Leelanau News and Events

Leelanau's Best Fall Hikes

Sept. 23, 2020

If you’re looking for the best place to see fall’s glorious colors while engaging with the great outdoors, Leelanau County has you covered. From one end of the county to the other, you can enjoy the great outdoors both physically and visually.

There’s plenty of room to roam without needing masks, but keep them handy for when you do come in contact with other hikers.

Start at the tip of the peninsula. The Kehl Lake Natural Area is located near Northport. Three quarters of its shoreline is protected conservancy, as are the 279 acres of wetlands and forest. Its two miles of trails feature moderately sloped terrain and wetland areas with boardwalks. You may want to wear waterproof boots for the section of the trail that leads to the viewing platform on the lake. Not only is it a great spot for leaf peeping, it’s also a birder’s paradise: it’s a critical flyway for migrating flocks, many of which touch down on the water’s surface before continuing on their way south.

Empire boasts two great trail options, Empire Bluff and the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. The former is a 1.5 mile round trip, but it makes up for its brevity with spectacular views from 400 feet above Lake Michigan. The breathtaking water views are complemented by the changing colors of the beech and maple forest around it.

The latter is a non-motorized, multi-use trail currently running some 22 miles between Empire and Bohemia Road. Most of it is paved, but a three-mile section traversing the Port Oneida Rural Historic District north of Glen Arbor is crushed stone. It’s flat in some areas, moderately hilly in others, and quite hilly in a few sections.

Clay Cliffs Natural Area is perhaps the least known of those listed here. Owned by Leland Township, the sheer clay bluff hosts eagles, trillium and other wildflowers, and forested slopes whose colors are set off by the sparkling waters of Lake Michigan and Lake Leelanau. The 1.5 mile trail features both flat and hilly terrain, with a viewing platform featuring stunning views from 200 feet above Lake Michigan.

Alligator Hill near Glen Arbor has a total of nine miles of trails divided into several loops. The 1.5 miles from the trailhead on Stocking Road to the Islands Lookout on top of Alligator Hill is a relatively gentle walk, though it’s slightly uphill (much of the terrain on the trails is slightly hilly). On a clear day you can see forever – or at least as far as North and South Manitou Island. Maybe even South Fox Island if you’re lucky. The beech and maple trees will dazzle with color as well.

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