Snowmobiling Detroit? Exploring Michigan’s Outdoor Adventure Center

by Culinary Spelunker /
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Sep 26, 2016 / 0 comments

My face must have shown my confusion when my new neighbor in suburban Detroit gave me a cooking mitt. I was grateful, of course, but a bit bewildered at what seemed like an unusual housewarming gift.
“It’s Michigan,” she smiled. “We’re the glove state.” Enthusiastically, she held her hand up to show that the state of Michigan has an uncanny resemblance to a gloved hand. Then she put up her other hand. “And this is the UP. You know, the Upper Peninsula. Up north?”
I didn’t know.
As a newbie Michigander, I’d never been introduced to the state’s dual identity as a glove – or ever heard of the UP. But as I came to know and relish exploring Michigan I crisscrossed that glove and even ventured over into the UP.
But I never ended up snowmobiling in the state before we moved away. Or went fishing for walleye. And I certainly never climbed a hulking tree. That all changed on a recent visit to the Outdoor Adventure Center, located in the heart of Detroit.

Snowmobiling Detroit? Exploring Michigan’s Outdoor Adventure Center
The 41,000-square-foot building’s tagline? Up North, Downtown. It opened its doors in July of 2015.
Owned by the state and developed in an expansive warehouse originally built in 1892, the Outdoor Adventure Center is designed to give visitors a chance to sample outdoor adventures like snowmobiling, tree climbing, and more, all under one roof. Once you’ve tried it inside, you’re encouraged to head outside into Michigan’s many state parks.

Snowmobiling Detroit? Exploring Michigan’s Outdoor Adventure Center
I decided to work my way from the top to the bottom at the Outdoor Adventure Center. The third floor houses a people-sized eagle’s nest and another display (which wasn’t finished at the time) of eagle’s wings. Stop and take a picture and send it to yourself. Silly faces encouraged!

Snowmobiling Detroit? Exploring Michigan’s Outdoor Adventure Center
On the second level, I made a beeline for the snowmobile (and yes, I waited in line behind a couple of seven-year-olds to get my chance to try it out). When it was my turn, I sat on snowmobile and swerved with the path that was projected on a large screen in front of me. The off road vehicle offers a similar projection-type virtual ride.
A full-sized airplane sits with the cockpit open so you can see how researchers fly their way across the state to count wildlife populations. I noticed plenty of kids playing at the controls and shouting excitedly at each other, “Do you see any bears?”
Crossing the suspension bridge, I took a deep breath before making my way inside and then down the three-story tree trunk before sliding to the main floor. Here, you and your kids can walk through a yurt, pretend you're camping by a waterfall, and go eye-to-eye with a fishy friend.

Perhaps my favorite spot within the center was the fishing exhibit. I’m terrible at fishing. Really. I don’t like to put worms on the hook, nor do I have the patience to wait for a bite. For all those reasons I’d planned on skipping the exhibit entirely. A center volunteer must have sensed my reluctance and he encouraged me to try it, “Just once.” I sat in the back of the fishing boat that’s perched near a couple of screens on the wall. The volunteer, Ben, had a bit of a glint in his eye when he selected the “fish” I was going to catch.
“Keep it easy, ok?” I asked.
“Sure,” replied Ben with a sly smile.
I held the fishing pole, its line strung through a hole in the wall near the screen. The line stayed slack about 10 seconds and then it tugged hard. I held on with my left hand while twisting the reel with the right. Ben cheered me on as the line kept tugging and I kept reeling. On the screen, my “fish” thrashed around but I kept at it. The walleye finally came to the surface and the tension on the line went slack. I had him!
For those few moments, I actually felt like I might be able to fish. I finally understood why people love to venture out in the early morning to catch their prize. And it got me thinking as I was leaving that maybe I just might give fishing another try.


Snowmobiling Detroit? Exploring Michigan’s Outdoor Adventure Center

Kristen J. Gough is the Global Cuisines & Kids Editor for Wandering Educators. She shares her family's adventurous food experiences--and recipes--at


All photos courtesy and copyright Kristen J. Gough