Welcome back to our weekly #TrailTuesday Series! This edition explores the highland loops of the West Bloomfield Woods Nature Preserve, a forested oasis amidst the abundant lakes of West Bloomfield Township, Michigan.
"Hey Dan, have you ever explored the West Bloomfield Nature Preserve?" This question from my uncle at first seemed to spring out of left field, but I've come to accept that wearing any Expedition Detroit merch now constitutes a public invitation for any and all questions related to Detroit's outdoors.
"No, can't say that I have," I replied over the hum of the ascending airplane that we were sitting within.
"Well, you should. It's pretty cool."
Our brief discussion ended there - most likely due to the number of relatives that we were speaking over - but the suggestion stuck with me. Not only is my uncle an accomplished outdoorsman in his own right, but at this point in Expedition Detroit's storied four month operating history, any suggestions for new outdoor destinations to explore are worth their weight in gold. Especially the destinations that I have never heard of.
Fast forward 48 hours and my return flight to Detroit has already touched down. With an open Sunday afternoon and an activity-starved golden retriever on my hands, I fired up AllTrails to see which "Top 50" #TrailTuesday trails were in my general vicinity - particularly one with just enough mileage and terrain variation to fill up the remaining hours of daylight.
Lo and behold, the closest, "yet-to-be-explored" trail just so happened to be located within a string of lakes in western West Bloomfield Township. A satellite image forming a green patch of forested oasis amidst the foreboding shades of blue of Orchard Lake, Upper Straits Lake, Morris Lake, and Mirror Lake. A local gem hiding in plain sight just south of Pontiac Trail.
"Alright Lucy," I said to my pup as I powered down my laptop. "We've got ourselves a new trail to hike!"
MEET WEST BLOOMFIELD WOODS NATURE PRESERVE
While driving along Pontiac Trail, you may have never noticed the vast acreage of forest standing just south of Mirror Lake. I sure hadn't, even despite countless traverses while in route to visit family living just east on Pine Lake. The dramatic approach of massive Orchard Lake may be to blame, but I can't help but feel slightly robbed of never noticing the existence of the stunningly beautiful West Bloomfield Woods Nature Preserve until literally a few days ago.
Originally owned by Willis Ward and his family during the late 19th century, the Wards were the first private owners of the Preserve to dedicate the land as a "private community park." Over the next century, successive owners continued to act as stewards over the large tract of land that would eventually become the Preserve, including the planting of flowers, protection of evergreen trees, and building of bridle paths for future generations to enjoy. Those original bridle paths now constitute the Preserve's hiking trail.
In the mid-1980s, the Preserve nearly lost its century-long conservation treatment when local developers designated its 162 acres as "prime for development." Fortunately and due largely to West Bloomfield community activism, the West Bloomfield Parks and Recreation Commission purchased the Preserve in 1988, thereby ensuring its lasting security from suburban development. Two years later, the National Institute of Urban Wildlife designated the Preserve as an "Urban Wildlife Sanctuary" - the first nature preserve in Michigan to receive such a distinction.
Today, the Preserve is home to more than 100 bird species, white-tail deer, red fox, coyote, weasel, mink, and salamanders. The Preserve is also renown for its great stands of 200-year-old trees and vibrant wildflowers. Most importantly, the Preserve serves as the core of West Bloomfield's centuries-long ambition to promote and protect community outdoor recreation opportunities.
Now - let's get to the trail.
HIT THE TRAIL
Total Distance: 2.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 144 feet
Trail Rating: Easy
Route Orientation: Loop
Parking Specifics: Free parking lot located at trailhead parking just east of Arrowhead Road.
The West Bloomfield Woods Nature Preserve Trail wins the prize so far as the best beginner hiker-friendly trail that we've explored to date. Why? One key reason: trail navigation clarity. If you're a hiker, runner, cross-country skier, or snowshoer that's prone to wandering off-trail (don't worry, that's not always a bad thing), then the West Bloomfield Woods Nature Preserve is the park for you. It's sole hiking trail is not only clearly marked from start to finish, but the width of the trail is unmistakable in comparison to the smaller game trails that criss-cross the trail.
In other words - and I mean this affectionately - it's more or less idiot proof. Which we can all benefit from here and there.
The trailhead is located at the main parking, just east of Arrowhead Rd. and across the West Bloomfield Trail. If you have a few minutes at the trailhead, I encourage you to take some time to read the informational display that marks the formal trailhead. The information regarding the history of West Bloomfield's rails-to-trails initiative, formation of public parks, and biodiversity is surprisingly fascinating. If you'd prefer not to nerd out on the history and ecology of regional public recreation, then keep on keeping on towards the natural footpath waiting just right of the display.
The trail starts with a steady 0.2 mile descent towards the Preserve's main wetlands, including a board walk for wildlife viewing. Immediately after the board walk, the trail ascends over 40 feet towards an area that we've designated "The Highlands" - the upper forested rim of the Preserve that circles a surprising deep valley containing the Franklin Branch of the Rouge River. The next 1.2 miles of your hike will traverse rolling terrain of The Highlands, which during the winter months provide stunning views of the valley and wetlands below. Don't miss the chance to take in the dramatic vista from the "Eagle's Nest" outlook at the 1 mile marker.
There are only two potentially challenging points of the hike, especially when the trail consists of slick or icy conditions. The first hits at the 1.1 mile mark and comprises of a relatively quick decline at 9% decline over 0.1 of a mile towards the bridge over the Franklin Branch. The second strikes immediately after the bridge: a 9% incline over 0.2 miles to reach the trail's "summit" at 991 feet of elevation.
Don't worry though, newer hikers. These two back-to-back segments of the trail are actually fan favorites that provide the necessary adventure element for establishing any trail as a Detroit region favorite.
WEEKEND BONUS TIPS
If you have a few extra hours on your hands - or even a full day for exploration around West Bloomfield - then buckle up, you've got some trails to check out. For road runners and cyclists, your next adventure begins right where the Preserve's hiking trail ends: the 6.8 mile linear West Bloomfield Trail (the "WBT"). The former Grand Trunk railroad corridor now connects the communities of West Bloomfield, Orchard Lake, Keego Harbor, and Sylvan Lake along the continuous trail, complete with scenic overlooks, picnic areas, portable restrooms, and direct access to stunning parks like the Preserve.
Looking to extend your ride or run? Again, you're at the right spot my adventurous friend. Heading northeast, the WBT connects directly to the 16-mile Clinton River Trail, which runs parallel to several communities along the Clinton River and terminates within beautiful Bloomer Park in Rochester Hills. To the south, the WBT ends at the eastern terminus of the Michigan Air Line Trail, which stretches from Haggerty Road in Commerce Charter Township nearly 6 miles to downtown Wixom.
If you would prefer to keep hiking other local trails in West Bloomfield, the shorter and very picturesque hiking loops through Orchard Lake Nature Sanctuary are a quick 1.3 mile drive east on Pontiac Trail (note: dogs are not permitted on these trails). Other regional hiking options include Bloomer Park-West Bloomfield, Wise Woods, Victory Park, and Dodge Park #5.
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!