As you wind your way north on M-22, you catch glimpses of blue water dancing through sun-dappled trees. This peninsula feels isolated as it's surrounded by water and filled with lakes. But it is dotted with charming towns, barns, and rolling fields making it a perfect destination to explore. It is fun to make a long day of it, but even better if you spent a weekend!
Everyone seems to skip past this quaint town on their hurried way to Sleeping Bear Dunes. We love to hike the Empire Bluff Scenic Lookout and enjoy the views with less people. Spending time at much less crowded Empire beach and Village Park are a great way to enjoy an afternoon. We always finish with a treat in town at a cafe and explore the antique shops.
Sleeping Bear Dunes
This National Lakeshore is one of the most visited attractions in the peninsula. The scenery is stunning with towering sand dunes and majestic views of Lake Michigan and the sleeping bears of North and South Manitou islands in one direction and the Glen Lakes in the other. For those not wanting to climb the main dune for the views, you can drive the seven mile loop of the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive and enjoy it's covered bridge and many stops along the way.
We have always loved the town on Glen Arbor and have camped and stayed in the area through the years. You can easily spend an afternoon strolling through the various shops and art galleries and visit the home of Cherry Republic. There are plenty of great places to eat, but breakfast at Art's Tavern and finishing the day with dinner and live music at Boonedock's can't be beat. The narrows between Big and Little Glen Lakes are a great place to anchor or swim and kayaking down the Crystal River is pretty peaceful. Don't forget to enjoy the historic barns of Port Oneida or Glen Haven and the Cannery Boat Museum on the shore of Lake Michigan and look for beautiful rocks along the beach.
There are plenty of places to hike as you continue north along M-22 to the village of Leland. You'll have worked up an appetite for a sandwich from the well-known Cheese Shanty in Historic Fishtown or enjoy the famous Chubby Mary at The Cove overlooking the dam. After a little respite, you'll be ready to stroll the streets and peruse the many shops and galleries of the village and the lovingly-preserved shanties. You can also walk the block south to Van's Beach and hunt for Leland Blue and Petoskey stones or watch the sunset on Lake Michigan at the end of the day.
As you continue north on M-22 to the tip of the peninsula, you'll have to stop in the quaint village of North Port. It has grown over the years and now has several cafes, bars, and shops to enjoy. We like to stop in town after we have spent time further north exploring the Grand Traverse Lighthouse In Leelanau State Park. The historic light built in 1852 is fun to explore and we love the views as well as camping at the state park.
As you loop around the east side of the peninsula, you'll take in views of Grand Traverse Bay, lavender fields and wineries. The peninsula is home to many tasting rooms and cellars and you could easily take a weekend just to explore them all.
Filled with great shops, galleries, restaurants, and wine tasting and a beer garden, this village is a perfect spot to visit on the eastern side of the peninsula. Suttons Bay beach is right in the heart of the village and a great place to relax or watch the boats go by.
The town and the lake are both named such and the name Leelanau is thought to be a Native American word meaning"delight of life". This area of and it's two lakes that meet at the narrows is delightful and a peaceful place to boat or paddle board in the middle of the peninsula.
There are beautiful views and unique places to explore throughout the entire peninsula and I can't wait to go back!