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#TrailTuesday: Exploring the Seven Lakes Loop Trail

Welcome back to our #TrailTuesday Series! This edition explores the lakeside vistas and dramatic forested ravines of the Seven Lakes Loop, the flagship trail of Seven Lakes State Park. Join us as we traverse one of the most beautiful trails of the Detroit region!

I've never understood why anyone hates a surprise. I'm referring to "good" surprises, of course. All of your best friends surprising you on your birthday, serendipitously running into your favorite professional athlete on the street, landing your dream job when you had heard nothing but crickets for weeks, or seeing your phone light up for the first time with an unexpected text or call from your crush. Moments that reaffirm a childlike belief that there's some magic still left in this world - and that it may appear in just a moment's notice.


Exploring the Detroit region's outdoors - especially as part of our #TrailTuesday Series and new Guided Trips platform - has not only reignited this childlike sensation, but set it ablaze in spectacular fashion. An initial curiosity regarding a destination or trail inspires a visit, and each visit comes along with preexisting expectations of what a "Detroit region trail" should look like. Woods. Bugs. Maybe a lake or pond. Hopefully some incline/decline action.


Then you finally get to the trailhead, grab your gear, and start your trek.


What comes next - without fail - is a fundamentally life-altering surprise. Trails and woods that you have commuted past hundreds of times unveil a new world that's been hiding in plain sight. Stunning lakeside vistas. Towering oak trees. Dramatic ravines. Vast stretches of untouched forest, inducing the solitary reflection that our modern minds crave yet seldom find.


I am extremely lucky. As a necessary component of this new venture, I get to experience moments like this on a fairly regular basis. And yet, during my hike yesterday afternoon along the Seven Lakes Loop trail - my first time ever visiting Seven Lakes State Park - I experienced this exploratory fire ignite yet again. An increasingly familiar sensation that I had just rediscovered an experience so beautiful, unassuming, exhilarating, and accessible that I had to share it with this community. ASAP.


It is our honor to reintroduce Seven Lakes State Parks now.

MEET SEVEN LAKES STATE PARK

Seven Lakes State Park resulted from one of the best failures ever. Traveling back to the 1960s, a certain private interests group purchased the 1,434 acres of farmland, rolling hills, forests, and lakes - lots and lots of lakes - with the goal of creating a new development on the banks of one massive impoundment of water. To accomplish this goal, the group constructed a dam on Swartz Creek to create one massive 170 acre lake from seven smaller lakes. The dam accomplished its goal, but the project as a whole rapidly fizzled out. C'est la vie.


Thankfully, the developers sold the acreage surrounding this new "Big Seven Lake" to none other than the Michigan DNR Parks and Recreation Division in 1969. With the name of neighboring "Holly Recreation Area" already snatched up, this new state park would adopt the name of its most beautiful and prominent feature - and living monument to the benefits derived from failure.


Six decades later, Seven Lakes State Park has firmly established itself as a final frontier for world-class recreation in the northernmost stretches of the Detroit region. Unsurprisingly, Seven Lakes is a maritime paradise for aquatic activities: swimming, paddling, and no-wake boating are immensely popular at the park, although fishing for bluegill, bass, pike, tiger muskie, or catfish represents Seven Lakes' favorite generational past time. Unique for a state park, Seven Lakes also provides hunting and shared-trail mountain biking opportunities.


On this inaugural visit, we opted to stick to our go-to exploration method: hiking. Ideal for exploring Seven Lakes' trail network of over 6.5 miles that criss-cross the park's near-endless variety of topography and ecosystems. Beyond daily use by hikers, cross-country skiers, and mountain bikers, the wetlands surrounding Seven Lakes' trail ecosystem provides a home for songbirds, muskrats, beaver, turtles, squirrels, deer, waterfowl, heron, and many other species of wildlife.


And of these magnificent trails, the "grand daddy of them all" is none other than the Seven Lakes Loop.


Now let's get to the trail.

HIT THE TRAIL

Total Distance: 4.1 miles

Elevation Gain: 177 feet

Trail Rating: Moderate

Route Orientation: Loop

Parking Specifics: Parking available at trailhead off of park service road - enter park from northeast Fish Lake Road entrance and continue 1.2 miles straight until parking lot appears to your left (Michigan Recreation Passport required)


Some trails make you work for their best attributes. Think of a pristine alpine lake or exposed summit that's 12+ miles, one way, from the trailhead. Worth the strenuous effort? Undoubtedly. But still, the effort alone will test both the willpower, physical ability, and daylight restrictions of even the most ardent recreationist.


The trailhead of the Seven Lakes Loop trail does not bother with playing such games. To the contrary, you will emerge from your vehicle to immediately gaze downhill at a forested, lakeland paradise, unveiled before you like a buffet of adventure. Even more convenient, the first trailhead marker (#4) awaits your arrival directly downhill from the parking lot. Check it out, orientate yourself for a moment or two, and then turn left towards #5 to descend into the heart of this natural wonderland.

The first trail marker of the Seven Lakes Loop

The first half mile of the trail provides you with an immediate highlight reel of Seven Lakes' trademark features. You will initially traverse an exposed natural bridge separating massive Big Seven Lake to your right and Little Seven Lake to your left. This area is immensely popular with shoreline fishers, so try to contain any enthusiasm for this stunning display of outdoor majesty as you traverse the land bridge towards a small forested inlet.


Once in the woods, the next two miles of your adventure will consist of following the roller coaster of a hardwood ridge line. A part from two offshoots towards Big Seven Lake - one at the 0.4 mile marker and a longer one at the 1 mile marker - the trail will guide you along an oscillating path of steep climbs with sweeping vistas to declines into vernal pool depressions. You may notice the bike paths through the dirt under your boots; yes, these are permitted, and yes, this trail also rips on a mountain bike - especially this fun section.

At around the 1.5 mile marker (including the tangents towards Big Seven Lake and back), the trail briefly juts out in its forested route towards Dickinson Lake before curving back to continue circumnavigating Big Seven Lake. Let us be abundantly clear here: EXPEDITION DETROIT does not condone unnecessary adventurism. However, if necessity dictates, there is a downed log around this section across a creek that leads directly to one of the steepest inclines that one could hope to find in the Detroit region.


Again, if you reasonably find it necessary to traverse said log and climb this uphill, you will shave off roughly 0.2 miles of this hike, but supplemented with an immensely fun "micro-adventure."


But, again, only if necessary. Of course.

Around the 2.4 mile marker - once you catch a glimpse of the clear-cut utility area - you'll notice that the joyfully unpredictable terrain that you spent the last two miles scaling and descending starts to mellow out a bit. This "mellowing" reaches its zenith at the 2.7 marker, when you will (reluctantly) trade Seven Lakes' natural trails for an exposed paved road running adjacent to the western shoreline of Big Seven Lake.


Fortunately, whatever quantity that this 0.4 segment may lose in "wilderness aesthetic," it easily regains in "unfiltered beauty." While simultaneously hiking back into civilization as you traverse past the picnickers and sunbathers of the immensely popular Seven Lakes Beach, your eyes will feast upon the unobstructed views of the immensity of Big Seven Lake - views that were physically impossible to obtain during the heavily-forested portions of the trail. There are also modern amenities like restrooms and water fountains near the beach, which will certainly come as a welcomed sight for many after 3 miles on the trail.

The final mile of the loop provides a welcomed return to the wild, although not before passing by the massive Big Seven Lake Dam at the far northern tip of Big Seven Lake. If you're looking for a rushing, powerful dam, then this is not the dam for you - any water flow over the dam results solely from higher than normal lake levels, so it was hardly a trickle when I trekked past it. Warning: this is some sort of large animal skeleton at the base of the dam, which some hikers will find intriguing and others off-putting.


Around Big Seven Lake Dam, the trail starts its final extended climb through grassland and wild flowers before descending into lakeside forest. Some stretches of this portion of the trail are situated right only the water, so please exercise caution with your foot placement while hiking here. When you notice a surprisingly steep climb towards an open field at the 4.1 mile marker, you will know that you have reached your final destination - the trailhead parking lot where your journey began waits for you at the top of the hill.

WEEKEND BONUS TIPS

Did we mention the beach? For the sake of transparency, the only downside of completing the Seven Lakes Loop trail consisted of having to high-tail it out of the beach area in order to complete the trek/assignment. The area simply looked fun - plenty of trees for hammocks, grilling pits, horseshoes and corn hole courts, playground areas for kids, picnic tables for relaxing, and more than enough beach space to lay out and relax. Big Seven Beach also provides boar rental opportunities, so you can easily pair your relaxation agenda with some maritime exploration fun.


Especially in light of its relatively remote location from the heart of Downtown Detroit, Seven Lakes also fortunately features a modern campground at Sand Lake. With spaces equipped for both rustic and RV camping, you and your loved ones can easily stretch out your exploration of the park and nearby Holly Recreation Area over a weekend.


So go ahead, pack the bike, kayak, fishing pole, and hiking boots - you're going to have plenty of time and unfettered access to utilize all of your favorite gear.

 

Want to explore trails like this for yourself but would prefer hiking or running with a guide? Look no further! Expedition Detroit proudly leads guided trips across 11 MICHIGAN STATE PARKS AND RECREATION AREAS. Book your next adventure by CLICKING HERE!


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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