- Start Location: High Ridge Rd. parking lot, Kensington MetroPark
- Distance: up to 9 miles
- Elevation Gain: up to 350 feet
- MapMyRide Route
- Kent Lake Cue Sheet
I was surprised by the number of hills on this short jaunt around Kent Lake in South Lyon/Milford. The paved Kensington Metropark Hike-Bike Trail encircling the lake climbs 350 feet in 8.5 miles. But not to worry if you have small children – you’ll find plenty to do even on a short jaunt where the path is relatively level. If you want to tackle the whole loop, small children are probably better off in a child carrier or tag-along bike, and older kids will need multi-speed bikes.
The parking lot serving the lake’s west boat launch (off High Ridge Rd. just east of the park’s Kensington Rd. entrance) makes an excellent place to start. The path in both directions from this point is relatively level, and both the nature center and boat rental center are within easy reach. There’s a $7 entry fee for vehicles; an annual pass to all 13 Huron-Clinton Metroparks costs $30.
Begin your adventure by picking up the bike path at the west end of the parking lot, then head north. Looking left across High Ridge Rd., you’ll probably spot people with binoculars gazing at a forested island on Wildwing Lake. The island is home to a heron rookery, and the wooden causeway that serves as a viewing platform is well worth a visit from the park’s nature center up ahead.
To reach the nature center, continue on the bike path a short distance until it begins bending to the right (east). You’ll notice signs for the nature center on the adjacent road. Look for an informal path through the grass on your left that will take you to a point across from the nature center’s parking lot on High Ridge Rd. Use extreme caution while crossing the road. (You could use this lot as the base for your Kent Lake adventure, but it might be busy on weekends, and you’ll have to cross the road either way.) The nature center (open 10 to 5 Tues. through Sun., 1 to 5 Mon.) has several displays about the fish and reptiles of southern Michigan, stuffed animals, an active beehive, and more. It also offers programs for families at various spots around Kent Lake.
If you want to visit the heron rookery, you’ll need to leave your bikes at the nature center, as the nature trails are for foot traffic only. Trails extend mainly north and east, but to reach the rookery, head left (southwest) from the center, then south on a gravel road (marked as Labadie Rd. on the map). This will bring you to the wooden causeway at the edge of Wildwing Lake, paralleling the west side of High Ridge Rd and offering great views of the rookery.
If the kids have their own binoculars, this is a great time to use them. You might want to ask any dinosaur experts in the family which dinosaur the herons remind them of (and if they’re really experts they’ll remind you that ancient flying reptiles are called pterosaurs, not dinosaurs). This wildlife viewing area also gives great views of the lilies and other aquatic plants growing in the shallow waters of the lake. On one visit here a sandhill crane was drawing a lot of attention as it nestled in low bushes next to the trail.
Back on the bike path, you’re now heading east around the north shore of Kent Lake. The trail passes through dense maple and oak forest, offering cool shade on a hot day. At points where the path hugs the shoreline, look for swans floating among the lily pads not far from shore.
In just under 2 miles, you’ll arrive at the Kensington Metropark boat rental docks, where the brightly colored duck and swan peddle boats are likely to grab the kids’ attention. They cost $15 per hour and seat four to five. Kayaks, canoes, rowboats and paddle boards are also available. For those who just want to dip their toes in the water, Maple Beach is just beyond the boat rental.
The steep climbing begins where the path rounds the point just past Maple Beach, a little over 2 miles from the start, so this is probably a good turnaround point for families with smaller kids on single speed bikes. If the kids really want more biking, you could return the way you came to the parking lot, then continue south and east around the lake. The path is relatively flat for about a mile in this direction, hugging the shore and offering more great views of the lake. The junction with the Island Lake Pathway makes a good turnaround point, giving you about a six-mile ride all together.
For those continuing around the lake from Maple Beach, head up the hill, climbing steeply for half a mile onto a broad ridge jutting out into the lake. From the summit, the path descends before turning left to cross a park road, then descending steeply above a finger of the lake. Warn the kids to stay on their brakes in this steep section, as the speed limit is 10 mph.
You’ll begin climbing again almost immediately at the bottom of this hill, ascending through open grassland on a rather bumpy section of pathway. Just beyond the summit, a little over 3.5 miles from the start, a path branches left to another worthwhile side trip, the Kensington Farm Center. At a little under halfway around the lake, the farm center makes an excellent stop for a break.
The center also offers the chance to see live farm animals including goats, cattle and draft horses, maple sugaring demonstrations in March, and a 150-year-old restored barn. You can even take a hay ride on weekends and holidays (noon to 4; $5 for adults, $3 for children and seniors, free for kids under 2).
Back on the trail, the path dips steeply once more, then crosses a narrow neck of Kent Lake on a bridge shared with Buno Rd. Just beyond, where the path runs next to a cloverleaf of roads at the junction of Buno and Huron River Pkwy., look for a path intersecting from the left. This is the Milford Trail, a paved bike path that leads 4 miles to Milford and scenic Hubbell Pond. Even if you don’t want an eight mile side trip, the wildlife viewing station at Windfall Bay just half a mile north on this trail makes a worthwhile jaunt. There’s a display showing the different birds and animals you’re likely to see and a free spotting scope you can use to view the ospreys (fish eagles) nesting on a platform a hundred yards off shore.
Back on the main Kent Lake bike path, the trail runs through wooded hills, traveling between Kent Lake on the right and Huron River Pkwy. on the left. At 5.75 miles, you’ll arrive at Kensington Metropark’s Splash-n-Blast. This water park features two 250-foot circular slides (for kids taller than 48 inches) and splash zones. The facility is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. May 24 through Labor Day and costs $5 for adults, $4 for kids 2 and over, and free for kids under 2.
From the water park, the path turns more to the west and the roar of the I-96 freeway grows as you approach this ribbon of concrete. At the point where you’re closest to the freeway, a path forks to the left, passing under the freeway and entering Island Lake State Recreation Area. The Island Lake Pathway extends for 4.25 miles through a mix of open grassland, cedars, huge oak trees, and a rare (for southern Michigan) stand of pines, ending at a parking lot with a beach volleyball pit. This may not be a worthwhile detour for most families, but the recreation area offers alternative parking for those with a state Recreation Passport who want to avoid paying the county park entry fee.
Continuing on the Kent Lake path, at 8.5 miles you’ll return to the lot where you started. If the kids are up for more adventure, there’s still plenty to do: you could try your luck at the fishing pier, launch your own boat from the ramp at the lot’s north end, or just have a picnic at one of the shelters. Whatever you choose, you’ll have a perfect Michigan day at Kensington Metropark.
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