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The 17-mile Leelanau Trail runs up a Lake Michigan peninsula that is known for its abundance of cherry orchards and Riesling grape vineyards. Located in northern Michigan, the paved trail connects the popular tourist destinations of Suttons Bay and Traverse City.
The trail uses a former railroad corridor that got its start by hauling timber out of old-growth forests and ended its life as a scenic railroad. The Traverse City, Leelanau & Manistique Railway opened for business in 1903 by running up the peninsula from Traverse City and then crossing the lake by ferry to Manistique on the Upper Peninsula. The railroad went through some ownership changes and fell on hard times after a fire wiped out a large lumber mill. It limped along for decades and finally found use as an excursion train run by railroad enthusiasts from 1989 until 1995, when it was bought by a trail association.
About 2 miles northwest of Traverse City, at the Leelanau Conservancy’s DeYoung Farm and at a location next to Realeyes Homestead, visitors can enjoy edible forests offering free browsing for blueberries, plums, apples, and more.
Parking is available on Fourth Street in the village of Suttons Bay, about 1.8 miles from the northern endpoint. In addition to being a railroad stop, the town has served as a safe harbor for passing boats since the 1850s. Walking around the marina, you might see a tall ship schooner that serves as a hands-on vessel for the Inland Seas Education Association. Elsewhere in town, boutiques, galleries, bed-and-breakfast inns, and restaurants cater to visitors.
From the trailhead, you can head north along the bay (separated from the waterfront by Northwest Bay Shore Drive) to North Dumas Road or south through the middle of the peninsula toward Traverse City.
After heading south about 7 miles, you’ll arrive in Bingham, which sits atop the spine of the peninsula and is roughly between Lake Leelanau in the west and the West Arm Grand Traverse Bay in the east. From here the route heads downhill toward Traverse City.
About 6 miles past Bingham, you’ll arrive at the DeYoung Natural Area. This 145-acre preserve, one of 25 natural areas owned by the Leelanau Conservancy, provides hiking trails through a former farmstead and access to Cedar Lake. Drinking water and restrooms are available.
In 1.2 miles, you’ll arrive at a trailhead on Cherry Bend Road that is marked by a historic caboose from the Leelanau Scenic Railroad. The trail officially ends 0.9 mile farther south on East Carter Road in Greilickville, but there is no parking here. South of Carter Road, the Leelanau Trail connects seamlessly to the Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation Trail
To reach the northern trailhead and parking in Suttons Bay from US 31, take the highway north into Traverse City, where it becomes Division St. Where Division dead-ends at the intersection with W. Grandview Pkwy., near the waterfront, turn left onto Grandview, follow it north for 15.1 miles, and then turn left onto Fourth St. Go 0.1 mile, and turn left into the signed trailhead parking lot. The northern endpoint is 1.8 miles north; the southern endpoint, in Greilickville, is 14.9 miles south.
To reach the southern trailhead and parking in Greilickville, follow the directions above, but after turning left onto Grandview Pkwy., follow it just 1.9 miles, and then turn left onto E. Cherry Bend Road. After 0.4 mile, turn right into the trailhead parking lot after passing S. Cedar Ln. and where the trail intersects the road. The southern endpoint is 0.9 mile south.
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