Gardens has displays that appeal to both your domestic and wild sides. Visiting in May following a chilly winter, and with things still opening up post-COVID, we didn’t see many cultivated flowers; for those, your best bet is to come in the full-bloom summer (and to check the What’s in Bloom section of the Matthaei website).

What we love: The nature trails, which are easy to walk, lush, private-feeling, and ultra accessible.

Parks in Ann Arbor: a nature trail at Matthei Botanical Gardens

Kid Friendly? Yes; there’s a garden especially for kids. And because the trails are so flat and easy (and stroller friendly), it’s a great place to introduce your kids to nature—including one of the sandhill cranes who’s making itself at home in the pond below.

Also? That TREE.

Parks in Ann Arbor: Matthei Botanic Gardens

Dog Friendly? Service canines only.

Seclusion Factor: 3-8. With high grasses and lots of trees, the trails feel particularly serene. Naturally, the gardens are built to host a lot of people.

Parking: Plenty of room, but not free; pay at the meter outside the Matthaei store.

Parks in Ann Arbor: Parker Mill County Park

Parks in Ann Arbor: Parker Mill County Park

Yet another park that’s never graced the radar of many a local, Parker Mill County Park features a real mill that you can visit in summer.

It also has this cool cabin from 1878, viewed here from across Fleming Creek, a few steps into the park.

Parks in Ann Arbor: Parker Mill log cabin from 1878

Lots of boardwalk trails, and I nearly always see school kids here. In fact, I found out about it because of my son; when he was in about 3rd grade, he did a photography project here.

Parker Mill is home to some old and magnificent oaks:

Parks in Ann Arbor: Parker Mill oak tree

Kid Friendly? Indeed. In addition to the easy flat paths, there’s great educational signage.

Dog Friendly: Unfortunately, not. The two main trails, the Hoyt G. Post trail (pictured above) and, across Dixboro Road, the Helen and Norris Post Legacy Trail, don’t allow them.

Seclusion Factor: 4. While the park is definitely in Hidden Gem territory, it’s well-known enough, and not that big.

Parking: Enough for the park traffic.

Parks in Ann Arbor: County Farm Park

Parks in Ann Arbor: County Farm Park

County Farm Park is a definitive Unhidden Gem.

It’s always busy, always got kids on the great playground (well, except in this picture, taken on a chilly day)….

….or families working in the community gardens. (Once it warms up a little, at any rate.)

I particularly love the old school fitness trail. I hate running, so to break it up with little stations that have me doing windmills and jumping jacks makes it bearable. It also reminds me of my gym teacher, Miss Hubsmith. She was a little high strung, but nice. Also very thin. I think that about 5 of the few pounds that she registered were eye make-up.

Parks in Ann Arbor: County Farm park's fitness trail

The nature trails wind back through woods. There’s a huge open area with cars whizzing by on Washtenaw Avenue in the distance, a nice juxtaposition that emphasizes how a space can be wild in multiple ways.

And County Farm is always beautifully groomed and landscaped, any time of the year.

Parks in Ann Arbor: County Farm Park flowers

Kid Friendly? Spectacularly.

Dog Friendly: Yes, though they do need to be on a 6-foot leash.

Seclusion Factor: 1. Even in the woods, you’re very likely to meet other folks pretty much any time of day, any day of the week.

Parking: Plenty.

Parks in Ann Arbor: The Nichols Arboretum

Beloved by Ann Arborites, the Nichols Arboretum—the Arb—is a true jewel in the crown of US Urban Oases.

I just made that crown up, by the way. In case you were wondering.

The flowers are nothing short of spectacular. Lucky duck that I am, I managed to hit lilacs at the peak of blooming….

Parks in Ann Arbor: Nichols Arboretum, lilacs in the Arb

AND rhododendrons in the same day. I mean, did you even know orange rhododendrons were a thing?

Parks in Ann Arbor: Rhododendron season at the Arb, Nichols Arboretum

Flowers are just one aspect of this huge—180 acres—site. A sunken valley surrounded by hills and overlooks, the Arb offers paths leading up lush slopes, a wetlands area, and prime seating along the Huron River. It’s a perfect place to bring a book, a meditation cushion, and/or someone you love.

Parks in Ann Arbor: A quiet spot near the Huron River in the Arb, Nichols Arboretum

Kid Friendly? This is an ideal place to introduce kids to spectacular nature and elementary hiking.

Dog Friendly: Yes, when leashed.

Seclusion Factor: 3-8. As one Ann Arbor native put it, for as massive and wonderful as the Arb is, it’s amazing how few people seem to be in it at any given time. Of course, during certain times of year and on weekends, it’s busier than others. But it’s a bit mind-boggling how big it is. Find the person in the picture below to get an idea of the scale.

Parks in Ann Arbor: Nichols Arboretum

Parking: Very Tricky! And probably one reason the Arb isn’t swarming with people at all hours. You can do paid parking on the north side in one of the hospital lots. For free parking, you can find a spot on weekdays in the residential neighborhood on the south side, south of Geddes Road. On weekends, this can be difficult, and do be mindful that you’re in, as noted, a residential area.

Are we missing your favorite nature spot in Ann Arbor?

Please, leave us a comment or get in touch with us on twitter, insta, or at our Facebook group.

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Happy Parking.

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