The Pinckney Recreation Area in southeast Michigan was formed by the glaciers. The 10,201-acre area straddles the Livingston/Washtenaw County Line and is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. With a cluster of seven lakes that are connected by streams and short channels, this area is a great place to drop your line and spend a day fishing. The surrounding rolling hills filled with oaks make for a beautiful backdrop.
Many cottages and homes along a portion of the larger lakes gives this area a nice residential feeling for those who don’t want to feel like they’ve ventured somewhere that is too secluded. With Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan just half an hour away, there is plenty to do nearby if you desire some time away from the park. But the 26-mile trail system that traverses the park won’t disappoint. Whether you’re heading in for hiking, mountain biking, backpacking, or fishing, you won’t find yourself bored at the Pinckney Recreation Area. Come check it out!
The Pinckney State Recreation Area, in southeast Michigan, is made up of several connected, but scattered, parcels of land that surround private lands and land owned by the University of Michigan. The village of Pinckney is the largest settlement in the area, lying just to the east of the northeast corner of the park. The village of Hell lies within the park and is the center of recreation at Pinckney State Recreation Area. Hell grew up around a sawmill, gristmill, distillery, and tavern. All three were operated by George Reeves. Reeves moved to the area in the 1830s from the Catskill Mountains in New York. He purchased a sawmill on what is now known as Hell Creek in 1841. Reeves’ family sold the land to a group of investors from Detroit in 1924.
The investors increased the size of the millpond by raising the level of the dam creating what is now Hiland Lake. The area soon became a summer resort area attracting visitors for swimming and fishing.
In 1944 the Michigan Legislature appropriated monies for the purchasing of land in southeastern Michigan and for the construction of state parks and recreation areas. The Pinckney Recreation Area grew through the 1940s and 1950s with money from a number of sources.
The area is covered with glacial moraines (rock and soil), kettle lakes (shallow, sediment-filled water), and swampy lowlands. Much of the area is open grassland. You’ll see abandoned agricultural fields with a few oak forests on hilly areas and shrub swamps in the lowlands.
Most of the forested areas in the Pinckney Recreation Area are on land that is too steep or deemed otherwise unsuitable for agriculture. The stands that remain are smaller than 100 acres and consist of deciduous trees, like white oak, red oak, black oak, and hickory. The flatter terrain that was originally farmland has been allowed to become overgrown with native plants like goldenrod and black-eyed Susan.
Within the area you can see white-tailed deer, raccoons, and Virginia opossums. If you like water birds, get your camera ready because many different types call this area home, including the blue-winged teals, snow and Canada geese, mallard and wood ducks, egrets, sandhill cranes, and great blue herons.
Pinckney Recreation Area hosts several lakes open for all types of water sports. There are over 20 lakes in the recreation area with the largest being about 200 acres.
Silver Lake: This lake is close to the headquarters and is open to swimming, fishing, and boating.
Crooked Lake: While this lake has a boat launch, it is not open to swimming. This lake is adjacent to a rustic campground.
Half Moon Lake: If you’re looking for a great swimming hole, then Half Moon Lake is for you! This lake has a large swimming area as well as a boat launch.
Pickerel Lake: This lake offers a quiet spot to go swimming as no motorized boats are allowed on the lake (no boat launch). Up until 1990 this site was the unofficial nude beach/swimming area, but now patrons are required to keep their clothes on. Bring a floatie and you’ll fit right in with the crowd.
The Pinckney Recreation has 186 modern campsites and a camper cabin that is located near the modern restroom and showers at Bruin Lake.
- Blind Lake Rustic (hike-in), 10 sites, $13/night
- Bruin Lake Camper Cabin, one cabin, $86, $65 (off-season); two bedrooms, sleeps six
- Bruin Lake Modern, 186 sites, $28/night (50A), $26/night (20/30A), $20/$18/night (off-season)
- Crooked Lake Rustic, 25 sites, $13/night
- Glenbrook Yurt (a circular domed tent of skin or felt), one site, $65/night
An extensive trail system is available to both the hiker and mountain biker. The trails all begin at Silver Lake Beach.
- Crooked Lake Trail is a 5-mile long trail for hiking, mountain biking, and cross-country skiing.
- Equestrian Trail is an 8-mile trail for horseback riding. Horses are available at Hell Creek Corral, a private business near the park.
- Losee Lake Trail is a 3.3-mile trail for hiking only.
- Potawatomi Trail is a 17-mile trail that is open to hiking, cross-country skiing, and mountain biking and provides access to the two rustic camping areas and the yurt at Glenbrook.
- Silver Lake Trail is a 2-mile long trail for hiking, mountain biking, and cross-country skiing.
- Waterloo–Pinckney Trail is a 35-mile hiking trail which runs through Waterloo Recreation Area and Pinckney Recreation Area.
With more than 115,000 riders every year taking to the trails of the Pinckney Recreation Area, you can safely say that it’s one of the most popular mountain biking places in the state. Pinckney was one of the first to open its doors to mountain bikers in the mid-1980s, when mountain biking became popular in Michigan, and it’s been bustling with cyclers ever since. People travel from as far away as Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois to hit one of three trails; the 2.3-mile Silver Lake Trail, the 5.1-mile Crooked Lake Trail, and the 17.3-mile Potawatomi Trail, one of the toughest rides in the state. With the exception of the Silver Lake Trail, Pinckney is considered a challenging and technical ride for advanced bikers with numerous hills and ridges to negotiate. This is particularly true with the Potawatomi Trail.
Pier fishing is available at Silver Lake and Crooked Lake. Shore fishing is available at Silver Lake.
It’s easy to enjoy a beautiful day on one of the many lakes in the area. There are improved boat launches on Bruin, Half Moon, South, North, Joslin, and Portage Lakes. Unimproved ramps are located on Crooked, Gosling, and Hiland Lakes. There are hand-carry access sites onto Sullivan Lake and Pickerel Lake for kayaks and paddle boards. The chain of seven lakes can be accessed from Bruin and Half Moon.
The majority of the recreation area is open to in-season hunting, except for safety zones around the developed day use areas, campgrounds, and office areas. There are seasonal restrictions on shooting from April 1-September 14. Target shooting is strictly prohibited at any time or place.
Don’t let the cold ruin all the fun! Snowmobiling is allowed in designated areas and ice fishing is available on Silver, North, and South Lakes.
From I-94, depart at Exit 159 and head north on M-52 for 6 miles to North Territorial Road. The headquarters can be reached by turning north onto Dexter-Townhall Road and then left onto Silver Hill Road for a half mile. Dexter-Townhall Road can also be reached north of Ann Arbor from US-23 by departing west on North Territorial Road (Exit 49) and heading west for 12 miles.