Is there anything more enticing than a relaxing lake vacation when summer decides to turn up the heat?
If you are looking for one of the best vacation spots in Michigan, look no further than beautiful Lake Leelanau in the northern part of the state. Guest author, Tracy Shaw has been visiting this area for the past 30 years! Here’s what she loves about Lake Leelanau, as well as her tips for exploring this beautiful spot.
Lake Leelanau is a small town located in Upper Michigan. If you are a Michigander, you will understand when I say that Lake Leelanau is located at the top of the pinky finger. Lake Leelanau was first inhabited by the Native Americans in the early 1800s. The word Leelanau itself translates to “delight of life,” And if you have ever been to the area, you would agree.
Leelanau County is about 45 minutes outside of Traverse City and approximately 4 1/2 hours from Detroit. There is no real direct way to get to Leelanau, but that’s part of the fun of a Lake Leelanau road trip. You will come in through small towns like Suttons Bay or Cedar and you will travel along the water in view of many beautiful farms.
My family and I have been vacationing in Lake Leelanau for more than 30 years. I moved from Michigan to Florida about 20 years ago and I still make the drive up to Lake Leelanau every summer. In fact, I drive the RV myself! My mom flies down from Michigan and drives up with me to keep me and the kids company and then she drives back to Florida with me a few weeks later.
Lake Leelanau Camping
When we visit Lake Leelanau, we always stay at Lake Leelanau RV Park. Don Wilson has been the owner since day one and they are like family. They have just under 200 campsites and all of them have full hookups, free cable TV, a picnic table, and a fire pit. If you bring your boat with you as we do, they have a boat launch, gas, and 98 boat docks available for rent. Lake Leelanau RV Park also rents jet skis and pontoon boats if you want to get out on the water and don’t have your own boat.
If you are looking for a place to stay, there are several other Lake Leelanau campgrounds, as well as cottages for rent. My aunt stays at Lake Leelanau Narrows Resort, which provides guests with small waterfront cottages and easy access to Lake Leelanau.
Boating on Lake Leelanau
We spend most of our days boating along the 21 miles of Lake Leelanau. There are actually two lakes – North and South Lakes which are connected by the Narrows. We love that we can spend our days exploring the lake without ever having to get in the car.
You will see lots of families tubing, skiing, wakeboarding, enjoying the sand bars, and fishing. If you arrive without a fishing license, you can get one at the small fishing store that’s run by the Narrows Resort.
Lake Leelanau Wineries
There are more than 148 Michigan wineries and 10 of them are right in Lake Leelanau. While Michigan wines tend to be a bit sweeter, especially in the fruit and ice wines, you will find a variety of delightful white wines throughout the region.
The red wines are not as bold as California reds, but Michigan winemakers still produce a nice variety of wines to please every taste. All of the Lake Leelanau wineries welcome kids, some just have more for kids to do than others.
Here are three of our favorite wineries in Lake Leelanau:
Blustone Vineyards – This is one of our favorite stops as it sits on top of a hill and has beautiful views of the vineyards. They have wine and ciders, my favorite white wine here is the Pinot Grigio and Ad Lib is a red I don’t mind from Michigan. They have a beautiful outdoor area to relax in.
Forty Five North Vineyard and Winery – Nestled in its own part of the “woods” among the vines is a beautiful cabin-like winery. They have a huge deck for patrons to sit on and enjoy the surroundings. You will also find games for adults and kids to play outside.
Boathouse Vineyards – Located right on the Narrows that connect North Lake Leelanau to South Lake Leelanau this is the perfect spot to enjoy a glass of wine and enjoy the breathtaking views across the lake. In the summer months, they have live entertainment twice a week. We always go at least once, we bring our own food and relax. The kids love it too!
As you can see, you can easily spend a day or two just visiting the local wineries! There are several breweries within a 20-minute drive and an amazing distillery right in town, Northern Latitudes Distillery.
You can walk to Northern Latitudes from Boathouse Winery or ride your bike from Lake Leelanau RV Park. Northern Latitudes offers free tastings and they also have a lovely bar area.
Where to Eat and Drink in Lake Leelanau
While Lake Leelanau is small, there are plenty of things to do and places to get great local food. The area prides itself on staying true to its Michigan roots, so you won’t find any chain restaurants or grocery stores that are open late.
For easy-breezy casual fare, head to Dick’s Pour House – all the locals do. It’s nothing fancy, but the food is good, especially the pizza, and the staff are always smiling.
My husband and I biked the Leelanau peninsula one afternoon and stopped there on our way back to the campground and ordered drinks and some wings. It never occurred to us that we didn’t have any money with us! The bartender couldn’t have been nicer. He let us enjoy our food and drinks and just asked that we stop in to pay the tab before we left town. We did that, left him a nice tip and even gave him a package of gator meat that we brought up with us from Tampa, Florida.
You will get the best cup of coffee at Pedaling Beans Coffeehouse right in town.
Want to cook your own campground meals? Stop at one of the many farm stands that dot the Route 204 or the back roads. Most are run by the honor system, so be sure to carry cash with you when you go exploring.
Since Traverse City is the Cherry Capital of the US, I recommend indulging in fresh cherries and cherry desserts while you are in the area.
Things to do Around Lake Leelanau
A scenic 45-minute boat ride or a 15-minute car ride will get you to the small town of Leland Michigan, also called Fishtown.
This historic town is worth visiting if you are in the area, even if just for the views of Lake Michigan and ice cream from the Harbor House. Tim Allen has his summer home in the area, so keep a lookout for him. We have seen him several times riding his bike and enjoying lunch at The Cove.
Sleeping Bear Dunes is also in the area, about a 35-minute drive. If you haven’t seen Sleeping Bear Dunes or climbed them at least once in your life, be sure to do it now!
If you enjoying hiking, Pyramid Point is a relatively easy 2.7-mile total hike with spectacular views of Lake Michigan at the top. Pyramid Point is about 25 minutes from Lake Leelanau.
Lake Leelanau is a small town with a small-town feel. No one is in a hurry and everyone is here to relax and enjoy, so be ready to do the same.
While Lake Leelanau is only about 166 acres and has a very small overall population, it’s incredible beauty gives it an old-world charm that you won’t soon forget. There is something magical about small towns and Lake Leelanau is a delightful spot that needs to be on your Michigan bucket list.
Looking for more midwest vacation spots? Check out these posts:
- Exploring Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan
- The Best Things to do in Marietta, Ohio
- Hidden Gems for Great Lakes Camping
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About Tracy: I love creating family-friendly recipes with a sip of wine. When I’m not at home, I’m out exploring Tampa Bay or off on an adventure out of town. I’m passionate about sharing healthy food and sunny advice. Follow me on my blog, Food Wine Sunshine or on Instagram.