Exploring the Beautiful Parks and Natural Areas of the Leelanau Peninsula

When most people think about the best ways to enjoy the beautiful outdoors in northwest Michigan, the numerous state parks and national parks, such as Sleeping Bear Dunes, come to mind. But there’s so much more to explore, including the many amazing natural areas maintained by the Leelanau Conservancy, and Leelanau County parks.

I first discovered the Traverse City area while vacationing at a friend’s cottage on Lake Leelanau. Both in visits to the area, and since moving to Traverse City, I’ve come to appreciate and adopt the mindset that, indeed, the Leelanau Peninsula is one of the most beautiful, magical places on earth. Not that I’ve been that many places, mind you, but come on, how can it get much better than rolling farmland, blooming orchards and quaint towns, all surrounded by majestic Lake Michigan shoreline?

It does, in fact, get better by visiting the many natural areas and parks preserved and maintained by the Leelanau Conservancy and Leelanau County. It’s probably too much to call these natural areas and parks hidden gems, in that they are readily visible and accessible throughout the peninsula, but in our experience they tend to be less crowded and more serene than some of the more widely known and trafficked spots in and around Traverse City.

We recently spent fun afternoons exploring two of these gems, the DeYoung Natural Area and Veronica Valley Park.

DeYoung Natural Area

The DeYoung Natural Area is one of the natural areas preserved and maintained by the Leelanau Conservancy. Its mission is to conserve the land, water and scenic character of Leelanau County, and by all accounts, it’s mission accomplished.

DeYoung is set on an historic farmstead that dates back to 1870. It’s a short 10 minute drive, or 20 minute bike ride (you can access it from the TART Trail), from downtown Traverse City. There are hiking trails through forests and scenic meadows, and there is a great fishing platform on over a mile of preserved shoreline on Cedar Lake. There is also an edible garden called the Cedar Creek Food Forest full of different varieties of fruits and vegetables.

Our girls had lots of fun hiking and exploring on a recent visit. Heather and I stopped there a few days later while riding our bikes up the TART Trail and walked down to Cedar Lake. There were a ton of large fish visible right off the fishing platform – next time I’m bringing my pole with me (although based on past history my expectations are low!)

Veronica Valley Park

Veronica Valley Park is maintained by Leelanau County located approximately four miles southwest of Suttons Bay and four miles south of the Village of Lake Leelanau. It was previously a nine hole golf course that has been converted into trails and fishing ponds.

With six ponds and three bridges, it’s a great spot to take the kids fishing. There’s even a designated trout stream which winds through the property.

The trails wind through gently rolling hills, open meadows and wetlands. If the kids aren’t sufficiently worn out from the hiking and fishing, there’s also a picnic and playground area for them to let loose on.

We spent a great afternoon there, fishing, hiking, picnicking, and enjoying lots of wildlife sightings. We had the place practically to ourselves!

There is nothing we enjoy more as a family than exploring the great outdoors in northern Michigan. We try to check out something or someplace new every week and we’re excited to share our discoveries with you. Stay tuned for frequent updates about the best spots to experience what it means to Live North!

Jay Harrington