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Top 10 New Year's Resolutions to Accomplish in Detroit's Outdoors

Happy New Year, Detroit!! Now that 2023 has arrived in full regalia, here are the Expedition Detroit Team's New Year's resolutions, covering the most ambitious, exciting, and rewarding experiences that the Detroit region offers throughout the year.

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I love the moment that midnight strikes on New Year's Eve. Yes, I agree that over-hyping the start of a new calendar year easily wades into the territory of cliché, idealistic, or even setting yourself up for disappointment literally from the get-go. And yes, "New Year's Resolutions" - self-improvement goals to be accomplished over the next year - are the manifestation of lofty ambitions made by quixotic daydreamers like myself.

But here's the catch: each year, I find myself entranced by the allurement of a fresh start. Similar to an artist staring at a blank canvas, a skier ready to drop into a pristine powder run, or a paddler launching into perfectly still water. There's an inherent beauty to a new year, and if establishing a few ambitious resolutions provide the framework for routing your course through 2023, then I'll gladly adopt the "cliché" or "basic" label.

I'm far from being alone in my sentimentality towards looking forward to setting new goals for a new year. In fact, the New Year's Resolutions social trend is so widespread that there's a growing body of research regarding the science of accomplishing or failing to achieve such goals. The TL;DR summary of such research includes that successful New Year's Resolutions typically consist of the following characteristics:

  • Specific or well-defined (e.g., "Run a half-marathon" vs. "Exercise more");

  • Framed in positive, actionable terms (e.g., "Eat more broccoli" vs. "Stop eating Big Macs"); and

  • Focused on the goal-setter's individualists interests (vs. societal, familial, or work-place expectations).

Keeping these traits in mind, the Expedition Detroit team has curated this list of 10 specific, ambitious, actionable, and rewarding New Year's Resolutions to be accomplished over the next 12 months. Spoiler alert, each of these resolutions directly involve world-class experiences in the Detroit region's outdoors. But these aren't just any experiences - completing any of these goals could easily stand out as your "Outdoor Highlight of 2023."

Here are the top 10 outdoor New Year's resolutions that we will be striving for this year:

1. Ski or Ride the Big Four Resorts

Mt. Brighton, Alpine Valley, Mt. Holly, and Pine Knob Ski Resorts

Don't let the recent spring weather fool you - each and every new year for us in Detroit begins in January, during the dead of winter, within a northern climate. Snow will return, hopefully sooner than later, and while our backcountry skiing aspirations will be on hold for a bit, Detroit's "Big Four" ski and snowboard resorts will be back in action in no time!

In line with our recent article on the Big Four, each of these resorts have special attributes that make them well worth a visit over the next few wintry months. Alpine Valley provides a full-service mountain within a stone's throw of the Detroit region's best hiking, paddling, and mountain biking destinations. Mt. Brighton has state-of-the-art facilities and direct connections to world-class ski resorts around the country. Mt. Holly provides skiers and riders with Up North-caliber vertical terrain. And Pine Knob packs the largest adrenaline punch for our resident terrain park junkies.

Those are just the 30,000 ft. highlights; to get the full experience, take on all four mountains this season and rediscover your love for our local runs. Look for us on the chairlift.

2. Thru-Hike the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail

Waterloo and Pinckney State Recreation Areas

Last month, when I was on the ground conducting research for our "Trail Town Spotlight" article on Dexter, I struck up a conversation with a local outdoor enthusiast about Expedition Detroit. Naturally, our conversation shifted towards the most exciting and awe-inspiring outdoor experiences in our area. I tried to keep the conversation focused on Dexter, but she couldn't help spilling the beans on one very specific experience:

"Whatever you do, please don't write about the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail. It's our region's hidden gem!"

Sorry, ma'am. I told you then that I would have to write on it - multiple times - because it's simply that incredible to be kept a secret.

For the uninitiated, the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail is the Detroit region's sole, true thru-hiking trail (for the time being - ball's in your court, Iron Belle Trail). Typically backpacked from Waterloo in the southwest to Pinckney in the northeast, the trail is a 33.8 mile point-to-point hike (38.5 miles with campground diversions) that provides hikers with ample camping opportunities along the route. Hikers will gain 2,312 feet of elevation over the course of this hike, which usually takes between 2 - 4 days to complete.

Mark our words: we will write a feature on this trail in the months ahead, possibly even a glorified installation of our #TrailTuesday series launching next week. Subscribers, keep an eye on your inbox!

3. Paddle the Entirety of the Huron River National Water Trail

Proud Lake State Recreation Area to Lake Erie Metropark

Let's stay on the theme of thru-expeditions, shall we? We have already written extensively on the beauty of the Huron River - especially during peak fall colors - but the true blessing of the river is that it provides an endlessly flowing supply of recreational opportunities. Day paddles, fishing, wildlife viewing, hiking, biking, camping, or hunting along its banks. In spite of these incredible activities, we must give credit where credit's due and crown the most adventuresome, comprehensive, and awe-inspiring endeavor that one can pursue on the Huron:

Thru-paddling the entirety of the Huron River National Water Trail's 104-mile route.

Launching at the headwaters of Proud Lake, the official water trail route guides paddlers through several of the Detroit region's idyllic parks and quintessential trail towns along the journey to Lake Erie. Milford, Dexter, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Flat Rock are the trail's official "Water Trail Towns," although the trail provides for ample exploration opportunities throughout the metroparks, state recreation areas, and other destinations that encompass its surroundings.

There are four official canoe campgrounds along the water trail: Kensington Metropark (appropriately located off of Group Camp Rd.), Island Lake State Recreation Area, Hudson Mills Metropark, and Lower Huron Metropark. As the above map shows, there is quite a stretch between the Hudson Mills and Lower Huron campgrounds - a 38.7 mile stretch. A previous expedition camped at a "secret campground" location referred to as "Superior Pond" to break up this segment, but we are unsure whether this pre-approved "campground" was located on private property. We'll dig a little deeper into that detail, but for the time being, we would advise maybe breaking up that segment with a night spent in Ann Arbor or Ypsilanti. A proper beer, burger, and bed rarely hurt anyone.

As a bonus perk of completing the thru-paddle, you will earn access into the Huron River Watershed Council's "Huron104" Trail Registry. Huron104 lists the names of each successful adventurer that has completed at least 100 distinct miles of the water trail within a calendar year. As of the date of this article, the registry lists only 12 names. Is that a comprehensive list of everyone who has completed the trail from point-to-point? Probably not, but it's hard to imagine a better way to add an adventuresome exclamation to this year than joining such an exclusive club.

4. Cycle the Century Challenge during the Milford Bike Fest

Milford, Michigan

Call us jaded, but our taste for adventure drifts subconsciously towards the extreme. The experiences that push our bodies to the limit, demand more energy than we thought we were capable of delivering, and leave us with a newfound appreciation for what the human body is capable of. Several of these resolutions fit into that genre of adventure, but I have to be completely transparent: just the thought of taking on the Milford Bike Fest's "Century Challenge" makes my palms sweat (sorry, keyboard).

Allow me to back up for a moment. The MCMBA-sponsored Milford Bike Fest is, at its core, a celebration of Southeast Michigan's mountain biking community. The festival occurs in Milford because of the trail town's central location to five world-class single track mountain biking trails, including the top-tier Highland A-B-C-D loops. While the festival comes complete with live music, complementary drinks, food discounts, and hundreds of your new favorite riding buddies, everyone knows that the main draw of the festival is the Century Challenge.

Here's the challenge: completing a mountain biking ride that covers THE ENTIRETY of all five trail systems that are readily accessible from Downtown Milford over a distance of at least 100 miles. These include the Milford Trail, Highland State Recreation Area, Hickory Glen, Proud Lake State Recreation Area/the Kensington Connector, and Island Lake State Recreation Area. I have biked each of these trail systems independently, and each one packs one hell of a punch. So, the thought of conquering all five in a single day...yeah, that's definitely one way to earn a post-ride beer!

We're crazy enough to give it a go. Please, comrades, join us on this odyssey!

5. Conquer the Black Diamond Trails

Bald Mountain, Brighton, and Highland State Recreation Areas

When it comes to hiking trails, not all trails are created equal. Hear me out, that's a good thing - you wouldn't want to take someone making their first steps towards a lifelong fitness journey on a rim-to-rim trek of the Grand Canyon. Such an endeavor would likely kill their drive to ever set foot on a trail again (or just to ever hike with you again).

The same concept holds true for our local hiking trails. Here at Expedition Detroit, we have already covered our area's top-ranked trails for every genre of hiker. We have also wrote about our most accessible trails for venturing out on a night hike. But for this special article - the shoot-for-the-moon "New Year's Resolutions" article - we're aiming for our three toughest, steepest, and most challenging trails: our three "Black Diamond" rated-trails at Bald Mountain, Brighton, and Highland State Recreation Areas.

We wrote a feature on these trails a few months back, so I won't recreate the wheel now. What I will state here though is that completing this triple crown of Detroit hiking is no easy feat: the combined stats of these trails are 1,560 feet of elevation gain over 37.6 miles of Southeast Michigan's most rugged, variable, punishing, yet beautiful terrain. Who knows, we may go crazy and try to knock out all three trails in a single day...stay tuned my friends. Stay tuned.

6. Bike, Hike, or Run the Entirety of the Trans Canada Trail in Windsor

Windsor, Ontario

Last October, we made a prediction that in the not-too-distant future, Detroit will claim its place as the international trails capital of North America. Yes, the State of Michigan's immense investment in trail infrastructure as part of its campaign for Michigan to earn recognition as our nation's "Trails State" has facilitated immense momentum for our city's outdoor recreation economy. That being said, our Canadian cousins have undeniably acted as pioneers in this space: the Trans Canada Trail, the longest recreational trail network in the world covering over 15,000 miles, extends directly to Windsor’s Riverfront Trail.

Will we ever trek across all of the TCT's 15,000 miles, completing an epic journey from the Atlantic waves of St. John's Island to the icebergs of the Northwest Territories? Eh, probably not in this lifetime. We very much can - and therefore will - take on the 15.5 miles of its trail that stretch across Windsor's northern shores, including the stunning Riverfront Trail, Malden Park, and Ojibway Prairie Provincial Nature Preserve. We prefer our trails without wild, scavenging polar bears anyways.

7. Volunteer with "Friends"

Throughout the Detroit Region

One of REI's core marketing slogans has evolved into one of our mantras at Expedition Detroit: "A life outdoors is a life well lived." Well, we would like to revise that slogan a tad: "A life outdoors with friends is a life well lived." Yes, that could refer to actual, adventurous, human friends, but for this article we're writing about the vast volunteer network of "Friends" organizations of specific parks that accomplish amazing environmental feats throughout our region. We try to regularly spotlight these organizations on our Instagram feed, but groups like the Friends of Maybury State Park, Friends of Point Pelee, and Friends of the Rouge dedicate countless hours towards making our outdoors more accessible, beautiful, and sustainable for generations to come.

This year, we humbly ask that you join us in volunteering for one or more outdoor stewardship work days with these "Friends." Aside from earning some good karma for this year, donating your time and muscle to such causes instills a sense of pride and ownership in our outdoors that simple recreation just can't hold a candle to. Oh, and don't worry, we will blow up our social media feeds well in advance of those volunteer opportunities, so you'll know exactly where we will be getting our hands dirty at.

8. Run the Detroit Free Press Marathon

Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario

We've said it once, twice, and will say it proudly a million times more: the Detroit Free Press Marathon is the crown jewel in the treasure trove of Detroit's outdoor events calendar. The race embodies everything that we love about our region's outdoors: breath-taking views from the Ambassador Bridge, international fraternization along the Windsor and Detroit riverfronts, a natural haven within Belle Isle, and heartwarming, encouraging interactions with Detroiters and Windsorites throughout the event.

Yes, we are generally more pro-trail running than road running. However, the Detroit Free Press Marathon will forever lure us back on an annual pilgrimage to the concrete labyrinth of Detroit's core routes. We emphatically urge you to join us in this amazing, heart (and lung)-pounding race that briefly turns the attention of the international running community towards our great city.

Oh, and did we mention that the medals are basically Olympic quality each year...? We're suckers for an amazing finisher's medal, and the Detroit Marathon never disappoints.

9. Actively (or Passively) Support Conservation

Throughout the Detroit Region

Let's cut right to the chase: hunting and fishing are not everyone's cup of tea when it comes to outdoor recreation options. We get it - we even wrote an article addressing the negative stereotypes that hunters face head-on, as well as steps that the hunting community can take to address such public apprehension towards our passion. The bottom line is that any recreational sport that involves the taking of life will raise eyebrows.

Now, here's another uncomfortable, universal truth: in our modern, sprawling suburban ecosystem, hunting and fishing are vital to the DNR's ongoing conservation efforts. Last October, the Detroit Free Press published a front-page article covering the devastating impact that exploding deer populations are unleashing on habitat sustainability, vehicular safety, and the environmental longevity of the Great Lakes region. Add in the material detriment of decreasing hunting and fishing license sales on the DNR's annual budget, the net result is that our developed region can't afford to lose its hunters and anglers.

While we strongly encourage anyone looking to lead a more environmentally-conscious lifestyle to consider actively supporting conservation by hunting or fishing in 2023, we adamantly argue that all ethical outdoor recreationists should purchase a hunting and/or fishing license. If that statement comes off as a little "pushy," well, I unapologetically stand by it. The DNR desperately needs our participation in its greater conservation program in order to properly care for the outdoor spaces that we love. Actively hunting or fishing gets you in the game, but even just purchasing a license - with no intention of hunting or fishing - will provide the DNR with revenue to reinvest into the sustainability of our wilderness. Easily the best $20 you'll spend this year.

10. Qualify for The GOAT Trail Series

Throughout Southeast Michigan

Before I started my amateur running career during my senior year of college, I viewed the sport of distance running in a similar fashion as the masses that loath it: monotonous, boring, and brutally repetitive. I fortunately converted into the faithful of passionate runners, but even then my excitement for typical 5K road races waned pretty quickly. Moving my training runs from sidewalks to natural trails truly saved my passion (and physical capacity) for competitive distance running. I started researching the best trail races in the Detroit region; a few years and several races later, I can confidently state that the best trail events are hosted by our friends at RF Events.

But wait, there's more. Last year, RF Events launched their inaugural trail racing series called "The GOAT Trail Series." In summary, the GOAT - which, for those of you that may have been living under a rock for the last decade, stands for "Greatest Of All Time" - comprises of competing in at least 3 of RF Event's 5 flagship races, spanning from April 29th ("Trail Weekend") to November 4th ("Bonfyre Trail Fest"). Runners are placed in either the "Sprint" or "Open" categories based on event distance, and are allocated points per race based on their results. At the end of the season, runners who qualified for the GOAT Series will be eligible to win special awards if they ranked as either the top three runners (by gender) for each of the Sprint and Open categories, or they placed within the top three for their age group (also by gender).

If you're looking to break into trail running in 2023 - or honestly just to lead a healthier year - then we could not more strongly recommend including the GOAT Series as a New Year's Resolution. For starters, you will be committing yourself to a running season spanning most of the year. The races occur in some of the Detroit region's most pristine destinations, including Pinckney and Waterloo State Recreation Areas and Maybury State Park. The trail running community is formed of fun, adventurous, and supportive people. RF Events pulls out all of the stops for hosting these races, including live music, bonfires, and ample post-race snacks.

Oh, and did we mention that you can come home with some extra hardware and bragging rights..?? Not to toot our own horn, but the image above reflects our team's haul from this previous season (I actually won the 30-39 Sprint age group). I'll be aiming to keep that title this year, so I challenge anyone in that demographic to try and take the spot from me this season. Seriously. Bring it on.


Before signing off on this article and getting a jump on these resolutions, we also formally want to invite you to join us on each and every one of these goals. Another less-known characteristic of successful goal-setting is accountability. Well, this article is our team's public accountability notice. We fully intended on accomplishing each of these New Year's Resolutions, and we hope to see you on the trail, in the river, or across the finish line.

Happy New Year, Expedition Detroit community. As always, we can't wait to see you out there!


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