Top Things to Do on Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula in One Day

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When it comes to touring in Michigan, you have most likely heard about going again in time on the car-less Mackinac Island, tracing historical past in Detroit, and exploring the gorgeous Upper Peninsula.

But at present I would like to introduce you to a smaller, however no much less visit-worthy a part of Michigan: the Leelanau Peninsula.

Located simply to the northwest of Traverse City, the Leelanau Peninsula is the “little finger” in the mitten that’s the state of Michigan. It’s not a very massive place, solely extending about 30 miles into Lake Michigan, nevertheless it certain packs a punch in phrases of all of the cool issues you’ll be able to see and do there.

Fall is a wonderful time to go to.

I spent a day exploring this little slice of the Midwest final 12 months throughout my fall street journey round Michigan with my husband Elliot. We discovered the peninsula to be the right place to spend a day whereas in the Traverse City area, and so I made a decision I might share all of the cool issues we discovered there with you!

Since this peninsula is pretty small, you’ll be able to simply tick off all of the highlights in only one well-planned day.

Amanda at Blustone Vineyards
Wineries are positively a spotlight.

A fast historic observe

The Leelanau Peninsula was “discovered” by white settlers in the mid-1800s, however after all everyone knows the land was inhabited by indigenous peoples lengthy earlier than that. The Anishinaabeg peoples inhabited this area of northern Michigan, and noticed in it the identical issues the pioneers did: pure assets and good fishing grounds.

The peninsula continues to be dwelling to the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians; the Grand Traverse Reservation is positioned close to the city of Peshawbestown.

It’s at all times good to know a bit about whose ancestral land you are on whereas exploring a brand new place. To be taught extra about this space’s indigenous historical past, you’ll be able to go to the Eyaawing Museum and Cultural Center close to Peshawbestown. The band additionally hosts the Peshawbestown Pow Wow (their title, not mine) every August.

The finest issues to do on the Leelanau Peninsula

If you are simply glancing at a map of the Leelanau Peninsula and pondering that it would not actually look large enough to dedicate an entire day to… effectively, assume once more! There’s a lot to do right here, from climbing sand dunes to visiting lighthouses to going wine tasting at a few of the finest wineries in Michigan.

Here are my high picks of issues to do on the Leelanau Peninsula:

1. Visit Sleeping Bear dunes

Lake Michigan at Sleeping Bear Dunes
Yes, that is Lake Michigan, not the ocean!

Located on the far southwest finish of the peninsula, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is an absolute must-visit. This National Park Service-managed space is unbelievable, and can make you are feeling such as you’re someplace that is positively not Michigan.

Sitting proper on the shore of Lake Michigan, this lakeshore includes a pair driving/climbing routes, lovely viewpoints out over the lake, and naturally some sand dunes.

The high issues to do at Sleeping Bear embody driving the brief Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive and stopping in any respect the viewpoints, and climbing a dune or two on the Dune Climb space.

Sleeping Bear Dunes viewpoint
Viewpoint alongside the scenic drive
Dune Climb at Sleeping Bear Dunes
Dune Climb

There are additionally just a few longer climbing trails, in addition to the Sleeping Bear Point Coast Guard Station Maritime Museum and Glen Haven Village, the latter of which is a preserved historic village with academic packages.

RELATED: Visiting the Sleeping Bear Dunes on the Shores of Lake Michigan

2. Follow the wine path

Vineyard and an old barn in Michigan
So many vineyards!

Did you understand that Michigan is an rising wine-producing space? Well, it’s, and the Leelanau Peninsula is considered one of 5 American Viticultural Areas (AVA) in Michigan.

The Leelanau Peninsula sits on the forty fifth parallel, which is similar parallel that runs by well-known wine areas just like the Rhone Valley and Bordeaux in France. Michigan is understood for colder winters than its European counterparts, however the proximity of Lake Michigan helps mood the chilly snaps and makes for a great spot to develop cool-climate grapes.

This wine area is understood particularly for its whites (particularly Rieslings), however you will additionally discover glowing wine, ice wine, and all types of different fascinating issues.

The Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail includes 25 completely different wineries divided up into three “loops.” You might simply spend a number of days traversing this wine path and nonetheless not go to each single tasting room or winery!

Grapes on the vine in Michigan
Grapes nonetheless on the vine in the autumn

Elliot and I finished at a handful of Leelanau wineries throughout our street journey, and I’m satisfied you actually cannot go fallacious!

A number of which can be most-recommended embody:

  • Blustone Vineyards (Northern Peninsula Loop) – With a recent tasting room arrange on a hill, this vineyard affords a few of the finest views out over vineyards and orchards.
  • Leelanau Wine Cellars (Northern Peninsula Loop) – With a tasting room proper on the water, this vineyard is particularly identified for the spiced wines (known as “Witches Brew”) that they make in the course of the fall and serve up sizzling!
  • 45 North Vineyard & Winery (Northern Peninsula Loop) – Set proper on that forty fifth parallel, this vineyard makes each purple and white wines, together with a number of fruit wines and dessert wines.
  • Mawby (Grand Traverse Bay Loop) – If it is glowing wines you like, then you’ll be able to’t go fallacious at Mawby. They stopped producing nonetheless wines 20+ years in the past and now focus completely on bubbly.
  • Black Star Farms (Grand Traverse Bay Loop) – This 160-acre vineyard property has a number of tastings rooms, a restaurant, a stunning terrace, and extra on website. Along with wines, Black Star additionally has a distillery and makes some distinctive fruit brandies.
Driveway view at Blustone Vineyards in Michigan
This is the driveway view at Blustone Vineyards

And in order for you to go to a number of wineries in sooner or later however don’t need to have to restrict your wine consumption? There’s this vineyard tour run by Magic Shuttle Bus that can drive you round to a few of the extra well-liked wineries on the peninsula! (Book a Leelanau vineyard tour right here.)

3. Visit Grand Traverse Lighthouse

With all of the speak of sand dunes and infinite vineyards, it would sound like there cannot probably be any room left on the Leelanau Peninsula for a state park – however you would be fallacious!

At the very northern tip of the peninsula sits Leelanau State Park, a 1500-acre park that’s dwelling to the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum and eight.5 miles of climbing/snowboarding trails.

Grand Traverse Lighthouse in the fall
Grand Traverse Lighthouse

The Grand Traverse Lighthouse alone is price making the brief drive out to this park. The present lighthouse dates again to 1858, making it one of many oldest historic lighthouses on the Great Lakes. Today, guests can tour the restored keepers dwelling and climb the tower for excellent views.

(Note: The state park does require an entrance payment – at present $9 for a day cross for our-of-state guests – and the lighthouse tour is a further $5.)

4. Explore small cities

No a part of the Leelanau Peninsula feels crowded or built-up; it is crammed with quaint small cities, a number of of that are positively price a quick cease to discover.

Some of my small-town picks right here embody:

  • Glen Arbor – With lake views and a smattering of native eating places, Glen Arbor makes a very good cease after visiting the close by Sleeping Bear Dunes. The must-do right here is to buy groceries at Cherry Republic, which sells all issues cherry-related.
  • Leland – Probably the preferred small-town cease on the Leelanau Peninsula, Leland is understood for Fishtown, a group of preserved fishing shanties and smokehouses that provides individuals a glimpse into the realm’s maritime previous. From right here you may as well rent fishing charters, or take a ferry over to North or South Manitou Island.
  • Northport – This small village is on the middle of Leelanau County’s cherry trade.
Fishtown in Leland, Michigan
Fishtown in Leland

5. Enjoy recent cherries

Nearby Traverse City is formally generally known as the “Cherry Capital of the World” and hosts a well-known cherry competition yearly in July. But the Leelanau Peninsula is dwelling to a variety of the area’s cherry orchards.

In the spring, you are seemingly to see tons and many cherry blossoms in this a part of Michigan (one website I learn stated there are over 1 million cherry bushes in Leelanau County!). And in the summer time when the cherries are ripe, you’ll be able to even choose your individual straight off the tree at Hallstedt Homestead Cherries in Northport.

Throughout the remainder of the 12 months, you’ll be able to nonetheless hold a watch out for native cherry merchandise.

6. Shop in any respect the farm stands

Farm stand on the Leelanau Peninsula
I made Elliot flip the automotive round so we might cease at this lovable stand.

With orchards and vineyards galore, you’ll be able to most likely infer that the Leelanau Peninsula is an efficient place for rising issues.

One of the issues I like about this a part of Michigan is the big variety of roadside farm stands that you will discover stocked with native produce (and generally even baked items) all through a very good portion of the 12 months.

Whether it is cherry juice, recent berries or apples, or pumpkins in the autumn, you are seemingly to discover all of it alongside the facet of the street right here. Most of those farm stands function on the honour system, so make sure to have some money helpful.

7. Refuel at Hop Lot

Hop Lot fire pit and igloos

I’m not even a beer drinker, however I’ve to name out Hop Lot Brewing Co. & Beer Garden in Suttons Bay. Instead of the normal brewery area that appears extra like a bar, Hop Lot constructed a family-friendly beer backyard in the woods with hearth pits and picnic tables.

Elliot and I finished right here in the autumn, on the day after they had been placing up private igloos for the autumn/winter season. We shared some fast bites (they’ve issues like tacos and nachos and sandwiches on their menu), and tried a few of their craft brews (a cider for me, and a seasonal beer for Elliot).

As somebody who grew up enjoying in the woods and having summertime bonfires, this place actually struck a nostalgic chord with me, and I actually liked it.

Elliot and Amanda in an igloo at Hop Lot
An important fall spot
Hop Lot in the fall

One day on the Leelanau Peninsula

If you solely have sooner or later to dedicate to exploring the Leelanau Peninsula, this is how I might plan it:

  • Morning: Explore the Sleeping Bear Dunes; in simply 2 hours you are able to do the scenic drive, climb a dune, and perhaps even take a brief hike.
  • Mid-morning: Stop in Glen Arbor to store at Cherry Republic.
  • Late morning/lunch: Stop in Leland to discover Fishtown, and seize lunch right here (The Cove may be very well-liked).
  • Early afternoon: Stop in for a wine tasting at both Blustone Vineyards or 45 North Vineyard & Winery.
  • Mid-afternoon: Drive up to Leelanau State Park to go to the Grand Traverse Lighthouse. Look out for farm stands to cease at alongside the best way, particularly round Northport.
  • Late afternoon: Consider a cease at one other vineyard – perhaps at Leelanau Wine Cellars or Mawby.
  • Evening: Head to the Hop Lot in Suttons Bay for some shareable bites, beers, and a really cool ambiance.
Leelanau Peninsula views

If you’ve got extra time…

While the Leelanau Peninsula is a superb vacation spot, you are not seemingly to be solely spending sooner or later in the realm.

I’d extremely suggest dedicating a while to the Old Mission Peninsula, too, which is a smaller peninsula proper subsequent to the Leelanau Peninsula. The Old Mission Peninsula additionally has wineries (Chateau Chantal is my favourite in phrases of nice views), cherry orchards, farm stands, and even an outdated historic lighthouse.

(There’s this vineyard tour you’ll be able to guide on the Old Mission Peninsula, too!)

And after all you also needs to spend a while exploring Traverse City, which is a enjoyable metropolis with some nice meals, beer, and lake views to get pleasure from.

READ NEXT: The Perfect 10-Day Michigan Road Trip Itinerary in Fall


Is the Leelanau Peninsula a spot you assume you want to spend a while?