Ask anyone from the state of Michigan what “Up North” means to them. For most Michiganders, especially those from the lower portions of “the mitten” (the state of Michigan is shaped like a hand wearing a mitten), Up North is a special place. It is an undefined geographical portion of the state where dreams are held and memories are made: dreams of sandy beaches and spectacular sunsets; and memories of bonfires and family vacations.
One of the more popular spots Up North is Leelanau Peninsula, and it’s also one of my favorites. My family and I recently spent a long weekend in nearby Traverse City and used it as a base for exploring Leelanau and other parts of the region.
We spent the better part of a day visiting Grand Traverse Lighthouse. Built in 1852, this lighthouse is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It is located in present-day Leelanau State Park at the very tip of Leelanau Peninsula, which separates Lake Michigan and Grand Traverse Bay. Visitors can go into the lighthouse for a self-guided tour and have the option of participating in a scavenger hunt. It is an interactive and entertaining history lesson as guests search the various rooms for particular items. The living quarters look much the same as they did a century ago when the lighthouse was occupied by its keeper and his family. If you are into antiques, anything from kitchen utensils to furniture, you will love looking around the inside of the lighthouse. I had a blast imagining what it might have been like to live there so many years ago.
The tour and the hunt culminate in a climb up to the top of the lighthouse and the stunning view of Lake Michigan and Grand Traverse Bay. Just be warned: the climb up the ladder to the top may not be suitable for claustrophobes or young children. It is a short but steep ladder positioned in a small opening so an adult carrying a child up is really not an option. Lucia, who is four years old, managed just fine. She bragged about how “brave” she was, going up and down the ladder twice! Try to be brave and make the climb up yourself; you will be rewarded with a gorgeous vista.
Definitely take some time to walk around the lighthouse grounds, as well. There are a few paths that lead directly to the lakefront where there are several rock-pile formations. No one really knows how or when they first appeared but they are neat to see. Since the lighthouse is part of a state park, stay a while. Hike some of the 8.5 miles of trails, or even make the park your base; there are fifty-five rustic campsites and two mini-cabins to choose from.
It doesn’t get much more “Up North” than Leelanau Peninsula. Spend a few minutes and you’ll see why Native Americans gave it the name Leelanau – translation, “land of delight”.
15500 N Lighthouse Point Rd, Northport, MI 49670. Admission to the lighthouse museum is $4 for adults; $2 for children ages 6-18; children age 5 and under are free. Not included is the daily entrance fee to Leelanau State Park which is $8 for non-Michigan residents.