About this Itinerary
Popular as an outdoor playground for adventurers on both water and land, northern Michigan is home to a network of beautiful trails, including the 15.5-mile Leelanau Trail. Tracing the path of a former scenic railroad, the trail links urban and country landscapes, traveling through an undulating countryside of farms, orchards, vineyards and forest. When you’re done biking, there’s plenty more to do. From water sports to historic lighthouses, museums to festivals and premier performances, Traverse Bay is the kind of place you’ll want to keep returning to, and the Leelanau Trail is the perfect way to tie it all together.
Fly to Traverse City on Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay. Choose from one of two places to stay. The Wellington Inn is an elegant B&B housed in a neo-classical mansion built in 1905 by a local lumber baron. This well-appointed property is furnished in period antiques and located in a downtown neighborhood. You’ll find more modest accommodations at Island View Cottages, located right on the bay and a stone’s throw from a lovely sand beach.
To rent bikes, you can easily walk from either accommodation to Brick Wheels (E. 8th St.) or to The River (on the bay in Clinch Park). Both shops are located along the Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation Trail (TART), the city’s main non-motorized network.
If you stay at the beach cottages and don’t want to cook your own breakfast, check out the Omelet Shoppe & Bakery (E. Front St.) and choose from 14 different fluffy omelets or savor a sticky pecan roll.
Your ride begins on the TART Trail in the city’s heart. From Brick Wheels, the start of the Leelanau Trail is 2.6 miles; from The River, 1.3 miles. The Leelanau Trail is 15.5 miles one way, and its opening act features a short segment that traces the shoreline of the sparkling bay. The trail wraps around the bay’s lower west end and passes alongside Fulton Park and among scattered suburban development before reaching the western side of Cedar Lake.
At Cherry Bend Road you’ll see an old caboose from the Leelanau Scenic Railroad. A little farther north, look for signs to the DeYoung Natural Area, owned by the Leelanau Conservancy. The trail cuts right through the 145-acre farm and you can hop off your bike for a stroll along a path through old cedars. The path will take you to a wildlife observation pier on Cedar Lake.
As you continue north, homes become fewer and rolling countryside prevails. Enjoy the picturesque views dotted with fruit orchards, farms and meadows. At trail’s end in Suttons Bay, stop by Boone’s North Country Bar & Grill (420 Saint Josephs St.) for some surf and turf or a burger. Take advantage of their early-bird prime rib special. A surefire treat is Martha’s Leelanau Table. Their menu changes regularly because each entrée is prepared from scratch from local ingredients.
Return to Traverse City, stopping by any number of wineries along the way.
Spend an additional couple of days to explore all that T City has to offer, from museums to lighthouses to outdoor adventure.
A bike-friendly community, Traverse City’s TART Trail accesses many shops and restaurants. To make your travel easier, the city publishes a map of bike rack locations in the downtown area.
Traverse City has no shortage of good food and is a regional foodie haven. Bakeries, farm markets, dairies and unique restaurants round out the list of choice fare. Feast your taste buds on some of these: Georgina’s cooks up Cuban, Spanish and Asian fusion dishes. Red Ginger serves an eclectic mix of dishes rooted in the cultures of China, Vietnam, Japan and Thailand, including seafood, sushi and sake. The 7 Monks Taproom has a quality list of beers and wines, with knowledgeable staff to help you pair the quaffs with their American cuisine and pizza. Try the Trappist beer, from an original recipe brewed by Trappist Monks. Because they use seasonal local ingredients, The Cook’s House features something different, and deliciously creative, all the time. Grand Traverse Pie Company (two locations) is not only known for its fresh-baked pies—especially its local cherry—it also serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Don’t miss their homemade chicken pot pie!
Traverse City is a great destination with plenty of indoor and outdoor activities, too. The Village Grand Traverse Commons is an amazing redevelopment, a classic historic preservation project. The adaptive reuse of an old state hospital and asylum has renovated dozens of historic buildings (with their Victorian-Italianate architecture) into shops, restaurants, tasting rooms, businesses, residential spaces and 480 acres of parkland. Stroll through the arboretum and venture out on the multi-use trails.
Northwestern Michigan College is the site of the Dennos Museum Center, a premier cultural facility with a dynamic array of exhibitions and programs in the visual arts, sciences and performing arts, including changing galleries, a sculpture court, a hands-on discovery gallery and the Inuit Art Gallery. You can reach the center by bike from the TART Trail. Where the TART crosses US 31/Front Street, keep on heading east on Front Street, on-road, one mile to College Drive; turn left and the museum is in on the corner on your right.
You can’t visit the Great Lakes area without taking advantage of the water. Traverse Tall Ship Company has two-hour specialty cruises that often include meals and entertainment. If you prefer to captain your own watercraft, The River also rents kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, tubes and more.
See a show at the City Opera House, a grand 19th-century venue housing concerts, comedy acts, theater and dance. The “Grand Old Lady,” with its barrel vault ceiling, fresco paintings and gold leaf accents, is one of six historically intact Victorian opera houses in Michigan and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Explore Traverse City’s highlights aboard the Magical History Tour, a 90-minute coach ride covering nine miles of historical sites (reservations required). Visit during the National Cherry Festival (late June–early July) for all things cherry, including locally produced cherry foodstuffs, parades, entertainment and more than 150 events, such as athletic competitions, pie-eating contests, homemade boat races and bed races (yes, B-E-D!).
Farther afield you’ll find Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum, one of the oldest lighthouses on the Great Lakes and at the tip of Leelanau Peninsula. The lighthouse has guided ships through the northern entrance to the Manitou Passage since 1852. Mission Point Lighthouse is at the tip of the Old Mission Peninsula in a state park. Take a self-guided tour, climb up the tower and peek into the nearby log cabin. You can also explore several trails through and around the park.
West of Traverse City visit Interlochen Center for the Arts, a learning place and venue for arts presentations for more than 70 years. Take in a concert, discover visual art exhibits, or watch a theater or dance performance. You can also stroll the scenic campus and listen to gifted young musicians practicing their instruments.
At its southern end point, the Leelanau Trail links seamlessly with the TART Trail system. The TART continues south and east from the Leelanau Trail another 11 miles through town and around the bay toward Williamsburg.
While you’re in the area, drive 31 miles west of Traverse City and explore the Betsie Valley Trail.