Belle Isle is an Urban Oasis in Detroit MI
While the popular attractions are well known in Detroit (Red Wings games, the Renaissance Center, Martius Park, the riverfront, just to name a few), many are less familiar with an island just off of the city’s shores.
Located on the waters between Canada and the USA, the island of Belle Isle is a must-see destination.
With an aquarium, conservatory, nature center, museum, beaches and more- we’ve mapped out a to-do list to make the most out of your stay on this hidden gem in the Detroit River.
Visiting Belle Isle is Free with a Recreation Passport
Visiting the Island is FREE if you have the state park pass on your license plate. If you didn’t buy one with your plate renewal, the pass can be purchased for $13.
In this Article
Where is Belle Isle?
Belle Isle is a 982-acre island park in Detroit MI, located in the Detroit River in between the USA and Canada.
The McArthur Bridge to access the island is located at the intersection of Jefferson Ave and East Grand Boulevard.
9 Things to Do on Belle Isle
You’ve got your state park pass, you’ve mapped out your road trip to visit, and you’re ready to drive across the big bridge to spend a day on Belle Isle – now, where to start, right?
We’ve rounded up a list of activities on the island. Many of these suggestions are year-round; the portions that are for the summer are epic, so you’ll want to visit in all the seasons to get the full effect.
Need a map? The Belle Isle Conservancy has a great one on their site. You can download the PDF version.
4 Inselruhe Ave, Detroit, MI 48207 (I on map)
The warmth will hit you in the face the minute you walk through the door, ushering you into what feels like another world of beauty as you are surrounded by rare plants from around the world.
There are paths leading you to several themed rooms including the Cactus House, the Tropical House, a sunken Fernery, and center room housing palms with a giant palm tree reaching to the sky.
Note: The conservatory is currently undergoing renovations and will reopen in May 2024.
#2 – Belle Isle Aquarium
3 Inselruhe Ave, Detroit, MI 48207 (L on map)
The Belle Isle Aquarium is the oldest aquarium in the United States, first opening its doors in 1904. The fish here are as engaging at the breathtaking architecture of the historic building.
One of our favorite things here is the Island replica located in the middle of the building.
Don’t forget to check out the seahorses!
Belle Isle Aquarium hours: 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM, Friday- Sunday
176 Lakeside Dr, Detroit, MI 48207 (P on map)
After a $2.5 million dollar renovation, the Belle Isle Nature Center reopened in late 2022 with more hands-on, interactive displays and habitats featuring urban nature.
The nature center is run by the Detroit Zoo and includes games made out of natural materials, forts, animals, reptiles, fish, and bird watching excursions among the many activities they offer.
Belle Isle Nature Center hours: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM, daily
100 Strand Dr, Detroit, MI 48207 (J on map)
This maritime museum is 16,000-square-feet and includes one of the largest collections of model ships in the world.
Dossin Great Lakes Museum hours: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM, Friday- Sunday
#5 – William Livingstone Memorial Lighthouse
Located on Northeast corner of island (R on map)
This special stop is the only lighthouse in the nation made of marble and stands 47 feet tall.
Its construction took place in memory of William Livingstone, following his many contributions to Great Lakes shipping. It has been in operation since 1930.
#6 – Belle Isle Beach
Riverbank Rd, Detroit, MI 48207 (N on map)
Swimming on Belle Isle almost makes you forget it’s a river.
There are bathrooms and a changing area at the main beach although we enjoy swimming in the north beach section by the boat launch and docks. There, water is bright blue with less waves making it a nicer place to swim for little kids.
Fountain Dr, Detroit, MI 48207 (B on map)
A fixture in Belle Isle history, the James Scott Memorial fountain was built in 1923, with a massive circumference of over 500 feet.
#8 – The Giant Slide
Inselruhe Dr and Loiter Way, Detroit, MI 48207 (H on map)
This is so cool – or terrifying depending on who you ask. If you’re not afraid of heights this massive slide is for you!
The slide rides are $1 per ride and is open Memorial Day through Labor Day, Wednesday-Sunday, 12:00 PM – 8:00 PM. Riders must be at least 48 inches tall.
#9 – Sunset Point
Sunset Dr, Detroit MI, 48207 (A on map)
Watching the sunset over the Detroit River and bridge to Canada was a highlight of our year this summer.
We took a few blankets, looked up the sunset timing on the weather app and posted up in the grass close to the water on Sunset Point. We witnessed a proposal, kids playing with their families, and a warm sense of community in the air as the sunbeams shone in all directions.
Belle Isle’s History
Belle Isle has a fascinating history. Knowing some of its past makes a visit to this little oasis even more interesting.
5 Fun Facts About the Belle Isle’s Past
1 – It has 7 Miles of Shoreline, 3 lakes, and a lagoon.
2 – The Island/Park was owned by one family until 1879 when the City of Detroit purchased it for $200,000.
3 – The Conservatory and Aquarium were completed in 1904 making these structures over 100 years old.
4 – Due to structure needs and economic struggle, the aquarium was closed in 2005 – making its re-opening in 2012 a momentous occasion. Visiting it now comes with a whole new appreciation of the FREE admission.
5 – Belle Isle became a state park as of 2014, so visiting with your park pass is a breeze.
7 Belle Isle Visitor Tips
Here are 7 tips to consider before visiting Belle Isle:
1 – Verify facility hours. Operating hours vary between buildings and many are not open 7 days per week.
2 – Visiting the island is FREE. The Conservatory, Aquarium, Nature Center and Museum do not charge for admission.
3 – Entering Belle Isle from the bridge requires the State Recreation Passport.
4 – Bring food. There are some great places close by, but nothing to eat on the island itself.
5 – There is good coffee nearby. We recommend these shops to grab a cup on your way to the island or before your drive home:
Anthology Coffee, 948 Division Street Ste102, Detroit, MI 48207
The Commons, 7900 Mack Avenue, Detroit, MI 48214
6 – Bring towels and sandals for swimming. The sand is rocky making it a little harder to walk barefoot.
7 – Plan your day trip with bikes and equipment. When visiting in warmer months, you’re welcome to set up mosquito tents and tables to create a little “camp” of sorts. Bring your bikes to explore the island.
Exploring Michigan Gems Like Belle Isle and Beyond
If you haven’t planned to make Belle Isle part of your adventure itinerary this year, try it out and let us know how your trip goes! Comment below, we’d love to hear from you.
The isle awaits – Have fun out there, Michigan!