Here are 34 Leelanau County “must dos” near the 45th Parallel, Lake Leelanau, the Manitou Passage and more. The folks at The Leelanau Conservancy suggested this can’t-miss list as celebration of their 25th Anniversary. (They really did try to limit it to 25…Get out to Leelanau County and you’ll understand their struggle!)
1. Witness the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) – try the dark skies at Whaleback, Houdek Dunes, or Lighthouse West. They all have great views of the night sky in the open fields/dunes.
2. Take a child/grandchild fishing – try the pier at DeYoung Natural Area on Cedar Lake, go by canoe/rowboat at Kehl Lake Natural Area.
3. Watch the sunrise at the 45th parallel – try visiting the 45th Parallel Park – the Conservancy helps communities protect their parks too.
4. Watch the sunset over the Manitou Passage – try the outlook at the top of Whaleback Natural Area or the view from Hall Beach.
5. Go fossil hunting – try beach combing from Vans Beach (LC helped with the addition) along the shore to the point at Whaleback Natural Area.
6. Learn how to use a bow and arrow – secure all the proper permits, get a lesson, and then try archery hunting for deer at Krumwiede Forest Reserve or Cedar River Preserve. The Cedar Rod and Gun Club or Northport Sportsman Clubs are great places to learn about safety and techniques before you head out for a “wild land hunt.”
7. Plant a tree or native wildflowers – try volunteering to help plant native trees and wildflowers.
8. Learn how to fly fish for carp or smallmouth bass – try the challenge of fly fishing in the rocky coves of Lake Michigan at Leelanau State Park Addition on Grand Traverse Bay or the shoreline of the 45th Parallel Park.
9. Find an Earthcache – the geology lovers’ version of a Geocache. Try the caches at Whaleback Natural Area and Lighthouse West Natural Area.
10. Check out the ice boaters on Lake Leelanau - when the ice is right they’re often seen off the eastern shore of Clay Cliffs.
11. See a meteor shower – try the dark skies at Chippewa Run, Lighthouse West or Houdek Dunes Natural Areas to look for the predictable Perseid Meteor Shower in early August.
12. Hug an old growth tree – try the ancient chestnut tree that survived the blight at the Teichner Preserve (go on a docent-led hike to find this special tree). Grab your friends and family and encircle the giant chestnut tree.
13. Paddle by moonlight – try paddling your kayak or canoe at the Cedar River Preserve.
14. Build an igloo – try a community location by building an igloo at the Leland Village Green for all to enjoy.
15. Learn about threatened/endangered species that live in Leelanau – take an Inland Seas cruise to learn about the Caspian tern that lives on Gull Island.
16. View the Conservancy’s protected lands on Lake Leelanau from the water – try starting at Perrin’s Landing at the south end of Lake Leelanau by the Cedar River Preserve and head north. Look for the stretches of natural shoreline at the Greeno Preserve, slow down at the Narrows to enjoy the Narrows Natural Area, then continue north to the shoreline of Clay Cliffs.
17. Experience a shower of tamarack needles – try an autumnal hike to Houdek Dunes Natural Area or Teichner Preserve when the tamarack trees lose their yellow needles. Magical.
18. Go wild fruit foraging – try berry picking with your kids at Krumwiede Forest Reserve, Chippewa Run or Lighthouse West Natural Areas for raspberries or blackberries in August.
19. Eat Leelanau produce through the seasons – try visiting historic farms that are being farmed by a new generation of farmers. Visit Sonny Swanson’s yellow farm stand, adjacent to the Swanson Preserve, or the Healing Tree permaculture orchard at the DeYoung Natural Area. Start with asparagus and rhubarb in the spring and eat your way to apples and root vegetables later in the season.
20. See the sand hill cranes – there’s nothing quite like these creatures that inhabit the Cedar River Preserve.
21. Cross country ski or snowshoe Kehl Lake Natural Area in winter – the snowy hemlocks here make for a magical trail.
22. Hear trees talk – try a silent snowshoe beneath the towering old growth white pines at Kehl Lake Natural Area. If you go, you’ll know what we mean.
23. Discover a carnivorous plant – try a paddle to the Cedar River Preserve to see the sundew and pitchers plants along the Cedar River.
24. See the pink lady slippers – try hiking along the Houdek loop and forest trail at Houdek Dunes Natural Area.
25. Try ice fishing – shallow Kehl Lake freezes early and is full of pan fish like large mouth bass, northern pike and bluegill.
26. Track large animals – find tracks and scat of Leelanau’s bears and other large wildlife at places like Kehl Lake, Houdek Dunes, and Cedar River Preserve.
27. Experience the kettles of migrating birds – head up to the Tip of the Peninsula, where we have protected 625 acres and over a mile of shoreline for migrating birds. Public areas include the Leelanau State Park as well as Lighthouse West and Kehl Lake Natural Area.
28. Find a glacial erratic – those great big boulders left behind by the glaciers can be spotted at Lighthouse West Natural Area and the Krumwiede Forest Reserve.
29. Shine for gars and walleye – both of these fish frequent the Lake Leelanau Narrows at night. Bring a flashlight to the public dock and patiently wait.
30. See the otters in the Leland River – trek from Van’s Beach across Hall Beach towards the harbor to see the otters playing in the river all summer long. See them during their peak when the salmon run in the fall.
31. Publish a photograph – send your captured moments to our Why Leelanau Blog and let the world see your work.
32. Beach walk from the tail to tip of Leelanau County– try this multi-day walk along beautiful Lake Michigan shoreline starting at our Chippewa Run Natural Area and walk all they way to Lighthouse West Natural Area.
33. Visit Chippewa Run at twilight to hear the spring peepers – bring along Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac and read a chapter.
34. Picnic on the Village Green in Leland – enjoy the Leelanau Preserver tiles, a mosaic of names and Leelanau images and reflect on the places and people that make up your own Leelanau experience.