They aren't kidding when they say that Belle Isle is a shining green gem. Connected to Detroit via a picturesque bridge, Belle Isle is located in the Detroit River between Michigan, U.S. and Ontario, Canada (your phone may send you a "Welcome to Canada!" text) and is now a Michigan state park, which means that if you have the recreation pass on your license plate, you can get in for free (but if you don't, you pay at the entrance gate). And that isn't all that's free! I recently spent a day on Belle Isle with my husband, and probably the most expensive part of the day was spending the gas to drive out there.
Dossin Great Lakes MuseumFirst, we headed to the Dossin Great Lakes Musem where admission is free. It's a quick museum with a number of interactive exhibits for kids (ever wanted to race a virtual speed boat?) and a focused history of Detroit and the immediate surrounding area. The lobby is the restored Gothic Room (life goals), the former smoking lounge of the cruise ship S.S. City of Detroit III. You will also find the bow anchor of the famous Edmund Fitzgerald. ("The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee...")
Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory
Next, we walked over to the Conservatory. A small river runs between the Dossin and the Conservatory, and the water was filled with merry kayakers. More groups of day-trippers were enjoying the myriad of plants in the Conservatory's six distinctly themed rooms and the koi pond outside. There is also a large lawn/garden with a fountain that attracted many amateur photographers and selfie-takers. There was also an ice cream truck parked out front, so we got ice cream, the first bite of chocolate I've had in weeks (it was wonderful). Ok, I'm going to level with you. While the inside of the Conservatory was lovely and delightful, the outside lawn/garden smelled like cat pee. Not because there was actual cat pee, but because perennial salvia was in bloom, and perennial salvia smells like cat pee. (So do paperwhites.) Lots of great photo ops, though, as evidenced by the number of wedding goers posing all over the place.
Belle Isle Aquarium
The 113 year old Aquarium is right next to the Conservatory, on the way back to our car, so we hit up this next. It was by far the most crowded building of the day, probably because it is basically a long and skinny tunnel. This is definitely a kids' favorite spot! Having gone through once before, we went through pretty quickly rather than fight with children for better views.
Belle Isle Nature Center
A trip to the Nature Center on Belle Isle takes as long as you want it to. There are tanks with animals, a couple of chairs next to a window overlooking bird feeders where a hundred or more birds gather (plus bees for the nearby transparent hive), a kids playground (plus a larger one across the parking lot), and the outdoor deer encounter that happens three times daily. We ended up leaving before the deer feeding time in favor of the beach.
On the north side of Belle Isle is a strip of sand and a bath house, also known as a beach. The river water is calm here, and the views of Detroit are spectacular! Another ice cream truck was parked nearby along with a hot dog stand. If we weren't planning on dinner with friends later, I probably would have taken advantage of the hot dogs because they smelled delicious! No grilling is allowed on the beach, but people had set up little travel grills in the grass next to the sand, and picnics abounded.