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Trail Town Spotlight: The Outdoor Guide to Dearborn, Michigan

The sixth installation of our #TrailTownSpotlight series, this edition highlights the natural gems of one of Michigan's most beautiful, historic, and - as of very recently - controversial destinations: Dearborn, Michigan. Join us as we explore and re-introduce this vibrant outdoor community!

First impressions matter. In human psychology, this is called the "Primacy Effect": a cognitive bias where individuals tend to predominantly remember the first piece of information they encounter rather than any information they may receive later on. This first piece of information could comprise of a thought, experience, or second-hand description.


When I hear the word "Dearborn," my brain immediately time travels to a first impression resembling a humid evening in August, circa 1998. My family were Detroit region expats at the time, but we made semiannual pilgrimages back to the homeland. This particular year, the legacy of a distant relative was being honored at a special event located at some place called "Greenfield Village" in "Dearborn." Those names meant nothing to me, other than a cessation in cousin playtime in favor of putting on formal clothes and driving some 30 minutes away.


Stepping out of the car, I experienced immediate confusion regarding my surroundings. The bright red brick contrasting with white steeples. Row after row of older, victorian-styled buildings. Fancy old cars. Men and women in period clothing. Even an old train stationed not too far away. Sights that I had never seen in Michigan before.


"Mom, are we at an amusement park?"

She laughed. The memory ends before I can recall her response.

For decades, that memory of Greenfield Village constituted my sole impression of the City of Dearborn. After my family reestablished our roots in Southeast Michigan, new experiences and interactions started to accompany my connection with the city. I attended several weddings at The Dearborn Inn. Cycling from Plymouth to Dearborn along Hines Drive became a favorite past time. My father and I ran in the 2019 "Martian Invasion of Races" through its downtown.


Most importantly, several of my closest friends - including a significant proportion of my law school class - all came from Dearborn. Men and women of diverse cultures and backgrounds, interests and passions. Amazingly, each and every one of them with a desire to make today slightly better than yesterday - to push themselves towards excellence. Exhibit A is our own Dr. Eric Reilly, a Dearborn High alum, accomplished anesthesiologist, and badass backcountry outdoorsman.


I don't believe that my Dearborn story, as a long-term Detroit region local, is unique. Generations of Michiganders have fallen in love with the historic and culturally-diverse mosaic that defines Dearborn. A collective first impression that's overwhelmingly positive.


On a national scale, however, Dearborn's public image is under siege. This first came to my attention watching a certain episode of "Designated Survivor," where Dearborn was depicted as a post-apocalyptic hellscape of suburban unrest. And then came this month's infamous article in the Wall Street Journal, which we will not be linking here. A xenophobic hitpiece, written by a non-local, intended to sow distrust within a flourishing community.


For better and for worse, we in the Detroit region are no strangers to news headlines painting our communities with a broad, less-than-flattering brush. Especially by "painters" who have never left the confines of DTW. For us at Expedition Detroit, however, we identify with the words of Mark Twain - that "travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness."


So, in the midst of the swirling headlines, we decided to trek down Hines Drive to Dearborn to experience the city firsthand. More particularly, we sought out Dearborn's outdoor destinations, outfitters, cafés, pubs, and other institutions that form the bedrock of its active community. Our mission at Expedition Detroit involves changing the national narrative regarding the Detroit region's status as a gateway to world-class outdoor destinations, so its our honor to reintroduce Dearborn here with a designation that we all can rally around: an innovative, historic, diverse, and flourishing "Trail Town."

MEET DEARBORN

Located at the confluence of the Upper, Middle, and Lower Rouge Rivers, Dearborn's monumental recorded history began with a few humble farming settlements strategically centered around a popular Native American trading route. Dearborn's first major industrial event occurred in 1832, spurred on by the U.S. Army's relocation of the "Detroit Arsenal" munitions storage complex to an area outside of a rapidly growing Detroit. This new area was subsequently named after Revolutionary War hero Gen. Henry Dearborn, then called the Village of Deabornville before incorporating as the City of Dearborn in 1897.


General Dearborn would eventually become the second most famous Henry within the confines of his namesake city. Starting in 1917, inventor Henry Ford chose to build the Ford Motor Company's "Fordson Assembly Plant" in Dearborn, which at its peak employed 103,000 workers. The Ford Motor Company continues to house its headquarters in Dearborn within a building locally known as the "Glass House."


The Dearborn of 2024 carries forward this historical legacy of innovation and growth into one of the most unique destinations within the Detroit region. Aside from the living heritage of the Ford Motor Company, Dearborn is also renowned for constituting the home of the largest Arab-American community in the United States, including the Islamic Center of America that is reputed to represent the largest mosque in America. Dearborn offers all of the cultural amenities that one would expect from Michigan's "fastest growing city," including art galleries, theaters, Ford-related historical destinations, and the Arab American National Museum.


Most importantly for Expedition Detroit's audience, the City of Dearborn has also invested heavily into its world-class parks, trails, and other recreational outlets for sustaining its flourishing population. Let's turn to those destinations now.

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CAN'T MISS EXPERIENCE: Rouge River Gateway Trail

When we first launched the Expedition Detroit platform, one of our first "Advocacy" articles focused on the unprecedented recreational opportunity that the Rouge River presents for Detroit's outdoorists. Once the main biochemical drain for our region's manufacturing might, the tireless efforts of groups like Friends of the Rouge are spurring on a renaissance in the river's natural history. Just like the Huron River National Water Trail, we dream of the day when we'll be able to canoe camp seamlessly from Northville to Dearborn.


While the Lower Rouge Water Trail remains a transformative work in progress, the paved Rouge River Gateway Trail constitutes Dearborn's "Can't Miss" outdoor experience for recreationists of all abilities and interests. Starting from the S Brady St. trailhead, this panoramic trail crosses scenic boardwalks and bridges providing runners, walkers, and bikers with sweeping river views and Michigan Avenue highlights. The trail crosses the main Rouge River to then meander past the Ford Estate, University of Michigan-Dearborn's campus, and then eventually connect with the Hines Drive Ramble at its northern terminus.


BEST FOR THE FAMILY: Ford Field Park

The Ford Family left its legacy all over the City of Dearborn. From its skyscrapers to payroll, factories to open air museums, the modern city was unmistakeable shaped by the Ford name. Fortunately for outdoorists of all ages, the Ford Family's activities also journeyed into the recreational space with its namesake destination: Ford Field Park.


Ford Field Park offers scenic views of the Rouge River, access to the start of the River Gateway Trail, large picnic shelters, tennis courts, ball fields, sledding hills, and much more. The park is spread over many acres and can be found just north of Michigan Avenue near West Downtown Dearborn. Highly recommended experiences include visiting its covered bridge, multiple hiking paths (especially the Waterfall Loop Trail), seasonal kayak and canoe rentals, and play areas also adorn the park, and attending one of the many local and regional events occurring throughout the year.

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OFF THE BEATEN PATH: Riverside and Kroger Trails

Yes - even in Michigan's "Fastest Growing City," you can still find "off the beaten path" outdoor destinations to explore. One such intrepid experience hiking or mountain biking Dearborn's Riverside and Kroger Trails, located on the western fringe of West Dearborn.


Note of caution here: these trails, especially in the off-season, are very poorly marked. Even the trailhead is demarcated simply by a laminated notice tacked onto a tree. As such, we highly recommend referencing the map that we included below. Frequently.


Hear us out though - that's what makes this such a great trail. The Detroit region is jam-packed with adventurous, under-explored, and wildlife-filled destinations like the Riverside and Kroger Trails. Better yet, these destinations are often hiding in plain sight. A stone's throw away from suburbia, yet as wild as untamed wilderness can get. We love it.


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FEATURED OUTFITTERNichols Ski and Snowboard

21938 Michigan Avenue, Dearborn


As a whole, the Detroit region's outdoor industry is still relatively nascent. Only within the last decade or so have we seen a massive influx of local outdoor brands emerging into the brick-and-mortar scene - a very welcomed sight to say the least. Fortunately, that trend is anticipated to continue for decades to come.


In light of the exciting trajectory of our industry, we would be remiss to not express our undying gratitude to the "O.G." outfitters and ski shops that pioneered the trail for Detroit's flourishing outdoor economy. One such establishment is Dearborn's Nichols Ski and Snowboard, family-owned and continuously operating since 1954. Nichols' has maintained its 70-year presence on Michigan Avenue through its commitment to customer service, dedicated staff, and massive selection of downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, and snowboarding equipment.

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MORNING FUEL: Black Box Coffee and Art

1034 Monroe Street, Dearborn


Coffee, like recreation, should be versatile. For Expedition Detroit, our perfect "morning fuel" shop provides a space where we could either "grab and go" or ease into the day with an artisan coffee, relaxing environment, and friendly servers. Extra points if the space is designed as a destination where the exquisite coffee is just the cherry on top of an otherwise unique experience.


Enter Dearborn's "Black Box," where world-class art and coffee align for an engaging café experience. As a premier coffee shop, art gallery, and event space in Dearborn, Black Box promotes and showcases premium hand crafted coffee seamlessly alongside the work of local, national, and international artists. Over the next month (February 23rd through March 31st), Black Box will showcase a photography exhibit called "Delicate Moments," comprising of captured images "hidden in every day, short-lived moments" spanning bustling streets to tranquil backyards.


Need to cut your visit short for a morning ride? No problem - Black Box also has a walk-up window designed specifically for you.

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POST-TRAIL WATERING HOLE: The Biergarten

22184 Michigan Ave, Dearborn


This may be a cardinal sin as a Michigander, but my go-to brew isn't always a locally-brewed craft IPA. In full transparency, spending 3 weeks hopping trains, hiking trails, and raising steins through Central Europe all but altered my beer inclinations towards German and Czech-style pilsners. So, if you're looking to get a positive review from yours truly, going with a German name might give you a leg up on the competition.


On a serious note, The Biergarten off of Michigan Avenue has held a cherished place among locals for nearly 30 years. Biergarten features all of the staples of the ideal post-trail watering hole: welcoming environment, friendly staff, hearty burgers, cocktails, unbeatable prices, and a massive beer selection. Prost!

 

This article only scratches the surface on all that Dearborn 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 the Downtown Dearborn Development Authority!


Do you live in Dearborn? 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!



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Guest
Mar 26
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

I have lived in Dearborn for 24 years and heard about bike and hiking trails, but did not know where they started or ended. I recently hiked the Riverside trail and found that it is very rustic but worth it. I saw ducks and a family of deer on the day that I explored this trail. Because of this article, I was able to explore another part of Dearborn that I often just drove past. And now when I drive past I look for the wild life that habitat this area. Thanks for focusing on Dearborn and the wonderful outdoor opportunities that is has hidden in blind site. WKD

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