The Best Paddling Routes on the Huron River for Fall Colors
The arrival of Southeast Michigan's peak fall colors transforms the beautiful Huron River into a can't-miss autumnal destination. Here are the six best routes for paddling, experiencing, and capturing the river's vibrant colors.
Let’s start with the obvious: there’s no wrong way to enjoy the Detroit region’s fall colors.
While even just a short walk around your neighborhood will produce Pinterest-worthy foliage content, we at Expedition Detroit like to get a little more intrepid with our autumnal adventures. Trail runs and mountain biking sessions are obvious choices, but now that the temperatures are dropping and winter is almost ready for its grand entrance, we’re opting to explore via paddle while we still can.
With that decision locked in, the logical follow-up question is where to drop in at. As we all know, there are seemingly endless water destinations to explore in our corner of the Great Lakes. If you really wanted to, you could honestly just grab an inflatable kayak or paddle board, pick a direction, and start walking a few miles before hitting a suitable body of water.
For Expedition Detroit’s inaugural fall paddling, however, we’re going to exert a little more intentionality than that. We’re paddling the Huron River National Water Trail - the 104-mile river trail that defines the heart of the Detroit region’s most beautiful parks, forests, and trail towns.
Even more specifically, we will be paddling down the following 6 routes for viewing the best of Southeast Michigan’s famous colors.
1. Proud Lake State Recreation Area to Milford Central Park
Distance: 5.1 miles
Launch: North Launch - Proud Lake State Recreation Area
Dock: Milford Central Park
I must admit that as an adopted son of Milford, I have paddled this route probably a hundred times. Take that admission as you will, but my argument is that my repeated drop-ins are a testament to just how fantastic this northern segment of the Huron truly is - especially when it is set ablaze by Michigan’s fall foliage.
The route begins at a DNR-maintained boat launch just east of Proud Lake State Recreation Area. Follow the westward current into the larger body of the park’s namesake, Proud Lake. Continue to follow the river’s northwest segments (otherwise you’ll find yourself in one of many dead-end segments, surrounded by equally confused geese) until reaching the only portage of this route: the idyllic Moss Lake Dam. Past the dam, you’ll float amidst a sea of golden and red leaves for 1.3 miles in one of Proud Lake’s best areas for solitude. Wildlife sightings are abundant here, especially white tail deer, great egrets, swans, waterfowl, turkeys, and muskrats.
After passing a popular beach launch just east of Wixom Road, you will keep paddling through another relatively isolated segment that gradually approaches civilization. Natural wetlands give way to privately-owned shorelines, and a series of bridges signal that you are indeed leaving the wilderness and paddling into the heart of the Village of Milford. Remaining highlights along this route include the historic Oak Grove Cemetery and passing through Milford’s historic Stone Arch Bridge. The route reaches its final destination at Milford Central Park immediately after crossing under the Main Street Bridge.
Bonus Tip: Between the Stone Arch and Main Street Bridges, you may have noticed a few kayaks pulled off onto a concrete dock along a south shore hill. We strongly advise that you follow suit and have a pint or two with our friends at River’s Edge Brewery, aptly named for its direct link to the Huron River. Known by locals simply as “The Brewery,” we at Expedition Detroit are not only big fans of their beer, but also the active stewardship and conservation advocacy that The Brewery has engaged in towards protecting the Huron. Cheers to you, River’s Edge!
2. Hubbell Dam to Upper Kent Lake (Kensington Metropark)
Distance: 3.8 miles
Launch: Milford Dam Portage
Dock: Martindale Drive Shore Fishing Dock
While this is the shortest route detailed in this article, this segment of the Huron River is easily one of the least visited and most beautiful. Conveniently hiding in plain sight between the extremely popular Hubbell Pond and Kent Lake bodies of the Huron, this route starts at the base of the roaring Hubbell Dam. The force from the dam will propel you down the initial twists and turns of this route, which include passing under the very scenic Camp Dearborn Trail Bridge and no-so-scenic General Motors Road Bridge.
Once you pass these bridges, you will enter unceremoniously into the most northern and sparsely visited portion of Kensington Metropark. You and your company will most likely be the only paddlers on this segment, so be sure to relish the tranquility in your virtually undisturbed natural surroundings. Signs of human existence will return briefly as you pass under Group Camp Road, where equestrians will likely be riding alongside or wading into the river. This is also the location of the first canoe campground along the Huron River National Water Trail, so you could dock to pitch a tent here if you planned ahead and made reservations.
The final 2.4 miles of this tranquil segment guide you closer and closer towards Kent Lake, the most predominant body of water within the Huron River. You will notice that the Huron gradually broadens as you approach Kent Lake, which could make for difficult paddling on windier days. Keep your eyes peeled for Kensington’s famous birds as well - sandhill cranes, great egrets, and herons draw bird watchers near and far to the park’s shorelines, although the best views are undoubtedly from the river. The route ends south of the Buno Road Bridge before the Huron becomes fully engulfed by Kent Lake.
Bonus Tip: If feasible, we strongly recommend adding a segment or two of the Huron River to this recommended route. As referenced earlier, Hubbell Pond is a fantastic area to explore from the Milford Central Park launching point, including the Pettibone Creek tributary that runs through the heart of the park. On the other end of the route, you could spend a full day just exploring the shoreline and islands of Kent Lake - not to mention the voluminous recreational activities found within Kensington Metropark.
3. Kent Lake Dam to Island Lake Kayak Launch (Island Lake State Recreation Area)
Distance: 5.4 miles
Launch: Kent Lake Dam Portage
Dock: Island Lake Placeway Kayak Launch
This route should be titled the “Island Lake Grand Tour” - your vessel will take you on a scenic voyage through the heart of the park, starting at the foot of the powerful Kent Lake Dam and finishing in the southwest sector of one of the Detroit region’s hallmark state recreation areas. There is only one disclaimer about this route: the initial miles of the route are located uncomfortably close to the Island Lake Shooting Range. Seriously, the park could be mistaken for a Civil War reenactment during the weeks preceding firearm opening day of whitetail deer season (November 15th). So, if anyone in your crew has sensitivity to gunshot noises - incl