Best Outdoor Things to Do in Leelanau County

There is an abundance of Leelanau County outdoor recreation activities that include soaking up the sun on beaches, biking, driving along M-22, enjoying Leelanau State Park and of course taking advantage of the inland lakes.


M-22

This iconic state trunkline highway outlines the scenic perimeter of Leelanau County almost in its entirety and is hands-down one of the most beautiful drives in the entire state. As it skirts the coastlines of Lake Michigan and West Grand Traverse Bay, the route passes through Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and the hamlets of Empire, Leland, Glen ArborNorthport, Omena and Suttons Bay, with restaurants, wineries, art galleries and other gems along the way. The showstopping scenery varies between northern wilds, water views, and testaments to the region’s agrarian roots: orchards, barns, sprawling farmsteads. A gorgeous drive any time of year, and for those who live here, it makes for a beautiful commute.

Check out the M22  bucket list.

Leelanau State Park

At the very tip of the peninsula, this stunner of a state park sits on 1,300 scenic acres of woods and Lake Michigan coastline. It’s home to the 1858-built Grand Traverse Lighthouse; out of operation since 1972, the lighthouse lives on as a museum, with its rooms refurbished with historical artifacts and its light tower open to the public for a spectacular panoramic view of Lake Michigan. Tour the museum and the nearby fog signal building for a look into Michigan’s maritime past, then venture out to explore the park’s beautiful beaches (they’re rocky near the lighthouse but sandy and sublime to the west, along Cathead Bay) and 8.5 miles of hiking trails. There’s a rustic campground and twin mini-cabins for overnights, too.

Inland Lakes

Out of all the counties in the United States, Leelanau is second only to the Upper Peninsula’s Keweenaw County when it comes to counties with the greatest proportion of water area. Glen Lake and Lake Leelanau are the two big inland lakes here, with Glen covering 5,000 acres and Lake Leelanau sprawling across 8,600 acres. Both are brimming with fish like yellow perch, smallmouth bass, northern pike and trout, and are loved for boating and swimming. There are dozens of little lakes here, too, like Lime Lake, which borders a 41-acre parcel of protected and open-to-the-public conservancy property, and North and South Bar, which are both fantastic beach destinations.

Beaches

Surrounded by water on all but one side, Leelanau is essentially outlined in beach, which doesn’t even include all the shorelines of its beautiful inland lakes. Everyone who lives here has their own favorite sandy spot, whether it be for summer sunbathing, winter walks, rock hunting, swimming, or setting up for a surf or kiteboard session. On the A-list of Leelanau’s Lake Michigan beaches: Good Harbor beach, edged by a low rim of sand dunes and looking out over a lovely natural harbor for views of the Manitou Islands; Glen Haven beach, at the site of a historic lumber ghost town inside Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore; Empire Village Park, which straddles a thin strip of land between Lake Michigan and Little Glen Lake and is within walking distance of ice cream in downtown Empire; and Esch Road Beach, located at the mouth of Otter Creek and with lovely views of the majestic Empire Bluffs.

Biking

Leelanau is a paradise for cyclists and leisurely riders alike. For starters, the county offers two dedicated, paved trail systems built just for biking. The Leelanau Trail runs through a former railroad corridor spanning 17 miles between Traverse City and Suttons Bay. Along the way, it winds through orchards, vineyards, wetlands, meadows, woods and DeYoung Natural Area, making for a beautiful ride. On the other side of the county is the new Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, which when complete will span 27 miles. The winding trail is built over old logging roads, trails and abandoned railroads, and is easy enough for lazy spins on beach cruisers. Serious cyclists will find plenty to love in Leelanau, too; the twisting, undulating two-lanes here provide eye-popping scenery and heart-pounding challenges around every bend. Here are 10 of the best Leelanau County road bike routes.


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