If you enjoy the outdoors, The Big 400 is one of Michigan’s best kept secrets! Spanning a geographic area of more than 400 square miles, The Big 400 includes parts of Washtenaw, Jackson and Lenawee counties, and is full of public lands that are beloved by hikers, bikers, fishermen, and nature enthusiasts. With a growing network of businesses and organizations within The Big 400, there’s tons to see, do, eat, and explore!
The Waterloo State Recreation Area is one of the most well-loved parks in The Big 400. It’s the largest state park in the Lower Peninsula, and has 11 lakes and 47 miles of trails for hiking. The park is open year-round, so even in the colder months there are fantastic cross-country ski trails and snowshoeing. Within the park sits the Gerald E. Eddy Discovery Center, which is part of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and holds several exhibits featuring the native plants and animals in the 20,000+ acre park. If you enjoy camping, the park has fantastic campgrounds – plus beaches, boat launches, and a horseback-riding stable (open seasonally). The Waterloo State Recreation Area is located close to the beautiful and historic city of Chelsea – perfect for a taste of small town living. When visiting Chelsea, you won’t want to miss the award-winning Common Grill (famous for its incredible focaccia bread), or the Purple Rose Theatre (founded by renowned actor Jeff Daniels). The Purple Rose is a professional theatre company that often produces Jeff Daniels’ own plays, as well as other theatrical works.
The Hudson Mills Metropark is another gem of The Big 400 – located near the small town of Dexter. There is wildlife aplenty in this beautiful park, as well as two disc golf courses and a paved bicycling and hiking trail. Open year-round, the Metropark is perfect for winter sports like cross-country skiing (the trails are groomed!), as well as fishing, canoeing, and picnicking in the warmer months. With Dexter nearby, visitors are close to fantastic dining at Terry B’s and Red Brick Kitchen, as well NULL – a world-class brewery (supplying beer to Grizzly Peak and Jolly Pumpkin in Ann Arbor) with a tasting room. Dexter is also home to many independent, charming shops, as well as the the Encore Musical Theatre Company, which produces Broadway-style musical productions year-round.
The Big 400 is home to two major area-wide events per year – the Maple Syrup Festival and the Cranes, Colors, Cabenet (and Cider too!) Festival. The Maple Syrup Festival is held on March 12, and the day is full of tasty food and drink inspired by local maple syrup – including a pancake breakfast at the Chelsea Alehouse Brewery and a maple wine tasting at the Sandhill Crane Vineyard. In the fall, the sandhill cranes come to The Big 400 for nesting and migration, and the season coincides beautifully with the fall colors and local cider production – providing a perfect opportunity for wineries and cider mills to offer special deals, promotions and products especially for leaf-peepers and crane-seekers.