Michigan State Parks: Leelanau

Two people by state park entrance sign

Leelanau State Park is located at the tip of Michigan’s pinky finger, between Lake Michigan and Grand Traverse Bay. For you non-Michiganders, this is the northwest corner of the lower peninsula at the top of the Leelanau Peninsula. According to the park website: “The word ‘Leelanau’ is the Native American word for ‘A Land of Delight’ and could not better describe the area.”

The park is divided into two sections a few miles apart. The northern sector encompasses a rustic campground and a lighthouse. The southern area has hiking trails and a sandy beach.

Leelanau State Park has an interesting history. The original 31 acres at the tip became Northport State Park in 1932, but in the 40s was relinquished to a township park. In the 1960s, the state acquired 350 acres a few miles south and created Leelanau State Park. Over time, as the state acquired more land in the area, the sections were merged together in the 1970s under the name Leelanau State Park.

The Grand Traverse Lighthouse

Sitting at the tip of the peninsula is the Grand Traverse Lighthouse and Museum. The lighthouse is no longer in operation but is open to the public for tours. For a small fee, you can visit the museum to learn about life as a lighthouse keeper in the 1920s and climb to the top of the lighthouse.

The grounds around the lighthouse are free to wander, including the old Fog Signal building, which houses shipwreck artifacts. Also, be sure to go down to the shoreline to look for Petoskey stones.

Lighthouse
Grand Traverse Lighthouse

Leelanau State Park Campground

The only camping available at Leelanau State Park is 52 entirely rustic sites. There is no electricity, modern restrooms, or showers. Drinking water and potable water for trailers are available.

A few of the sites sit directly on the waterfront. This would normally be an awesome spot. However, due to high lake levels, the water is over the road and some of those sites are currently closed.  

Most of the sites do have a bit of privacy and are fairly spread out. It is a nice quiet place for camping and would be great for stargazing.

There also are three mini cabins available to rent in the campground.

Picnic Area

A small picnic area is available near the campground and the lighthouse. You will find a picnic shelter, picnic tables, grills, playground, volleyball net, and horseshoe pits. It’s a nice spot to have lunch after visiting the lighthouse.

Hiking Trails at Leelanau State Park

Man hiking on a trail in the woods
Hiking the Lake Michigan Trail

Approximately 8.5 miles of trails are located in the southern section of Leelanau State Park.

The trails traverse through woods and sand dunes. The Lake Michigan Trail is around 1.2 miles and includes a spur to a scenic overlook at the top of a set of steps. The Mud Lake Trail is around 3.5 miles, but there are cutoffs if you’re not up for the whole trek.

Watch your step when you’re out hiking as there are lots of roots, uneven terrain and slippery steps from blowing sand.

One of the trails will take you to a sandy beach on Lake Michigan. Since this is a prime location for the endangered piping plover, no animals are allowed on the beach.

View of the Manitou Islands and Lake Michigan from the scenic overlook

The Leelanau Peninsula

The Leelanau Peninsula is a prime tourist destination. Many quaint coastal towns and villages can be found along historic M-22, from Northport to Leland to Suttons Bay to Glen Arbor. They all have their own charm, with gift shops, restaurants, galleries, museums and more. One of the most famous local attractions is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Keep in mind that in peak tourism season M-22 gets really busy and is the only road up and down the peninsula, so allow plenty of time and patience and enjoy the trip to the tip.


We have plenty more adventures to come, so subscribe to this blog and our YouTube channel. We have a video about Leelanau State Park here. You can follow us on Instagram, our Facebook page, and Twitter. Plus, you can see our progress as we visit each park on this interactive Google Map. You also can keep track of our activities on social media with the hashtags #hikecampgo and #mistateparks100.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *