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#TrailTuesday: Proud Lake State Recreation Area's Figure 8 Loops

Welcome back to our weekly #TrailTuesday Series! This edition criss-crosses the Huron River on Proud Lake State Recreation Area's Marsh, River, Red, and Blue Trail Loops. Join us as we discover why Proud Lake's trails have established themselves as Detroit region favorites for generations.


Friends - we're back! Apologies for literally falling off of the face of the earth for a bit. Our team spent the previous week off-grid in Ndola, Zambia, visiting with old friends and strengthening relationships with potential partners. Every great experience in life has its cost, and spending an action-packed week in the African bush meant sacrificing virtual connection with the Western world.

Typically, that's a good thing - unless it means missing out on a #TrailTuesday post.

Fortunately, Mother Nature saved one of the best snowfalls of the season until just after our plane touched down at DTW. Waking up on Sunday morning to a winter wonderland reignited that childhood spark reserved solely for snow day expeditions. I laced up my waterproof boots, threw on my favorite beanie, and packed in my Nikon for a full afternoon on one of the Detroit region's most scenic trails - especially after a fresh snowfall: Proud Lake's "Figure 8" loops: the Marsh, River, Red, and Blue Trails.


Those of you who have been following our content since last fall - AKA the greatest people alive - should know that the Expedition Detroit team does not shy away from our infatuation with Proud Lake State Recreation Area. Established in 1944, the recreation area is named after the Proud family that originally farmed the land surrounding the Huron River during the 19th century. The Proud Lake area of the 21st century consists of more than 3,000 acres, over 30 miles of trails, and several distinct habitats supporting the wildlife within its confines.

We're zeroing in on hiking in this article, but the main allure of Proud Lake consists of the vast amount of recreational activities that visitors can partake in despite the park's immediate accessibility to Metro Detroit's suburbs. While living in Downtown Milford, I visited Proud Lake daily for trail running, hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, or hunting. I also frequently crossed paths with backpackers, equestrians, cross-country skiers, and anglers. And yes, the park even has overnight camping facilities in place - my father used to make an annual pilgrimage to Proud Lake's main campground in the early 1960s with his youth church group.

The main point is that Proud Lake has something for every one, especially during the warmer months when outdoor enthusiasts of all demographics flock to its trails and shores. But here's an insider tip: the park's most beloved trail system - its "Figure 8 Loops"- is best enjoyed during the winter months, after a fresh snowfall, when the park's natural beauty is at its zenith and the crowds are miniscule.

Let's get to the trail.


Total Distance: 5.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 127 feet

Trail Rating: Easy

Route Orientation: Loop

Parking Specifics: Michigan Recreation Passport required for trailhead parking lot located east of Wixom Road

The Figure 8 Loops start at Proud Lake's main hiking trailhead, located just east of the Proud Lake State Recreation Area's headquarters off of Wixom Road. From the parking lot, you will start your 5+ mile adventure on the "Marsh Trail," which circles the southern rim of the marsh. There's a "scenic boardwalk outlook" conveniently located 0.1 miles into the trail, so that marks your first of many opportunities for an Instagram-worth photo op while on the trail.

Completing the Marsh Trail, you will cross the main park road twice as you venture into the park's hardwoods on the "Chief Pontiac Trail" segment of the River Trail. This segment will guide 0.8 miles northwest to the picturesque Proud Lake Dam - the single most popular destination in the park during the warmer months, and your best opportunity for a postcard photograph in the winter.

proud lake recreation area michigan hiking expedition detroit adventure
Trail markers at Proud Lake, featuring the new bright orange "Chief Pontiac Trail" markers

Once over the bridge, you will immediately sense a "Narnia-esque" passage into the most remote, and arguably most beautiful, segments of Proud Lake's thousands of acres. Even though you will technically hike on both the Red and Blue Trails, the next 3.1 miles of your hike will consist of solely following the Blue Trail's markers in a large counter-clockwise loop. The gently rolling terrain will take you through mature forest, marsh, boardwalks, and brief grasslands as you trek through the heart of Proud Lake's eastern segment. Please note that this area of the park is very popular with hunters during deer season, so be sure to wear bright orange if you choose to hike this trail mid-November through mid-December.

Back across the Proud Lake Dam Bridge, the final 0.9 mile stretch of the hike runs parallel along to the Huron River along the River Trail. If you have an extra 30 minutes or so on your hands, we strongly advise that you extend your hike along the River Trail by continuing west at the 5.6 mile mark towards the "Huron River Fishing Site" parking lot. The additional 1.6 miles (roundtrip) that this extension will add provides the single most beautiful and prolonged stretch of hiking parallel to the Huron River.

Your hike will end right where it began at Proud Lake's main parking lot, along with the satisfaction of knowing that you've just completed the grandest trek at one of the Detroit region's most beloved parks.


As us intolerable attorneys say in "legalese," notwithstanding the foregoing, Proud Lake is best experienced by foot AND paddle. Dare I say especially paddle. During a light snowfall. When you are all but guaranteed to have the Proud Lake segment of the Huron River National Water Trail all to yourself.

I tested this hypothesis last year with my trail pup Lucy, featured proudly in the photo above. I took her out for a MLK Jr. Day winter paddle, launching from the Proud Lake Dam portage, venturing upstream until a barricade of ice at Proud Lake proper stopped us in our tracks, and then continuing downstream all the way to Milford Central Park. It was a long, stunningly beautiful, near religious experience on the river, filled with unexpected wildlife sightings and perfectly still waters to paddle through.

Despite those sights and sounds, the most prominent memory that I have from that day involves two intrepid hikers who were cruising along the River Trail. We crossed paths a few times on our separate expeditions, and each interaction started with their same repetitive greeting:

"Damn, should've brought the kayak!"

Don't repeat their mistake. Finish your morning hike with an afternoon paddle. Strike envy in the hearts of your fellow outdoor enthusiasts. And, naturally, don't forget to finish your epic day with a cold one at River's Edge in Downtown Milford.


The #TrailTuesday Series idea started as a recommendation from readers looking for a deeper analysis into the individual trails that define Detroit's vast network. One of our main goals for this platform is to produce content that reflects the outdoor interests and desires of our community, so please continue to provide us with your suggestions via our contact form or here in the comments!


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