10 Years of Belle Isle Park As A State Park: 10 Things We Love To Do When We Visit

10 Years of Belle Isle Park As A State Park: 10 Things We Love To Do When We Visit

Belle Isle Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory

On February 10, 2014, Belle Isle Park officially became part of the Michigan state parks system. In the 10 years since then the state has invested more than 30 million dollars into much-needed repairs and upgrades to ensure that visitors can keep enjoying this Detroit gem for years to come. Belle Isle Park is located on a 982 acre island in the Detroit River, offering amazing views of the Detroit city skyline as well as a good look at Windsor, Ontario on the other side of the river. The history of the park here dates back to the 1880s, and many changes have taken place over the years. For many decades Belle Isle Park was operated as a Detroit city park but dwindling finances saw many of the island’s attractions fall into disrepair. As part of the Detroit bankruptcy of 2013, it was decided that Belle Isle Park should become a state park and fall under the Michigan DNR. As we look back on a decade since that move, here are 10 of our favorite things to see and do at Belle Isle Park.

2021 Favorite Michigan Photos Scott Memorial Fountain Detroit

James Scott Memorial Fountain – The 1925 Scott Memorial Fountain is one of the first things you see when you reach the island, and it is a popular destination in the summer. The marble fountain is named for controversial Detroit figure James Scott, who left the city money for the fountain as long as it included a statue of himself. The fountain’s lower bowl has a diameter of 510 feet and the center spray reaches 125 feet in the air. Other elements include marble lions, and turtles that spray water back towards the fountain from the lower bowl.

Hon James L Oberstar Belle Isle MI July 2023

Watching Freighters – Belle Isle is one of the best places in Michigan to watch freighters. You get a close up view of shipping traffic from the island, where every boat heading to Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, or Lake Superior must pass by. We’ve seen ships from all over the world when we’ve visited, and last year visitors got really close up views of two different freighters when they got stuck in May and November. Pictured above is the Hon. James L. Oberstar passing the south fishing dock last year.

Belle Isle Spanish War Statue Side View

Statues and Monuments – Belle Isle is home to many statues and monuments. You will find war memorials, statues of authors and artists, a sculpture of a Civil War general on a horse, and even a new steel and glass sculpture that marks one end of the Iron Belle Trail. It seems like we find a new one each time we visit!

Belle Isle William Livingstone Memorial Light

William Livingstone Memorial Lighthouse – The only marble lighthouse in the country, this Albert Kahn designed tower is one of the island’s most famous landmarks. The tower is 58 feet tall and it was sculpted in 1930 by Gaza Moroti following the Art Deco style – you’ll find few other Michigan lighthouses that are this aesthetically pleasing. The tower rests on a marble base that fans out in six steps, and Livingstone’s name is carved into the marble above the metal door on the front side of the lighthouse. An inscription on the back side of the lighthouse reads: “This lighthouse is erected by the Lake Carriers Association and citizens of Detroit to honor the memory of William Livingstone, President, Lake Carriers Association 1902-1925, and throughout his active life one of the most prominent and public spirited citizens of Detroit. 1844-1925.” You can make the short walk to this beacon from a parking lot near the Coast Guard Station.

Belle Isle Aquarium Finding Nemo Dory

Belle Isle Aquarium – This beautifully designed building is one of the oldest aquariums and recently received a series of upgrades and improvements. The aquarium is open on weekends and has a great collection of fish and other water animals while also providing educational information.

Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory Cactus House 1

Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory – Next door to the aquarium is the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, which has been open since 1904. Currently closed for extensive renovations but expected to open again in 2025, this a must-visit for anyone who makes it to Belle Isle. Take a stroll through the palm house, tropical house, show house, cactus house, and the fernery before heading outside to see the well-cared for outdoor gardens.

Belle Isle Dossin Great Lakes Museum

Dossin Great Lakes Museum – Learn about Detroit’s rich maritime history as you check out a restored pilot house, see an anchor from the Edmund Fitzgerald, see the Miss Pepsi hydroplane speedboat, and check out what the earliest boats used in the area may have looked liked. The museum is open on weekends for a small admission fee and also offers special exhibitions each year.

Belle Isle Nature Zoo Michigan

Belle Isle Nature Center – There used to be a zoo on Belle Isle, but it closed in the early 2000s. The Belle Isle Nature Center also received some big upgrades during its pandemic closures, and now offers a great hands-on experience for families with younger kids. Learn about reptiles and amphibians while seeing them up close, or stroll the trails and try and find and identify birds. There is an active beehive at the nature center, and a wide variety of programs are offered each summer.

Belle Isle Detroit Bald Eagle

Wildlife – One thing we learned early on when visiting Belle Isle is to keep our eyes peeled for wildlife when visiting. Herons and bald eagles love the lagoon areas and the shoreline, and many other birds can be found on the island. The herd of fallow deer that once roamed the island freely is no longer out and about, but you might also see small mammals like foxes, squirrels, beavers, and more. On our last three visits there has been at least one bald eagle perched on top of the trees across from the Coast Guard Station.

Belle Isle Park Detroit Skyline View

Detroit skyline views – The only place on (U.S.) land that offers this view of the Detroit skyline views is Belle Isle, with plenty of parking available near the tip of the island referred to as Sunset Point. As you drive the one-way road that loops around the island this is one of the first stopping points that you will come across.

Belle Isle Map Detroit Michigan

Belle Isle is also the start/end point for the Iron Belle Trail. This trail is a more than 1,200 mile hiking trail and an 800 mile biking trail that stretch from Belle Isle all the way to Ironwood in the western Upper Peninsula. This is the longest state-designated trail in the country and is currently around 70% complete. Find out more by checking out the sign at the Ralph Wilson Gateway on Belle Isle.