Top Hiking Trails near Sleeping Bear Dunes and Traverse City
The Sleeping Bear Dunes region, the Leelanau Peninsula and Benzie County have some of the most outstanding hiking trails in the Midwest. Sleeping Bear Dunes has 13 trails, the Leelanau Conservancy has 17 natural areas and preserves and the Grand Traverse Conservancy has 58 nature preserves and trails. We’ve chosen our top 19 trails with views and listed them below.
Our List of our Best Hiking Trails with Views
Empire Bluffs Trail
This is probably the most popular hike in the National Lakeshore. The view of the Lake Michigan shoreline and South Bar Lake from the Empire Bluff Overlook is second to none on this 1.5 mile round trip hike. On a clear day, you will also see South Manitou Island. This is a great spot for a family photo. Download a map in pdf format here.
This trail takes you 0.6 miles up a hill to a Lookout Point where you can see the Manitou Islands. Continue east along a narrow elevated trail to complete the 2.7 mile hike through three extremely different environments: maple-beech forest, high bluffs with great views, and a giant meadow. Download a map in pdf format here.
Grand Traverse Commons Natural Area
The Village at Grand Traverse Commons is nestled among 480 acres of preserved parklands with many trails that wind through the woods and provide beautiful panoramic views of Traverse City. There are 4 different parking areas that will take you different loops throughout the trail system. Click here for a map of all the trails.
Sleeping Bear Point
The Sleeping Bear Point Trail is a 2.8 mile loop through the sand dunes with great views of Lake Michigan and South Manitou Island. There is a 0.5 mile spur hike from the trailhead to the Lake Michigan beach. It is less strenuous than the hike from the Dune Climb to Lake Michigan. Download a map in pdf format here.
This 1.4 mile loop through rolling dunes and accessed via the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive takes you above the Dune Climb and provides beautiful views of Glen Lake and the Dune Climb. This trail is a highly recommended stop. Download a map in pdf format here.
Alligator Hill Trail
This trail provides great views of Lake Michigan from the top of the hill and of Glen Lake through the trees. There are several hilly loops that make up a total of 9 miles of trails. You can see the massive tree damage done by the August 2015 storm that brought 100 mile an hour straight line winds through the area. Download a map in pdf format here.
Green Point Dunes Nature Preserve
This Grand Traverse Land Conservancy managed area has 2 miles of trails that wind through the woods along slightly hilly terrain. It is located about 2 miles south of Elberta on Green Point Road. There are a couple beautiful lookout points and stairs that take you down to Lake Michigan. Click here for more information about Green Point Dunes.
Bay View Trail
This trail consists of 8 miles of hilly trails divided into several shorter loops. Lookout Point gives a panoramic view of Lake Michigan and the surrounding countryside. The trail along the edge of the woods on top of the bluff overlooks fields of wildflowers and former farmland with Lake Michigan in the background. Download a map in pdf format here.
Leelanau State Park Trails
Located at the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula is a Trail Network that takes you through the woods about one mile where you’ll reach Cathead Bay at the Lake Michigan Shoreline. There’s an elevated lookout point where you can see the Fox Islands on a clear day. The park includes a total trail network of 6 miles and 1 1/2 miles of beautiful beach. Just north of the trail system is the historic Grand Traverse Light House which is also part of the park. This is a trip worth taking! Click here for a map of the Leelanau State Park Trails.
This 3.5 mile round trip hike takes 2 – 4 hours depending on the weather and your physical condition. This strenuous hike starts at the Dune Climb and ends at Lake Michigan. Be sure to wear sun screen, take enough water, and wear (or at least take along) hiking shoes or sandals. You’ll sleep well after this hike! Download a map in pdf format here.
Treat Farm Trail
This 2 mile trail starts at the corner of Norconk Rd. and goes into the woods for about a 1/2 mile until you reach the Treat Farm Homestead. Once you reach the farm homestead you can cross through the open field about another 1/2 mile towards a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. Continue. Click here for more information about the Treat Farm Trail.
Lighthouse West Natural Area
This trail and walkway located at the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula is a stopping place for over 100 species of songbirds and broad-winged raptors that migrate to nesting grounds in the Upper Peninsula. Hikes at the Lighthouse West Preserve last about 1-2 hours and are somewhat rigorous. Trail head parking can be found 1/2 mile south of Lighthouse Point on Cathead Bay Dr. just west of Lighthouse Pt. Rd. Click here for more information about the Lighthouse West Natural Area.
Good Harbor Bay Trail
This 2.8 mile trail is almost entirely flat with just a few small grades. Near the beginning of the trail, there is a short section of low coastal dunes, where there is access to the beach. Then the trail turns away from Lake Michigan and becomes wooded for the remainder of its length. A portion of the trail passes through a swamp, and a small bridge assists in crossing a couple of wet spots. Download a map in pdf format here.
Clay Cliffs Natural Area
This is one of Leelanau Conservancy’s Natural Areas. 1.5 mile trail system on flat and hilly terrain with a breathtaking view from 200 feet above Lake Michigan. There’s a raptor perch on the cliff along with Lake Michigan shoreline birds. Fantastic array of spring wildflowers: Dutchman’s breeches, trillium, spring beauties. Perhaps one of the best wildflower sites in the county. From Leland, take M-22 north approximately 2.5 miles north. Park in the parking lot on M-22 across from the Lake Leelanau turn off by the silver poplars. Click here for more information about Clay Cliffs.
Old Indian Trail
Old Indian Trail has two loops of about 2.5 miles in length. It is also a popular cross country ski and snowshoe trail. Most of the trail runs through maple-beech forest. There is a short hike through the beach dunes to Lake Michigan near the junction of the two loops. Download a pdf map here.
Lake Ann Pathway
The Lake Ann Pathway is divided into two main loops. To the east of Reynolds Rd, the 1.8 miles of trail gently loops around the state forest campground and along the shore of Lake Ann. The larger 3.6 mile loop to the west of Reynolds Rd is much more strenuous and hilly. It includes a few smaller loops that take you by Mary’s Lake, Shavenaugh Lake, and the Platte River. This loop is more often used by mountain bikers and cross country skiers. Click here for more information about Lake Ann Pathway.
Platte Plains Trail
The Platte Plains trail system has about 15 miles of trails through the maple-beech and pine forest that gives the hiker access to Otter Creek, Otter Lake, and Bass Lake. There are also several access points to Lake Michigan. Part of the trail follows a 2-track road from Esch Road and Otter Creek. Download a map in pdf format here.
Windy Moraine Trail
This 1.5 mile loop takes you through a field to the moraine left from when the last glaciers melted about 10,000 years ago. You will climb to the top of the hill on a modest incline through a beech-maple forest and a pine plantation. From the top of the moraine, you will get a few good views of Glen Lake. Views are best when the leaves are off the trees, but even in the summer you will get some nice views of the lake. Download a map in pdf format.
DeYoung Natural Area
This land consists of two trails. A half-mile trail leads to the Cedar Lake viewing pier and an upland trail system (1.5 miles) goes around a historic farmstead. The trail takes you through farm fields, past 30-year-old heritage-variety apple trees and over a small stream. This trail is on both sides of Cherry Bend Road 1.8 miles west of M 22. Click here for more information about the DeYoung Natural Area.
Leelanau Conservancy Trails
In addition to the trails listed above, The Leelanau Conservancy manages 17 different natural areas and preserves throughout Leelanau County that have maintained trail systems. These undisturbed natural areas are great places for birding. They are lesser known to tourists and won’t have the premier lookout points like at Sleeping Bear Dunes but are for those looking to appreciate the beauty of nature in its most undisturbed state. Click here for the Leelanau Conservancy Trail webpage.
Grand Traverse Conservancy Trails
The Grand Traverse Conservancy maintains and manages 58 different preserves and natural areas located throughout the Grand Traverse Region. These natural areas are similar to the Leelanau Conservancy in that they are lesser known with the goal of preserving and protecting lands in their most natural form. Click here for the Grand Traverse Conservancy webpage.