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    21 Activities

    V2 From Farms to Forests: A Scenic Road Trip to Ann Arbor

    V2 From Farms to Forests: A Scenic Road Trip to Ann Arbor
    Starts from

    Revel Run

    Transportation

    By Car

    Guidance

    Self-Guided

    Activities

    21

    Duration

    3 hours

    Length

    69 mi

    Guide details

    Starts from

    Revel Run

    Transportation

    By Car

    Guidance

    Self-Guided

    Duration

    3 hours

    Length

    69 mi

    Natural AttractionsHistory and CultureUnusual Locations
    Map preview
    Alana Valko

    Alana Valko

    Travel Expert

    • Drive through endless nature preserves, lakes, rivers, and forests.
    • Pass by a stop on the Underground Railroad.
    • Learn about the origins of a small town with a unique name — Hell, Michigan.
    • Discover how the land has contributed to scientific research.
    When you think of Ann Arbor, Michigan, a bustling university town, you probably don't think of rolling acres of nature preserves, tucked-away campgrounds, endless lakes, and abundant wildlife. Yet, less than ten miles from the city center, these vast, secluded landscapes exist where nature outnumbers people.
    This route will take you through these scenic respites, starting near Dexter, Michigan, traversing around the 11,000-acre Pinckney Recreation Area, and visiting the historic, quaint town of Chelsea, Michigan, before heading into Ann Arbor.

    Categories

    When you think of Ann Arbor, Michigan, a bustling university town, you probably don't think of rolling acres of nature preserves, tucked-away campgrounds, endless lakes, and abundant wildlife. Yet, less than ten miles from the city center, these vast, secluded landscapes exist where nature outnumbers people.
    This route will take you through these scenic respites, starting near Dexter, Michigan, traversing around the 11,000-acre Pinckney Recreation Area, and visiting the historic, quaint town of Chelsea, Michigan, before heading into Ann Arbor.
    Alana Valko

    Alana Valko

    Travel Expert

    • Drive through endless nature preserves, lakes, rivers, and forests.
    • Pass by a stop on the Underground Railroad.
    • Learn about the origins of a small town with a unique name — Hell, Michigan.
    • Discover how the land has contributed to scientific research.

    Day Itinerary

    21 Activities
    Map preview

    Day 1

    69 mi

    Small Towns and Backcountry Just Outside Ann Arbor

    Today's route will give you the chance to learn about the region's history, from playing a role in the Underground Railroad to the land's contributions to both ecological and astronomical research. You'll end up in Ann Arbor, where you can enjoy both the natural scenery and the city's attractions.
    Farms Near Revel Run
    9:18 AM1 min

    Farms Near Revel Run

    Farm
    Open Details
    Welcome to your journey through the roads less traveled just northwest of Ann Arbor. On this route, you'll drive alongside the Huron River, passing by forests, lakes, unique sites, and undisturbed land.
    Farms are common in this area and have occupied the land for well over 100 years. On the right, you're passing by where you came at Revel Run. Next to Revel Run is Urquhart's Christmas Tree Farm. During the holiday season, locals can cut Christmas trees, take holiday photos on the farm, and visit the gift shop for ornaments, tree stands, wreaths, and gifts.
    Nearby, there is also an equine rescue and sanctuary, horseback riding training grounds, and White Lotus Farms, where visitors can spend time with llamas and goats and enjoy farm-made products. A little southeast, there are more creatures at The Creature Conservancy, a non-profit conservancy for rescued and exotic animals.
    2.6 mi
    5 min
    About Ann Arbor
    9:24 AM1 min

    About Ann Arbor

    City Centre
    Open Details
    While you'll be passing by farms, small towns, nature, and wildlife on your route today, if you were to keep heading east, you'd find yourself entering downtown Ann Arbor, a bustling tree-lined town home to the renowned University of Michigan.
    As a university town, Ann Arbor boasts walkable streets, diverse dining, parks, successful businesses, and plenty of accessible nature nearby, as you'll see today. All these factors often land Ann Arbor on lists as a top place to live in both the state and the country. In 2024, U.S. News and World Report ranked Ann Arbor as the best U.S. city for quality of life.
    3.3 mi
    5 min
    Marshall Road
    9:30 AM1 min

    Marshall Road

    Other Great Outdoors
    Open Details
    Before you head into Dexter, a small, historic, and nature-leaning town outside the more bustling Ann Arbor, you'll pass by more local farms and Marshall Park, a short nature trail with picnic tables and a boardwalk. Just down Marshall Road, there's a honeybee farm where you can pick up raw, local honey.
    1.3 mi
    5 min
    Fox Science Preserve
    9:36 AM1 min

    Fox Science Preserve

    Nature Preserve
    Open Details
    To your right, you're passing by Fox Science Preserve, an unassuming hidden preserve that dates back to when glaciers retreated from Michigan. The preserve sits within an old gravel quarry, whose materials once helped build I-94, the highway you were just on.
    Now, untouched for almost 40 years, the land doesn't look too different from 12,000 years ago, offering a rare opportunity to see what the area may have looked like after the retreat of the glaciers and a unique spot to witness the study of biological succession. Billion-year-old rocks are strewn about, and signs of fossils can be spotted within the limestone rocks.
    0.8 mi
    5 min
    Huron River
    9:42 AM1 min

    Huron River

    Other Great Outdoors
    Open Details
    As you head northwest into Dexter, to your right, you're running parallel with the Huron River, a 130-mile-long river that passes through cities in southeastern Michigan and local parks.
    Once a trade route for Native Americans in the area, today it's popular for fishing and canoeing, and with many dams within its stream, it serves as a source of power for the region.
    2 mi
    5 min
    Dexter, Michigan
    9:48 AM1 min

    Dexter, Michigan

    City Centre
    Open Details
    Nestled between the trails, parks, and rivers of the region, the small city of Dexter was first settled as a village 200 years ago, in 1824, by a man named Samuel W. Dexter, a land speculator, judge, and abolitionist. Dexter established the town's first post office in his house, and later a sawmill, a grist mill, and a cider mill, which is still open today and is considered the longest continuously operating cider mill in Michigan.
    As you drive down the town's main street, you can spot historic homes and the town's walkable shopping district.
    0.6 mi
    5 min
    Gordon Hall
    9:54 AM1 min

    Gordon Hall

    Historic Site
    Open Details
    Exiting Dexter's historic downtown, to the left, you'll be able to spot a white Greek Revival home in the distance. Built in the 1840s and named Gordon Hall, this was Samuel W. Dexter's home, which is considered one of the oldest and most historic buildings in the state, even making it to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
    Historians say the Dexter family hosted at least two, possibly three, United States presidents at Gordon Hall and believe it was a stop along the Underground Railroad. Oral histories name Samuel W. Dexter, a staunch abolitionist, as a conductor on the route, and historical drawings document evidence of a hidden room accessible only by a trap door.
    1.7 mi
    5 min
    Hudson Mills Metropark
    10:00 AM1 min

    Hudson Mills Metropark

    Park
    Open Details
    As you continue north, on your right, you are driving alongside Hudson Mills Metropark, which the Huron River continues through. Inside the park, there's a golf course, two disc golf courses, hiking, biking, and cross-country ski trails, and canoeing and kayaking launches on the Huron. The 1,549-acre park includes a range of habitats to observe, including a tamarack swamp, vernal and permanent ponds, a deciduous forest, and the river.
    3.3 mi
    5 min
    Stinchfield Woods
    10:06 AM1 min

    Stinchfield Woods

    Other Great Outdoors
    Open Details
    To your left is Stinchfield Woods, a sprawling forest preserve owned by the University of Michigan. Since 1925, the forest has served as a field research and conservation area for faculty and students. There are also the university's old observatories and radio telescopes near Peach Mountain inside the woods, which is one of the highest points in southeastern Michigan (and is not really a mountain, but a hill).
    An amateur astronomy group affiliated with the university, called the University Lowbrow Astronomers, maintains a 24-inch telescope near Peach Mountain that club members and visitors can use to view the stars, planets, nebulae, and galaxies on clear nights, unobstructed from city light pollution.
    1.4 mi
    5 min
    Portage Lake
    10:12 AM1 min

    Portage Lake

    Lake
    Open Details
    On your right is Portage Lake, the biggest lake within the Huron River chain of lakes, an eight-mile string of nine lakes in this region. During the summer, pontooners, boaters, kayakers, and the like frequent the lake. The Portage Yacht Club, which you passed by, is known for its sailboat racing program and is considered one of the oldest sailing clubs in Michigan. The club also has a picnic ground with volleyball courts and a beach.
    0.9 mi
    5 min
    Pinckney Recreation Area
    10:18 AM1 min

    Pinckney Recreation Area

    Park
    Open Details
    If you were to head down Tiplady Road on your left, you'd drive into Pinckney Recreation Area, an 11,000-acre park that's a complete retreat into nature for recreation lovers. Backpackers, mountain bikers, and hikers can enjoy over 40 miles of trails, and it's a paradise for fishermen thanks to the park's several lakes. There are two beaches for summer swimming, a stable for horseback riding, cross-country skiing in the winter, and paddle sports in the summer. Pinckney is also a popular camping destination, providing travelers to the region with a complete backcountry experience.
    3.4 mi
    5 min
    Hell, Michigan
    10:24 AM1 min

    Hell, Michigan

    City Centre
    Open Details
    Look closely before you miss it! You're approaching a small community with an interesting moniker: Hell, Michigan. While somewhat of a famous town thanks to its name, less than 100 people actually live in the unincorporated community. Though with a name like Hell, the town embraces the name for its curious visitors — you'll first pass by the Smoke Doctor, a barbecue joint; Go to Hell, a horror-themed gift shop; and then the Hell Saloon, a devilish-themed diner.
    While the origins of the town's name remain debated, legend has it that the name can be traced back to the man who first settled on the land, George Reeves. Reeves opened a series of businesses that formed the town, including a grist mill and general store. One theory is that he paid his workers in the whiskey he produced, so when they chose to drink it rather than go home during harvest time, their wives would exclaim they had “gone to Hell again.”
    Another theory is that when asked what the town should be named, he replied something like, “I don’t care; you can name it Hell for all I care,” and they took him a bit too literally.
    2.5 mi
    5 min
    Edwin S. George Reserve (University of Michigan)
    10:30 AM1 min

    Edwin S. George Reserve (University of Michigan)

    Nature Preserve
    Open Details
    The University of Michigan Edwin S. George Reserve, a 1,300-acre preserve, sits on the land you're passing by. Since 1930, researchers and students have conducted long- and short-term biological research studies on the land, including a 30-year study of turtles, a 50-year study of successional changes in an abandoned field, and an ongoing 10-year study of amphibians. In addition to conducting important ecological studies, the university preserves the native flora and fauna on the land.
    1.2 mi
    5 min
    Gregory State Wildlife Area
    10:36 AM1 min

    Gregory State Wildlife Area

    Other Great Outdoors
    Open Details
    A largely rural area inhabited mostly by nature and wildlife, rather than humans, makes the Pinckney region attractive to hunters. Just north of you is the Gregory State Wildlife Area, which sits on 2,687 acres of untouched habitats where wild turkeys, mallards, pheasants, and deer roam free.
    The Gregory State Wildlife Area, with its varied natural landscapes, provides spots for game hunting and wildlife watching. The area includes lakes, ponds, streams, rivers, marshlands, rustic areas, and dirt tracks. The mature deciduous trees and moss-covered forests make it rich in biodiversity and a popular hiking spot.
    3.2 mi
    5 min
    Campgrounds and Lakes
    10:42 AM1 min

    Campgrounds and Lakes

    Other Great Outdoors
    Open Details
    This western side of today's route is much more rural than the eastern side, as the road you just turned on crosses through the Pinckney Recreation Area. You can't see them from the road, but more than seven lakes are surrounding you at this moment. Near the lakes are peaceful campgrounds tucked away in nature and multiple trailheads. Pinckney's proximity to the metro Detroit and Ann Arbor areas makes the park an ideal spot for those seeking an easy respite in nature without having to travel too far.
    2.9 mi
    5 min
    Farmland
    10:48 AM1 min

    Farmland

    Farm
    Open Details
    North Lake, which you'll pass on your driver's side, marks the end of the Pinckney Recreation Area on the eastern side of the road. But before you head into Chelsea, the next town, you'll be passing near a couple of farms in the region, including berry farms, an orchard, and a trout farm where guests can catch their own fish from spring-fed, pollution-free ponds. While food-producing farms are declining across Michigan and the United States in general, farms have been steadily growing in this region recently.
    2.3 mi
    5 min
    West Lake Preserve and Chelsea Game Area
    10:56 AM1 min

    West Lake Preserve and Chelsea Game Area

    Other Great Outdoors
    Open Details
    While not visible on the road, you're currently driving by the West Lake Nature Preserve on your left. The West Lake Nature Preserve is a wetland bog habitat complete with walking trails and a dock promenade with scenic views of West Lake.
    Just southeast of West Lake are the secluded Four Mile Lake and the Chelsea State Game Area, where visitors can hike, fish, deer hunt, camp, and watch wildlife, including eagles who have been spotted nesting in the region.
    3.2 mi
    5 min
    Chelsea, Michigan
    11:02 AM1 min

    Chelsea, Michigan

    City Centre
    Open Details
    The clock tower marks your entrance into the historic downtown district of Chelsea. With buildings dating back to the 19th century that remain remarkably intact, Chelsea's main street was recently named to the National Register of Historic Places. Aside from its historic charm and Victorian neighborhoods, Chelsea's walkable shopping district makes it a special place in Michigan, which, outside bigger cities, is mostly rural or suburban and highly dependent on cars.
    6 mi
    10 min
    Barn Sanctuary
    11:13 AM1 min

    Barn Sanctuary

    Farm
    Open Details
    On your right off I-94 is Barn Sanctuary, a 140-year-old barn-turned-sanctuary that rescues and rehabilitates abused and neglected farm animals while giving them a new home to recover and spend the rest of their days. Animal Planet featured the sanctuary in a TV series called Saved by the Barn, which followed the barn's owner, Dan McKernan, as he and his crew learned the ropes of rescuing and caring for the animals. The barn is open to the public to tour and meet the animal residents.
    2.7 mi
    5 min
    Baker Woods Preserve and Trinkle Marsh
    11:24 AM1 min

    Baker Woods Preserve and Trinkle Marsh

    Nature Preserve
    Open Details
    While you're back on the highway headed towards Ann Arbor to finish your route, to your left you're actually passing by the Baker Woods Nature Preserve, where visitors can take trails, footpaths, and wooden bridges for a short hike through a mix of woodlands and wetlands.
    Next to the nature preserve, there's also a marsh habitat, which is an excellent spot for waterfowl watching. Ducks, shorebirds, herons, cranes, and more stop here on their migration journey. Other species call the preserve home during the summer for nesting and raising young.
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