The first installation of our #TrailTownSpotlight series, we're zeroing in on the specifics of what makes the Village of Milford a can't-miss destination for every type of outdoor enthusiast.
Just like any other world-renown outdoor destination, some villages, cities, and townships in the Detroit region are slightly more blessed by the outdoor recreation gods than others. Beyond providing immediate access to the "best of the best" outdoor experiences and retailers, these destinations have invested significant resources into developing and sustaining a local outdoor-centric culture. These "Trail Towns" are the ideal launching points for your adventures, refueling stops for extra provisions, and watering holes for that essential post-trail beer.
While we at Expedition Detroit celebrate and consistently aim to highlight our namesake city, we needed to kick off this series with a specific focus on Milford. Simply put, the immensity of outdoor recreation opportunities immediately accessible to this village inspired the launch of this business. Endless hours spent running, hiking, biking, paddling, and hunting along Milford's trails peaked our interest not only about what other recreational opportunities were hiding in plain sight near this small town, but the other vast and untapped outdoor experiences that remained unknown throughout our region.
The attempt to answer those questions led to this business venture, website, and now this article. So, without further delay, here is our Trail Town Spotlight on Milford, Michigan:
It is our pleasure to re-introduce Milford - a quintessential "Pure Michigan" destination for outdoor recreation. Founded in 1869, Milford has become well-known for its charming downtown, annual "Milford Memories" summer festival, idyllic access to the Huron River, and direct connections to 3 state recreation areas, Kensington Metropark, and several municipal parks. Milford's bountiful community events, restaurants, and local retailers provide year-round amenities for visitors of any interest, although we strongly believe that the village is best catered towards outdoor adventure-seekers and general nature enthusiasts.
Honestly, a better question would be what outdoor experience can you not do in and around Milford... For general running and road biking, the 3.5 mile Milford Trail runs from the parking lot of the Carls Family YMCA to the northern segments of Kensington Metropark's greater trail network. Surrounding the paved Milford Trail is the natural, Motor City Mountain Biking Association ("MCMBA")-maintained Milford Mountain Biking Trail, a 6.7 mile roller-coaster biking and trail running singletrack loop. The mountain biking adventures don't end there, however; Highland State Recreation Area's famous A-B-C-D loops and Proud Lake State Recreation Area's mountain biking trails are also immediately accessible from Downtown Milford. Certain sections of Highland and Proud Lake are also open to hunting, and Alpine Valley Mountain Resort is a quick five miles north of downtown.
But wait, there's more. The Huron River flows directly through the heart of Downtown Milford, which transforms the village into an aquatically-crazed hotspot during peak summer paddling months. Starting from one of Proud Lake's several launching locations, you can handle downstream directly to Milford's Central Park, up Pettibone Creek for a maritime view of Milford's "Summer Concert Series" shows, and into Hubbell Pond. Further paddling adventures could take you all the way to Lake Erie if you follow the Huron River National Water Trail, although the local destinations typically involve either Kensington Metropark or Island Lake State Recreation Area.
CAN'T MISS EXPERIENCE: Milford Bike Fest
Hosted annually by the MCMBA, the Milford Bike Fest celebrates not only the sport of mountain biking during its peak season, but also the insanely interconnected-nature of Milford's greater trail system. While the Bike Fest at its core is a big community festival filled with MTB enthusiasts, the Bike Fest also encourages - no, celebrates - the exploration of the vast trail networks that are immediately accessible from Milford. The highest honor of the Bike Fest is completing the Century Challenge: a 100 mile distance challenge to ride the entirety of all 5 MCMBA trail systems that are reachable from Milford (Highland State Recreation Area, the Milford MTB Trail, Island Lake Recreation Area, the Proud Lake/Kensington Connector, and Hickory Glen).
How does one properly refuel after 100 miles in the saddle of a mountain bike? We know at least one time-tested method: an outdoor burger and beer tent, complete with live music and your new best friends/riding buddies. Main Street Grill and Tavern in Downtown Milford - yes, the one adorned with a bicycle statute outside its enviable outdoor patio - hosts the official Bike Fest afterparty each year. Hands down one of the best parties of the year.
BEST FOR THE FAMILY: Milford Central Park
Of all of the admirable qualities of the Village of Milford, its public parks system is unquestionably the village's crown jewel. While Milford has six parks, Central Park stands out as the village's premiere family destination. Beyond the celebrated Summer Concert Series, Central Park hosts several year-round events at the LaFontaine Amphitheater and its picnic shelter. The park's amenities include a playscape area, tennis, pickle-ball, and basketball courts, summer volleyball courts that are converted into an ice rink in the winter, a baseball field, the historic Ford Powerhouse, and plentiful restrooms. Oh, and don't forget about Central Park's immediate access to the Huron River via its shoreline launch locations.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH: Proud Lake Trail Running
Proud Lake State Recreation Area is very well-known for fantastic trail running and hiking opportunities, so this addition may come as a surprise to some readers. However, the vast majority of non-equestrian or mountain biking visitors to the park never venture west of Wixom Road. Yes, I agree that the well-maintained trails within the eastern regions of the park are undoubtedly spectacular. That being said, the labyrinth of trails criss-crossing the western reaches of the park include some of the best trail running opportunities in the entire Detroit region.
There are several access points to this trail network, with the most immediate access points from Downtown Milford being located on the south side of Garden Road (just beyond the Village Canoe Rental, best for solo running or biking access) and at the Proud Lake Equestrian Stage Area farther down the road (best for parking). This area is very popular for equestrians, mountain bikers, and in-season hunters, so always be courteous and mindful of your trail surroundings. If necessary, your exit strategies should be to either venture north towards a Garden Road outlet or east towards Wixom Road.
Note: The trail network described above crosses over very active railroad tracks in two prominent locations. Always check your surroundings before attempting to cross any railroad tracks - you do NOT have the right of way when it comes to a 200-ton locomotive.
FEATURED OUTFITTER: Blue Birch Outfitters
Commonly referred to as "Milford's REI," Blue Birch Outfitters is Milford's premiere outfitter for outdoor clothing, gear, and accessories. Beyond carrying industry-leading brands like Patagonia, Outdoor Research, Osprey, and Black Diamond, Blue Birch also features Michigan-specific items and retailers throughout its hometown-centric store. Blue Birch is also a must-visit stop for outfitting your dog for their big next trail adventure (this is our golden retriever Lucy's favorite store in Milford). Better yet, Blue Birch supports their own loyalty program - an extremely valuable perk for regular customers like yours truly.
MORNING FUEL: The Proving Grounds Coffee & Ice Cream
Located conveniently across the street from Main Street Park, in the heart of Downtown Milford, the Proving Grounds Coffee & Ice Cream is a hometown favorite for pre-trail coffee and breakfast sandwiches. While the inside of the coffeeshop is ideal for easing into the morning with a cup of freshly-brewed coffee and a good book, the convenient walk-up window is a favorite for cyclists, hikers, or runners that are ready to hit the trail. The "Spicy Morning" breakfast sandwich is my personal favorite, although my in-laws are also big fans of Proving Grounds' gluten-free sandwich options.
POST-TRAIL WATERING HOLE: River's Edge Brewing Company
Yes, we've highlighted our friends at River's Edge Brewing Company before. And yes, we absolutely plan on doing so again. Why is that? Well, on top of their award-winning beer and welcoming environment, River's Edge has become a staple participant in and advocate for all matters Milford. The team at "The Brewery" regularly organizes community events like their annual Oktoberfest Festival, sponsors outdoor festivals like the Milford Bike Fest and Milford Memories, and supports Huron River conservation efforts in conjunction with the Huron River Watershed Council. Supporting local restaurants that provide excellent amenities leaves a good taste in your mouth; knowing that your dollars are actively being reinvested into your community truly makes the beer taste even better. Cheers to you, River's Edge.
If you prefer something slightly stronger to wash down any lingering trail dust, then we also recommend stopping by Charlie's Still on Main for the best bourbon, whiskey, rye, and southern-style dishes in the village. Their jambalaya is my personal favorite dish, but you honestly can't go wrong at Charlie's - I refer to the establishment as "Ol' Reliable" when deciding where to take first-time visitors to the village out for dinner.
This article only scratches the surface on all that Milford has to offer for its residents and visitors. For more information on local businesses, organizations, and outdoor recreation opportunities, be sure to check out fantastic local networks like Women in Milford and the Huron Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Do you live in Milford? Have any additional suggestions for our community's attention? Please feel free to suggest any extra experiences, retailers, or outdoor events in the comments below!