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5 of the best running routes in Metro Detroit


After the gray winter and rainy days of May, the weather is finally nice outside on a consistent basis. So whether you've spent the winter inside logging miles on a treadmill, or hiding in a cave of blankets eating shame chips (my preferred winter workout), summer is here and it's time to get outside. 
 
Ditch the gym membership and experience the joy of outdoor running. It's affordable, and, let's face it, a killer way to torch some calories. You can bring a buddy to encourage and push you, but running can be a blissful solitary experience, too. And if you don't want to run solo, RUNdetroit offers weekly runs, in three, six, and 10 mile options. 

If you're looking to experience some of Detroit's best runs on your own, this list should get you started. Pop in a pair of headphones, and come outside to explore the best running routes in Metro Detroit.
 
The Riverwalk/Dequindre Cut
 
One of the nicest runs in Detroit naturally belongs to the Riverwalk. Over the past few years, the Riverwalk has evolved and expanded, and the entire park now stretches nearly five miles along the Detroit River (and soon there will be a continuous promenade to the Belle Isle Bridge). If you work Downtown, it's the perfect place for a lunch hour walk or jog, and for everyone else, it's just a great, safe running route. 
 
The Riverwalk will take you through multiple parks, past the Renaissance Center and Rivard Plaza, all along the river. There's something delightful and meditative about running alongside a body of water, so it's no wonder this list goes heavy in that direction. The Riverwalk is paved, well-maintained, and serves the dual purpose of affording great city views while offering a little slice of greenery. It's also incredibly family-friendly, with plenty of parks, concessions, and accessible bathrooms. 
 

 
Plus, if you're training for a half or full marathon, and five miles just isn't enough, extend your Riverwalk run along the Dequindre Cut, which is a great route on its own. 

In fact, Justin Craig, co-owner RUNdetroit suggests the Cut as perfect for newer or out of town runners. It was constructed on an old railroad line made anew
Justin Craig, co-owner of RUNdetroitwith bike and pedestrian lanes, which means you'll be buffered from traffic and other annoyances but still have that city feel. 
 
The Dequindre Cut starts at Atwater Street, and runs up through Eastern Market. At 2.5 miles one way, it's perfect for a short and sweet pre-happy hour run, so you can drink that beer at Atwater Brewery guilt free. The overpasses along the way are covered with friendly graffiti, giving the whole run a funky artsy vibe. And if that isn't enough for you, it spills out into Eastern Market, which, with its many shops and restaurants, makes for a pleasant run too. 
 
Belle Isle
 
No list of the best Detroit-based running routes is complete without Belle Isle. The island boasts a nearly six mile (5.6 to be exact) loop. And with all the trails crisscrossing it, you can easily increase that number. Access to Belle Isle is simple: all you need is a recreation passport (available on the island for $10). Alternatively, you could run across the bridge for free. 
 
Belle Isle is a true gem. It is one of Detroit's oldest parks, and became a state park in 2014. The island boasts many natural wonders, like lush wooded areas, and views of the glistening Detroit River. In addition, the manmade structures on Belle Isle are little slices of history which add some wonderful context to your run. The island boasts an old casino, an aquarium, and one of the nation's oldest yacht clubs. Running on Belle Isle is truly a run back in time.


 
Running the island's perimeter will take you alongside the Detroit River, offering spectacular views of Detroit and Windsor. You'll also take in some nature, which can be a welcome escape from the bustle of downtown. Check out the nature zoo, or the Detroit crew team at practice. You'll almost always encounter other friendly joggers. And once you're done running and ready to cool off, you can hop in the river for a swim, or rent a kayaks or pedal boat from RKC Adventures.
 
River Rouge Park
 
If you are looking for a route off the beaten path in Detroit, River Rouge Park is an excellent choice. It's about 14 miles outside of downtown, much closer to Dearborn and Redford (and the truly stunning Rosedale Park neighborhood). The park is undergoing a revitalization thanks to the hard work of the dedicated Friends of Rouge Park. The park itself is nearly 1,200 acres, making it Detroit's largest. 
 
Because of its location, however, it gets much less attention than it deserves. This makes it great for a more secluded run along the river—though also a little more rustic than the downtown parks.
 

 
River Rouge Park has seven miles of paved trails, which the Friends of the Park routinely keep clean and maintained. There's a five mile loop around the park, and additional trails throughout. Pick up the loop where Spinoza meets Rouge Park drive, and enjoy a wooded run along the Rouge River. There are also monthly events in the park, if you’d rather jump in a 5K or fun run. 
 
When you're finished, cool off with a swim in the park's pool or check out the Buffalo Soldiers Heritage Center where you can learn about the Buffalo Soldiers and ride one of the ponies. There's even a nature walk with a stone bridge.
 
Lakeshore Drive
 
Perhaps you're looking for a run outside of Detroit proper, with impossibly spectacular views. In that case, Lakeshore Drive in Grosse Pointe is an absolute must. 
 
Most of us can only dream about owning one of the million dollar homes in the Shores, but the Lakeshore route is free to us all. The free running app Map My Run suggests starting at the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club, and running along Lake St. Clair for 3.6 miles to end at the War Memorial. 
 

 
Along the way, you'll have constant lake views on one side, and of Albert Kahn-designed homes on the other. It's a beautiful run any time of the year, as on even sweltering days the lake breeze will keep you cool. The route is also very flat, though you can always venture into the neighborhoods if you want to add a little elevation to your run.
 
Paint Creek Trail
 
Metro Detroit has many wonderful parks if trail running is what you desire. One of the nicest runs has to be the Paint Creek Trail, which runs from Rochester out to Lake Orion. It also links up with the Macomb Orchard Trail, and the Rochester River Walk, if you're looking to add miles—though at 8.9 miles, the Paint Creek might be all you need. 
 
The trail weaves its way through northern Oakland County on a limestone path through beautiful wooded areas. There are plenty of places to stop and enjoy the creek, and mile markers along the path to keep you motivated. There's even a year round Cider Mill at the halfway point where you can rest up and refuel with donuts. 
 

 
Paint Creek has a great interactive website that outlines parking and trail conditions (word of warning: avoid the trail after heavy rain). While downtown Rochester is full of great bars and restaurants, the Paint Creek Tavern remains the preferred choice of cyclists and runners. The Tavern is right off the trail, and affords great views and a relaxing patio. If you're dating a runner, it's the perfect place to have a beer while you sit and wait for them to finish. Running might not be for everyone. Beer is. 
 
The best part is that this list is just a small selection of the many routes available in Metro Detroit. There's no reason to keep running a stale, predictable route, especially in an area littered with diverse trails. 

Jessica Loria is a Metro Detroit-based runner, improvisor, and writer. 
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