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Exploring Ann Arbor’s Natural Gems: Barton Nature Area and Bird Hills

Ann Arbor is home to several beautiful nature areas that offer a retreat into the serenity of the great outdoors. Two of the most beloved spots among locals and visitors alike are Barton Nature Area and Bird Hills. Let’s take a closer look at what makes these natural spaces so special.

Barton Nature Area: A Serene Riverside Escape

Popular for sunsets, photography, fishing, birding, a scenic stroll or to get a big dose of nature, the Huron River is quite wide as it pools before the Barton Dam. Photo by Shawn Hunter

Located just below Barton Dam and visible from Huron River Drive, Barton Nature Area is a flat, open shrubby expanse teeming with biodiversity. In a plant inventory conducted between 1994 and 2001, an impressive total of 324 plant species were recorded here, with 242 of them being native. The area is actively monitored and restored by the Natural Area Preservation (NAP), ensuring the preservation of plant and animal life.

The nature area offers a variety of activities for nature enthusiasts and photographers, with opportunities for birdwatching, fishing, and leisurely strolls along the Huron River. Barton Pond, within the park’s limits, is responsible for providing 85 percent of Ann Arbor’s drinking water. Visitors can walk along the earthen embankment on the city side to find green spaces, benches, and a pedestrian walk over the dam. For kayakers and boaters along the Huron River Water Trail, a portage boat slide assists in crossing the dam, leading to Gallup Canoe Livery.

Barton Dam is connected to Barton Pond, which provides 85% of the drinking water to Ann Arbor.

Barton Dam is fed by the Huron River creating Barton Pond, which provides 85% of the drinking water to Ann Arbor.

Additionally, plans are underway for a pedestrian tunnel beneath the railroad to connect Barton Nature Area with Bandemer Park, offering an enhanced park experience for the community.

Access to Barton Nature Area is convenient, with a main entrance and parking located north of the park at 1010 W. Huron River Drive. For an alternative trailhead, head to the eastern part of Huron River Drive near M-14 and Main Street, though parking spaces here are limited. Both entrances feature pedestrian bridges, providing easy access to the scenic oxbow trails.

Bird Hills: A Natural Oasis with Rich Biodiversity

Bird Hills Nature Area is the largest natural area in the city of Ann Arbor.

Bird Hills Nature Area is the largest natural area in the city of Ann Arbor. Photo from

Bird Hills, another treasure within Ann Arbor, boasts an abundant array of native plant species, ranking the park second highest overall in the city’s Floristic Quality Assessment of natural areas. The park’s diverse ecosystem provides an immersive experience for nature lovers.

Natural Area Preservation (NAP) carries out controlled fires in Bird Hills during spring and fall to mimic the natural fires that once shaped the landscape. Prior to European settlement, regular fires thinned the forest understory and promoted the growth of native species like oak and hickory. With the absence of such fires, non-native and invasive species, such as Norway maple, white ash, and buckthorn, have thrived, leading NAP to utilize controlled burns to restore ecological balance.

Five trailheads provide access to Bird Hills: Down Up Circle, Bird Road, Beechwood Drive, and two near the Newport Road parking area. There is a small parking area on Beech Drive and a small pull-off lot on Bird Road. Parking is also available in the Barton Nature Area lot on W. Huron River Drive, near the Barton Dam.​​ Visitors can also access the park via bicycles. However, bikes are not allowed within the park boundaries.

bird hills park in Ann Arbor parking areas

Bird Hills Park in Ann Arbor Parking is available at 1850 Newport Rd and 1180 Bird Rd.

Whether you seek a scenic stroll, a serene spot for photography, or a chance to immerse yourself in nature’s wonders, Bird Hills and Barton Nature Area offer something truly special. So, take the time to explore these natural gems and experience the beauty of Ann Arbor’s wilderness firsthand.

If you have any questions, please get in touch with us using the form below.


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For immediate assistance, call us at 734-845-9700 or email Andy Piper at

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