Trails & Hikes

Some of Our Favorite Hiking Spots Around Leelanau County

If you love a good hike, Leelanau County is the place to be! Thanks to the work of The Leelanau Conservancy and The National Parks Service our area is home to countless opportunities to immerse yourself in nature. Below are some of our favorite, but these just scratch the surface of all this region has to offer!

Clay Cliffs Natural Area: The Leelanau Conservancy

4755 N Manitou Trail, Lake Leelanau, MI 49653

Clay Cliffs Natural Area offers a majestic view of both Lake Leelanau and Lake Michigan with a 1.5 mile hike great for kids and families. This hike is very moderate with some hills to get to the beautiful lookout onto Lake Michigan. This stunning natural area has been preserved for 13 years and is in partnership with Leland Township, protecting 1,700 feet of shoreline on Lake Leelanau and Lake Michigan. The rare sheer bluffs secure a fragile ecosystem with Eagles nesting over the lake looking for prey, hardwood forest shelters of one of Leelanau’s most prolific wildflower sites, and unparalleled beauty overlooking Leland’s favorite bodies of water.

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Whaleback Natural Area

1639 N Manitou Trail, Leland, MI 49654

This 10,000-year-old glacial astonishment near Leland is an iconic landmark helping to define the unique coastline of Lake Michigan. Whaleback’s fragile bluff rises 300 feet and can be seen from all over high points in Leelanau. Whaleback is a 1 mile, more challenging hike with uphill climbs, but the view is well worth it! A viewing platform is perched on the edge of a 40-acre natural area with beautiful views of the manitou passage, Pyramid Point in Glen Arbor and the North and South Manitou Islands. Over 1,200 feet of Lake Michigan’s shoreline is protected and has been preserved since 1996. Whaleback is a perfect hike for kids, families, and pets on leashes!

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Houdek Dunes Natural Area: The Leelanau Conservancy

5959 N Manitou Trail, Leland, MI 49654

The trail system here takes in an easy to challenging 3.3 miles. The 3/4 and 1- 1/2 mile loops can be covered in 2 hours. Moderate hiking includes sandy trails, stairs, and slopes. Info kiosk at trail head, benches at ancient maple. Beautiful octagon-shaped deck and sitting area overlooking Houdek Creek, built and donated by the Houdek Family.

Houdek Dunes is one of Leelanau’s most diverse and dynamic ecological areas. The forest stabilizes ever-changing dunes while pink lady slippers bloom along the sandy trails. This natural area protects Houdek Creek which is the largest tributary flowing into Lake Leelanau as well as a variety of wetlands that provide lavish wildlife habitats.

Swanson Preserve

3952 Manitou Trail E, Cedar, MI 49621

The Swanson Preserve protects 2,000 feet of shoreline on Little Traverse Lake and its two wetland communities that are critical to wildlife and the health of the lake. Swanson preserve is equally beautiful and helpful to the diversity of plant and animal species. A boardwalk winds through cedar forest, over two cold groundwater streams that lead out to the lake with a new loop trail that runs along a portion of the lakefront. This trail is for beginners, is mostly flat, and offers stunning views of the area.

Pierce Stocking

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is of world class vistas that give you a feel of Michigan that you may have never thought possible. The 7.5 mile drive around the loop is accommodating to everyone offering beautiful views of dunes, forest, and spectacular overlooks of both Glen Lakes, Sleeping Bear Dunes, and Lake Michigan. There are picnic stops along the drive and an absolutely breathtaking overlook at stop #10. Don’t forget to bring a blanket to sit and watch an outstanding sunset 450 feet over Lake Michigan.

Empire Bluffs

Empire Bluff Trail, Honor, MI 49640

Empire Bluffs offer hilly terrain and a round trip 1.5 mile hike. The trail leads to a beautiful bluff overlooking Lake Michigan where you can see South Manitou Island on a clear day. Enjoy a family-friendly hike that is overwhelming with scenes of lush forest and clear blue water perfect for overlooking a sunset on Lake Michigan. There are benches positioned to look over the horizon as you walk along the boardwalk upon the dunes.