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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.
My wife and I, towing our furry four legged companion, rode the trail this weekend. We stayed at TC State Park Campground and used the adjoining TART trail to access this one. On the northern end, we diverted from the trail to explore some of the beautiful wineries nearby. We had wonderful service for ourselves as well as our dog at Black Star Farms, Mawby, Big Little, Ciccone, and Willow. All are within a few (very hilly!) miles of the path, and we felt safe on the roads. Admittedly, some of the off-trail hills required us to hike-a-bike, but we anticipated this and enjoyed the chance to take in the beautiful views. We had hoped to stop at Shady Lane as well but time didn't allow. The trail was flat, exquisitely maintained, and perfectly scenic throughout. We're already planning our next up north trip to continue to explore this beautiful peninsula by bike!
If you aren't up to a 32 mile up-and-back ride, consider the Bay Area Transit Authority Bike-n-Ride service. You can load up your bike and take a 40 minute bus ride from downtown Traverse City to Suttons Bay with great views of Grand Traverse Bay along the way. I've done it twice now and it is a slick way to enjoy this beautiful trail if time and/or stamina are limited. Check out their website at http://www.bata.net/maps-schedules/bike-n-ride-schedules.html. Caution - there are fewer departures on weekends when compared to weekdays so make sure you check the appropriate schedule.
We biked this on Labor Day weekend (Sunday)2016. The weather was perfect and so was the trail. Even on a beautiful holiday weekend the trail was not crowded. There is much variety on this trail as you pass by a pond, view Lake Michigan in parts, farm land and apple orchards. It has many portajohns along the way and even an area to pump some fresh drinking water. It's very flat and is great for families as well as serious riders. There are a few crossings, but most have little to no traffic. There are a few crossings with blind crossings, so use caution there. We started at the trailhead near downtown Traverse City and rode to the cute little town at the end of the trail where we had a great lunch and then biked back. A perfect day!
I was in town for only 2 days to bike and brewery hop before heading to Grand Rapids. I had no idea what to expect since this was my first time to Traverse City, I was very impressed with the trail system. We jumped on off the TART in Traverse City and rode it up to Suttons Bay. It's probably one of the most beautiful and well maintained rail trails I have ever been on! Beautiful views and smooth riding the whole way! There is a great brewery around the corner from the trail head called Hop Lot in Suttons where we grabbed some refreshments before turning around to head back to Traverse City. I couldn't have asked for a better experience! I am already planning a return trip!
Wonderful paved trail through beautiful farm country.
Took this trail from downtown TC to Sutton's Bay, and back. The scenery is really nicely varied, from shady cedar groves, to orchards, to vistas of vineyards, to small ponds. The trail pavement is pristine, the hills moderate. This trail is a real treasure for the Leelanau area.
I rode this trail Sunday Sept 6th. It worked well for me to deposit my family at the West End Beach for a half day of soaking up the sun.
After parking, while we were figuring out how to use the pay machine, we heard this very loud metallic scraping, crashing sound. This sound turned out to be an unloaded trailer somehow becoming detached from its hauling vehicle and running up the side of the road. I was thankful, we did not witness anything awful .. ie nobody was injured.
From the West End Beach, head west along a reasonably marked trial ( TART is the label ). I stopped a local man and he let me know that the Leelanau Trail began behind Holiday Stationstore ( a gas station ), just after Toms Market.
The smile never left my face as I was treated to beautiful farm vistas, gorgeous bay views, pond views, and stream crossings with very clear water. The trail was well used but not at all crowded. A number of folks were walking the trail with a wagtail canine companion.
This trail has so many unique elements, riders will surely return for more.
Rode this Trail 7/22/14. Very nice indeed. Trail is paved the entire way. The scenery alternates between nice wooded areas and meadows highlighted with wild flowers and orchards. If you are into "Red Barns" this whole area is for you. They are everywhere. Great Trail! I'll be back to ride it again and again. I love it up there!
Did this trail in June of 2013, going back to do it again in 2014. Last year I only did half the trail. The trail is now totally asphalt and a very easy ride. Take your time and don't rush it is the best advice I can give.
We started at Sutton Bay. Trailhead right there, local restaurants nearby. Only did the top half but it was a gentile, country ride. Highly recommend taking time to go. Well marked, not too many road crossings, nice shade from the heat
I rode this trail last in July of 2012. It has been paved over completely. There are some parking spots in the corner of the Tom's food market grocery store. Next time I ride I will probably park across the street at Aroma's coffee shop and get a mocha after my ride. The trail is nice and there was tree branch trimming going on at the south end by a municipal crew, which is nice to see. Still the same scenic route, just faster on my road bike. Some trail-side residents will put out free water and cups which is really quite nice and I think there is a still brooms leaning on some of the trail signs if there is a need to sweep (glass), but I have never seen any broken glass here. Also, none of the pesky bumps where the driveways cross the trail as the Charlevoix to Petosky trail has.
Rode this trail on July 2, 2012. The paving had been completed the previous week so that the entire route from Traverse City to Sutton's bay is all smooth blacktop! The plastic protective film is still on the ADA compliant crossings and we had to dodge the straw blowing crew that was planting the grass along side the pavement. It is a gorgeous trail with enough hills to make you work some and enough views to leave you breathless.
With late fall 2004 hookup with the TART/Leelanau connector there is a lot of blacktop to ride. A new section from the end of the TART trail to where the Leelanau trail began is now open providing a safe transition between the trails. This also ads about another mile or so of asphalt for bladers and townie riders. The real upside is you can ride from Acme on the TART trail to about 11k up the Lee trail a round trip is a little over 30 miles. Start in the middle in Traverse City And go either way. You can get Sport drinks and food bars at a number of places along the Tart trail and the Holiday store heading out the Leelanau trail. Have a good time.
"I like this trail because it goes through Traverse City and you are never far from water or help as I ride a wheelchair bike/handcycle. There are a couple of dangerous problems where the trail runs right along the road over on the East Bay side near Bunker Hill road. The second is on the Leelanu Trail section where the trail crosses several roads.
One of the crossings is probably Michigan's most dangerous trail crossing where the trail goes over Cherry Bend Road through an S curse area. I have aired my complaints several times to the area's highest athorities but I think they are waiting for someone to be killed there before it gets fixed. Don't let your kids ride the Leelanu section!
***REPLY FROM TART Trails, Inc.***
Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation Trails, Inc. (TART Trails, Inc.) is working with the Leelanau County Road Commission to make the sight distance better at the aforementioned crossings. TART Trails, Inc. is concerned with safety on our trails and we are willing to work with the appropriate entities to improve trail hazards to ensure a safe trail experience for all trail users.
If anyone has any questions or concerns about the trails managed by TART Trails, Inc., please contact Missy Luyk, Trail Program Specialist with TART Trails, Inc., at firstname.lastname@example.org or 231-941-4300. The TART Trails, Inc. Web site can be found at www.traversetrails.org."
"I rode the trail during the July 4th 2004 weekend with a crossbike. The southern trailhead is in Greilickville. The five miles north of Greilickville is paved and smooth. The gravel section (about 9 miles) is sandy gravel, with a lot of rr ballast mixed in.
I recommend nothing less than a mountain bike. This section is very scenic however, with several old railroad bridges, cherry orchards, apple orchards, vineyards, and wildlife. The northern mile of the trail in Suttons Bay is paved."
"Starting out from Traverse City, the first five miles or so are paved. This portion is wonderful -- woods, streams, lake views, etc. The next nine miles go through fields, orchards, meadows and the like, not quite as nice as the first part. However, this section is not paved and is really only suited for mountain bikes. Parts of the trail were gravel, dirt, sand, and mud. I did manage to get through on a road bike, but not easily. The last mile into Sutton Bay is paved."
"This trail is a good mix of pavement and dirt. It is an excellent way to visit either end, as it has only one somewhat strenuous hill (into TC). There are no bathrooms/food stops on the trail itself."
I rode this trail in August 2002 on hybrid bike pulling my two kids in a trailer. The trail is paved for about five miles then it's basically two dirt ruts. I had two turn around since the trailer bounced everywhere.
I rode a roundtrip in July 2002. A couple of miles at each end are paved but the remainder was fine for my cross bike. I would do it again.
This trail is a great three seasons ride. The trail is six kilometers of paving from Traverse City then gravel and dirt that are for the most part hard packed. Lots of nice views ending in a small town of small shops.
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