The southernmost point of Canada is a mere hour’s drive from Detroit. Located just outside Leamington, Ontario, Point Pelee National Park is a sandy landmass that shares the 42nd parallel north with parts of northern California. According to Michelle Nicholson, general manager of Friends of Point Pelee, "It’s always cooler here because you get breezes from the water."
The drive to the park entrance is scattered with wineries and front-yard produce stands selling the freshest picnicking ingredients. Throughout the summer, the Friends of Point Pelee offer canoe and bicycle rentals. Svenja Hansen, a Leamington resident and communications coordinator at Point Pelee likes to "get into a canoe and get away from it all" in order to experience unexplored habitats. Although swimming at the tip of the point is prohibited due to dangerous currents, visitors can plunge in at tamer spots.
A favorite time to visit the park is during the early fall when thousands of Monarch butterflies, dragonflies, bats and birds stop at the point before continuing across Lake Erie and on to Mexico. "I just like to get out on the trail and bring a pair of binoculars," Nicholson says. Timing is crucial and it’s difficult to plan in advance when viewing will be best, because the weather can determine migratory habits. Point Pelee offers daily recordings to inform potential visitors of park conditions (call 519-322-2365).
Another Canadian gem is Rock Glen Conservation Area in Arkona (call 519-828-3071). The best way to get there is by crossing the border from Port Huron to Sarnia, though most travelers prefer to spend some time in Port Huron. Each year, more than 5,000 freighters cruise through these waters. Stephanie Kurtz, a Detroit resident, always makes it a point to "chill under the Blue Water Bridge and watch them pass by."
Once you’re in Sarnia, the park is only 30 minutes away. It contains Rock Glen Falls, a 10-meter high waterfall, and Rock Glen Gorge, a rich fossil bed. There’s also a museum that contains artifacts from the Archaic Indians, who hunted these grounds 6,000 years ago, and fossils that are up to 350 million years old.
An extensive boardwalk system runs throughout the park. Judith Parker, an employee with the Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority (call 519-235-2610), says, "It is 150 steps down to the gorge, and 150 steps up." Not too much of a trek to find fossilized coral, trilobites and brachiopods (creatures from the age of the dinosaurs), and you can discover them by simply keeping your eyes on the ground. Visitors can take one fossil of each species home with them. After walking on the floor of where the ocean once ruled, guests are sure to splash their feet in the waterfall’s pool.
Back on American soil, the Matthaei Botanical Gardens (1800 N. Dixboro Road, Ann Arbor), operated by the University of Michigan, offer five miles of nature trails, nine outdoor display gardens and an indoor conservatory. The trails are long enough to make you lose your way, but they always "wind around some sort of water course," says the Gardens’ Brian Klatt. Many parts of the trail are shaded, so even on the hottest days, it’s possible to stay cool.
No matter how the weather is behaving, the conservatory is a must. It’s home to thousands of species of plant life derived from arid to tropical lands. Keep your fingers to yourself when visiting the artificial bog with insect-eating plants; there’s no way of knowing when they had their last meal.
Klatt recommends visiting from late July through August, when the Gateway Garden of New World Plants is an "absolute riot of color." This is when the majority of Michigan’s native flowers and plants are in full bloom. And be sure to visit on the last Friday of July and August, when the park hosts an evening concert series with live music ranging from bluegrass to jazz. Call 734-998-7061.
For the less nature-inclined, Lower Huron Metro Park (17845 Savage Road, Belleville) has a clean, cold swimming pool. For just $2, visitors can lounge next to the pool and watch games of pick-up basketball at the nearby courts. Take a swim; try out the waterslide or do a cannonball off of the diving board. It’s a great place for city dwellers to escape from the hot concrete. Call 734-697-9181.
After one of the hardest winters in 10 years, now’s the time for all of us to enjoy the outdoors. All it takes for a quick getaway is a day off and a car that’ll get you away from the city (and presumably, back home). Instead of purchasing that extra air conditioning unit, get in the car and head straight for the water. Sarah Lurtz is a Metro Times editorial intern. E-mail her at