This Summer’s 10 Must-Picnic Parks in Southeast Michigan

From cityscapes to beachside paradises, plan the perfect picnic at these Michigan parks.
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The Beach at Campus Martius Park. // Photograph courtesy of the Downtown Detroit Partnership.

With the beginning of summer and end of the school year approaching fast, families face a daily dilemma of finding engaging activities to keep them busy. After about the hundredth “go play outside,” cabin fever begins to set in for both parents and children, and boredom runs rampant.

Thankfully, with picnic season upon us, family-friendly summer fun is only a park’s drive away. To get you in the great outdoors as soon as possible, Hour Detroit has compiled a roundup of the most picnic-worthy parks in Southeast Michigan this summer. Check them out with your kids, your significant other, or solo.

Addison Oaks

After hiking, horseback riding, or biking along Addison Oak’s 20-plus-mile trail system, take a rest and dig into a packed lunch at the park’s picnic area. This 1,140-acre park is tailored to those with a passion for staying active and exploring the outdoors, with kayak rentals, fishing, disc golf, and camping in addition to the expansive nature trails. $5 for Oakland County resident vehicle day passes, $12 for non-Oakland County resident vehicle day passes. Addison Oaks, 1480 W.  Romeo Road, Leonard; oakgov.com.

Beacon Park

Beacon Park offers a haven of greenspace among Detroit’s towering skyscrapers for those looking to lay a blanket on the turf and admire the park’s interactive light installations and cityscape. Bring along a quick bite from a Downtown Street Eats food truck just minutes away in Cadillac Square or dine on the outdoor patio at Lumen Detroit for a picnic-like park experience without the hassle of a homemade meal. Free admission. Beacon Park, 1901 Grand River Ave., Detroit; empoweringmichigan.com.

Belle Isle

As an island in the Detroit River near Downtown Detroit, Belle Isle is a quiet escape from the city that hosts a nature center, aquarium, swimming beach, athletic fields, and outdoor gardens. Picnic at any of the seating areas on the 982-acre island and take in the view of Detroit’s city skyline from across the river. Free for pedestrians, $14 Michigan-registered vehicle annual pass. Belle Isle Park, 99 Pleasure Dr., Detroit; belleisleconservancy.org.

Campus Martius

Campus Martius meshes the excitement of the city with the relaxation of a park, offering a uniquely Detroit experience for families, couples, and friend groups. Get to The Beach at Campus Martius early to grab a table, chairs, and umbrella and enjoy your picnic lunch from home or purchase food at one of the nearby restaurants. Or just relax with a frozen cocktail, city views, and live music. Free admission. Campus Martius, 800 Woodward Ave., Detroit; downtowndetroit.org.

Dodge Park

Pack your basket and enjoy a summertime picnic on your blanket in one of the picnic areas or at a table in the picnic shelters. This park also offers a wide variety of amenities to enjoy including a basketball court, horseshoe bit, soccer field, walking and jogging paths, splash pads, a nature area, and much more. Free admission. Dodge Park, 40620 Utica Road, Sterling Heights; sterling-heights.net.   

Innovation Hills Park

Perfect for a family outing, Rochester Hill’s Innovation Hills Park offers nature-centered experiences for all ages. Kids can let loose at the park’s three-acre nature-themed playground, while adults — and pets — explore 48 acres of green space that offers access to the Clinton River. Pack a meal to enjoy at the covered picnic tables after a long day of activities and stay after dark to experience the park’s glowing pavement and solar lighting along the boardwalk. Free admission. Innovation Hills Park, 2800 W. Hamlin Road, Rochester Hills; rochesterhills.org. 

Lake Erie Metropark

Picnic along three miles of Lake Erie’s shoreline, taking in a peaceful Great Lake view as you eat. After the beach, take a dip in the “Great Wave” pool, golf the par 72 course, or explore the paved hiking trails for “some of the best birding in Southeast Michigan,” according to the park’s website. $10 daily vehicle pass. Lake Erie Metropark, 32481 W. Jefferson Ave., Brownstown; metroparks.com.

Lake St. Clair Metropark

Soak up the summer sun with a beach day picnic at Lake St. Clair Metropark. Bring along snacks or grab some picky-eater-friendly concessions at the Beachside Grill to enjoy while relaxing on the sandy shore of Lake Saint Clair — or the less sandy poolside of the park’s 50-meter swimming pool. Adventurous park-goers can try their hand at windsurfing, kiteboarding, waterslides, and pickleball while the rest of the family catch rays and take a dip in the lake. $10 daily vehicle pass. Lake St. Clair Metropark, 31300 Metro Parkway, Harrison Township; metroparks.com. 

Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum

Overlook a garden of peonies while enjoying a homemade picnic on the outdoor patio of Nichols Arboretum, which borders the University of Michigan’s campus. Spend the day exploring eleven lush gardens that feature plants and flowers native to the Great Lakes region and beyond or walk over three miles of wooded trails for a chance to spot wildlife in their natural habitat. Take a lunch break at one of the garden’s scenic picnic seating areas or benches located within the Sitting Garden or Urban Pocket Garden. $2.20 hourly parking, $6 daily maximum parking. Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, 1610 Washington Heights, Ann Arbor; mbgna.umich.edu. 

William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor

Located along Detroit’s scenic Riverwalk, the William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor features views of greenery, water, skyline, and even a glimpse of Windsor, Canada, across the Detroit River. Near the park’s edge, the RiverWalk Café is a quick service food option serving up selections fresh off the grill to supplement a picnic basket full of food, and sweet treats like ice cream to beat the heat. Free admission. William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor, 1900 Atwater St., Detroit; michigan.org.

This post has been updated for 2024.