Destination Lansing: River Trail

Oh, it has been ages since shared a Destination Lansing post with you!

This is the time of year when I love to start getting back outside, taking walks and taking pictures. Running through Lansing, largely in a generally north-south orientation, though with tributaries jutting off here and there, is a modest river of asphalt called the River Trail.

Lansing River Trail, MI

It follows not one but two rivers, the Grand through downtown Lansing and the Red Cedar past Potter Park Zoo and Michigan State University, carrying travelers by bike, roller blades, or feet through woods, under concrete bridges, and by parks, museums, and markets. One trip on the River Trail and you can see almost all that Lansing and East Lansing have to offer represented in some way. In fact, here’s a list off the top of my head of where you can get and what you can see if you start on the southern end of the trail on Jolly Road (right by the 7-Eleven there) and head north:

Hawk Island County Park (fun and relaxing yearround)


Scott Woods Park (GORGEOUS in the fall, but great anytime)


Mount Hope Cemetery


Fenner Nature Center


Red Cedar River Natural Areas


Potter Park Zoo


Impression 5 Children’s Museum


Lansing Center


Lansing City Market


Downtown Lansing and the Capitol Building


Adado Riverfront Park (which, depending on the day, may include various concerts or events)


Brenke Fish Ladder

Old Town (and all the cool shops and restaurants therein–like Elderly Instruments and Pablo’s Panaderia, where you should order the torta sandwich with pork on their life-changing homemade bread or the huevos y chorizo with warm, homemade flour tortillas)

The Turner-Dodge House and Heritage Center

If you take the spur that heads east along the Red Cedar River, you can get to MSU and East Lansing, including these destination spots: The Breslin CenterThe Kellogg CenterBroad Art MuseumMSU Gardens, and Sanford Natural Area. All the way up to Hagadorn Road, where you can stop for dinner at Sultan’s Restaurant for some shawarma and falafel.

And I didn’t even list all the awesome restaurants in both downtown Lansing (like the Tavern on the Square or Mediteran or Troppo) and downtown East Lansing (like Dublin Square or Woody’s Oasis).


The trail is open yearround. Even in winter it is plowed to allow regular foot traffic and biking for those of us who don’t have cross country skis. So, if you took the notion, you could bundle up and bike down to Hawk Island County Park and go snow tubing in the wintertime.

But of course, my favorite time is fall.


Fenner Nature Center

I know that all of you in Michigan must be suffering from some level of either Seasonal Affective Disorder or Cabin Fever (or quite possibly both). One of the best remedies for both of these ailments is to get out of the house and get some exercise. And what better place to do that than out in nature?


Fenner Nature Center is one of two prominent nature centers in the Lansing area (the other, Woldumar, will be highlighted at another time). I spend most of my nature-walk time at Fenner because it is quite close to my house and the shorter walks are good for my 4-year-old’s short legs.

Walking at Fenner

Fenner Nature Center is located at the southeast corner of Aurelius and Mt. Hope, opposite Mt. Hope Cemetery. Besides showcasing a variety of natural habitats (including open meadows, ponds, wetlands, deciduous forests, and coniferous forests) Fenner has classes for children and adults, a great interactive learning center, a library, a gift shop, guided walks of all kinds, and special seasonal festivals, like the Maple Syrup Festival in March and the Apple Butter Festival in October.


When we go to Fenner we usually make it a point to climb on boulders.


We also spend a good deal of time looking for frogs…






and deer.


Dragonflies, bees, and butterflies abound, as do many types of songbirds.


It is beautiful and walkable in all seasons…









But I think autumn is probably my personal favorite.


Hawk Island County Park

As part of my continuing Destination Lansing series, I bring you Hawk Island County Park. Once a gravel pit (many of the older members of our church remember swimming there back in the days before there was “public safety”) Hawk Island has been transformed into one of the best parks I’ve ever been to.

Indian Summer at Hawk Island

The pit was cleaned out, filled with water, and stocked with fish. There are pedal boats and picnic shelters to rent, a great playground, a beach and a splash pad, volleyball courts, horseshoes, picnic tables galore, a dog park nearby, and plenty of gently rolling, well-maintained lawns for relaxing on a blanket with a good book or getting a tan.

Playing at Hawk Island

The Lansing River Trail runs right through it, making it easily accessible by bike, foot, or rollerblades. CATA bus route 18 will get you there, as will your car. There is a fee to park, so I suggest getting the yearlong parking pass as it will save you lots of money and encourage you to get out there and use the parks our taxes maintain!

Father and Son at Hawk Island

On days when it’s above 40 degrees, we usually hop on the River Trail (I’ll post on this awesome Lansing feature in the future) near where it splits off to go to Michigan State University and ride roughly south through Potter Park and Scott Woods. Gorgeous ride at any time of year.

The Trail to Hawk Island

And as much as we love Hawk Island in the warm months, it is now equally awesome in the winter. When the picnic tables are all stacked and leaned against trees and the splash pad is covered with snow, Hawk Island’s new tubing and snowboarding hill takes center stage. Tow ropes take you up the hill of groomed snow (which they make, so no worries that the snow cover has been light this year) and then you head down, either sitting in one of their tubes on one side of the tow ropes or on your own snowboard or skis on the other. There are jumps and rails for the snowboarders, and it is loads of fun to watch them as you sit in your tube and get pulled up the hill.

Open in the evening on weekdays from 4pm until 9pm and from 10am to 9pm on weekends, Hawk Island Snow Park is, in my mind, the best new thing to come to Lansing. We enjoyed a gorgeous evening there a couple weeks ago with friends, the beautiful sun setting behind light clouds making everything glow. And a nice bonus was that all the people who were working on the hill that night were very nice (and in an age when good, cheerful service seems hard to come by, the employees of the Ingham County Parks System should be commended as they are invariably, in my experience, both competent and considerate).

I’m a big proponent of not letting weather keep you inside. If you have the right attitude and dress correctly for winter, you can thoroughly enjoy being outside in the fresh, invigorating air. Layer up your clothes, get some adult snowpants, wear good boots, get off your duff, and go have some fun!

The Capitol Building

As I mentioned a little while ago, I’ve decided to start a new feature here that highlights places in and around Lansing, Michigan, in case you live here or ever find yourself wondering if visiting the state capital is worth it. Also, I like to brag about my state, and while many people know of the wonders of the lakeshores, sometimes the interior of the state gets left by the wayside. So here we go, and what better place the start than the Capitol Building?

I just happen to be good friends with someone who knows more about the Capitol Building than most people know about their parents, spouses, children, or inner selves. That means I’ve heard a good deal about this lovely building over the years. But as I can never remember it all, I always welcome more little tidbits of information from her.

Designed by architect Elijah E. Myers and built between 1872 and 1879, the current capitol building was preceded by a wooden one in Lansing, and before that the capitol was located in Detroit (it was moved to Lansing, a mostly unknown non-town in the swampy wilds of central Michigan, in 1847). The current building is beautiful inside and out and well worth a visit if you find yourself in mid-Michigan, especially during these cold months when you might want to retreat indoors. There is a really well-done self-guided tour, but there are also full time tour guides and many docents who would love to extol the building’s qualities and regale you with its history.

I have been lucky enough to have been taken for a walk above the etched glass ceiling tiles above the house chamber and even up over top of the domes (there are actually two of them, one inside the other) and into the lantern (see photo below) just below the spire. It pays to know the right people.

The interior is especially interesting as nothing is really what it seems. Marble columns are actually expertly painted wood. Copper chandeliers are actually a combination of nine metals (none of which are copper). The seemingly tiled floor of the rotunda is actually glass (who makes a floor out of glass?). The dome looks like plaster to me, but it is actually cast iron. The limestone flooring is peppered with fossilized sea creatures and corals, hinting at Michigan’s ancient history when it was the floor of a great sea.

As in many public buildings, it seems that every detail signifies something else. To really get the most out of your visit, I suggest setting up a tour with a guide or docent. (See if you can get Valerie Marvin; she knows everything, as evidenced in this episode of Michigan Under the Radar.)

Imagine working every day in this gorgeous building. May it inspire our public servants to fulfill their calling with honor, dignity, and grace.