Natural Wanders: Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula brimming with natural beauty

Art Weber

        Keep it simple.
        That’s my motto as we let down out guard a bit, even if a little prematurely. Travel carefully, plan well in advance, avoid crowds as best you can, dine carryout or well-spaced outdoors. Be alert for COVID-19 traps.
        Simple. At least for starters while we work our way back to some semblance of normal, facing a huge backlog of would-be travelers tired of foregoing even the nearest of adventures.
        Others are making reservations right now, so you should be thinking about that, too. Barring another setback, “No Vacancy” signs will be a common sight as the warmer weather takes hold.
        You really don’t have to go far to find great destinations. Ohio’s state parks, the Lake Erie Islands, Hocking Hills, Mohican, a host of Indiana state parks, Irish Hills, summer lake cottages, and more all have the advantage of being within a day’s drive.
        Michigan is a favorite in our household. Virtually any town along Michigan’s sunset coast from the Indiana border all the way to Mackinaw City is home to great beaches, sand dunes, natural areas, good fishing, great trails, beautiful streams, and plenty of quaint artist community shops to explore.
        Among the best is Leelanau Peninsula, home to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which is much more than just a pretty place.
        Sure, first and foremost, the peninsula is brimming with natural beauty – downright breathtaking in some places. Giant dunes crowd the azure blue waters of Lake Michigan; long vistas unfold from commanding overlooks, and clean, cold running streams invite salmon upstream.
        Nature provides the perfect foundation for the Leelanau Peninsula, the huge dagger of sand piled northward into Lake Michigan, forming the western wall of protection for Grand Traverse Bay in Michigan’s northwest lower peninsula.
        Traverse City, located at the base of Grand Traverse Bay, is the most popular destination in the region, and it is a wonderful place. But it’s not on the peninsula. Those who turn around and head home after visiting Traverse City have missed the best the region has to offer.
        With the dunes and lake as a backdrop, the peninsula is a fascinating mosaic of nature, culture, and history.
        The past is everywhere on the peninsula. Many old farms, some absorbed by the national lakeshore, have been refurbished to their former glory. At 72,000 acres – over 111 square miles – Sleeping Bear Dunes dominates the peninsula.
        Quaint little towns like Empire, Glen Arbor, Suttons Bay, and Northport delight visitors and residents alike. Whether walking nature trails or along streets lined with shops and restaurants, tourists feel themselves letting go of their push-push lifestyle and the relief of months of isolation.
        People find the old north on the peninsula; northern Michigan as they remember it. You won’t find box stores or chain restaurants there, but you will find great shops and fine dining. Or, if you really prefer, it is still possible to find a smattering of tacky tourist shops and more relaxed eateries.
        Look for places with character, like Art’s Tavern in Glen Arbor, where humor is dispensed as liberally as the tasty, if basic, American fare straight from the grill. Or, you can treat yourselves to exquisitely prepared Mediterranean fare at nearby fine restaurants like Nonna’s.
        Folks in the Leelanau Peninsula know how to host a crowd hungry for enjoying great natural scenery and the big blue waters of Lake Michigan during the day and providing good food and accommodations after dark.
        You’ll also be treated to a realization that a dizzying array of products can be made with cherries – from hard cherry cider to cherry hot chocolate mix to cherry salsa. Start at the Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor, a business that’s grown to fill three buildings.
        And you can’t help but notice that vineyards and wine tasting rooms are flourishing there.
        For more information, visit


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