Two boats rowing on the Huron River in Autumn

Fall Color Trek in The Bird Hills Nature Area

Bird Hills Nature Area – Overview

The Bird Hills Nature Area rises above a great bend in the Huron River west of Ann Arbor. Encompassing 146 acres, it is the largest natural area in the city’s park system. With a variety of pathways, hikers will find a sanctuary in this hilly woodland. The unpaved paths meander up and down hillsides covered with beech, sugar maple, flowering dogwood, oaks, hickory trees, and various spring wildflowers. With so much to see, the park allows for hours of leisurely walking or simply taking a few moments to wonder and appreciate nature.

The trails traverse several of the wooded canyons that cut through the hillside. This means that the paths are steep in places and in the fall may disappear completely under a carpet of maple leaves. This can make walking a little difficult if you are not used to using rustic hiking paths. Additionally, while dogs are allowed (on leash), the area is closed to bicycles to prevent trail damage from erosion. 

Bird Hills Nature Area provides a great escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. It is a place where you can go to commune with nature, take in the fresh air, and enjoy the peace and quiet. Whether you are looking for a challenging hike or a peaceful stroll, Bird Hills Nature Area is definitely worth a visit.

Bird Hills Nature Area

RATING

  • Scenery – 5
  • Trail Condition – 3
  • Quiet/Solitude – 5
  • Difficulty – 3
  • Overall – 4.5
  • Trail – Packed Earth
  • Accessibility – See Below
  • Dogs Allowed – Yes (on Leash)
  • Bikes Allowed – No

Location – Ann Arbor (see map below)

Gear Suggested – Daypack, Water Bottle, Hiking Boots, Long Pants & Sleeves

Bird Hills Nature Area – The Walk

We parked off of Bird Drive, just off of Huron River Drive across from Barton Dam. At this trailhead, the path starts going steeply uphill along the old ox path. In places, you can still see the cement tracks laid down to keep the oxcarts from getting stuck in the damp soil.

Bird Hills

We followed the path to the top of the ridge and enjoyed the brilliant golds and greens of the early fall colors. The trail system here allows you to wander the nature area with countless branching path options. The path we explored passed an interesting teepee construction that someone had assembled.

Teepee

Following on down the path and deeper into the woods, the beauty of the woods just captured us. The dappled sunlight would shine down and highlight the understory trees and really show off the glamour of the forest.

Sunlight

Though the sun came and went as we walked up and down the valleys and ridges of the nature area, we found the benches a great place to sit and reflect on the serenity of this forest area. These were also great places to stay still and do some birdwatching. The Bird Hills really does live up to its name with jays, cedar waxwings, warblers, and many friends inhabiting the dense forest hillsides.

Benches

The route we followed soon headed down the side of the ridge, back towards the river. Some parts of this area were very steep and we were glad to be wearing walking shoes with a good bit of traction. With the leaves on the ground, the trek down might be a little slippery.

Bird Hills Path

Conclusion

The Bird Hills Nature Area is a real gem in any season. But I think that fall and spring are the best times to visit this area to see it at its peak and to hear and see the namesake birds passing through. With the maze of path options in the nature area, I suggest bringing a printout of the map or making sure the GPS on your phone is working well. You’re never far from an exit, but it might not be the one you started on.

Path Taken

Total distance: 2.3 mi
Max elevation: 972 ft
Min elevation: 827 ft

Gallery

Below are some of the sights we found while walking that day.

Leave No Trace and Obey The Park Rules

Please Remember

  • Always leave no trace, pack out everything you take in. We suggest that you bring an empty bag with you so you can pack out your trash and remove any that you see along the way.
  • Stay on marked trails. Straying into the undergrowth can damage delicate ecosystems.
  • Parks and preserves are surrounded by private lands. Please be respectful of property boundaries and stay inside the public land.
  • Let someone know where you are going. Some areas have limited or no cell service, so if you get stuck you may not be able to call for help.
  • Read the notes, warnings, and information provided at the park readerboard/kiosk. There may be closed trails or special seasonal information.
  • Respect the no bikes, no dogs, and no horses rules. These are posted and may be updated at any time.
  • Respect wildlife and nature. Do not approach or disturb animals or birds living in the area.
  • Leave only footprints – Take only pictures.

For more information on Leave No Trace – see LNT.org

Where is this?

Park – Facts

Address 1000 Bird Rd, Ann Arbor, MI 48103 (the one used for this walk)
Size146 Acres
Established1968
Trail Length2.3 Miles (see path above, but there are more trails to explore)
HighlightsThe hilly nature area is filled with interesting birds and plants.
AccessThere are 4 parking areas near the trailheads, here are the addresses
– Bird Rd: 1000 Bird Rd, Ann Arbor, MI 48103 (the one used for this walk)
– Newport Rd: 1850 Newport Rd, Ann Arbor, MI 48103
– Beechwood Dr: 650 Beechwood Dr, Ann Arbor, MI 48103
– Barton Nature Area: 1010 W Huron River Dr, Ann Arbor, MI 48103
AmenitiesLoop trails are marked at intersections. Benches are provided along the trails.
FeesNone
AccessibilityEarth-packed narrow trail. Some areas are very hilly and steep. Not suitable for wheeled conveyance.
Websitehttps://www.a2gov.org/departments/Parks-Recreation/parks-places/pages/birdhills.aspx
Maphttps://www.a2gov.org/departments/Parks-Recreation/NAP/Natural-Areas-Recreation/Documents/fieldoperations_nap_brochureBH_2009-01-19.pdf
Best time to visitAnytime (Bring good boots in the spring 😉 )

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