Sep 7, 2022 – The Third Coast

After 10 days on Lake Huron near one of the world’s largest cement plant and limestone quarry, going west to the Lake Michigan side was like traveling to another world. Parked on Lake Leelanau on Leelanau Peninsula between Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan, we were surrounded by a hilly patchwork of orchards and vineyards and small lakeshore towns with yacht-filled marinas as large as the town itself.

Our route from the Lake Huron side to the Lake Michigan side where we stayed one week at Lake Leelanau RV Park, and then four nights at Steamboat Park Campground.
Our campsite at Lake Leelanau RV Park.
Our campsite at Steamboat Park on the Grand River near Grand Rapids, a different look from Leelanau Peninsula.
You know you’re in Michigan…
The Leelanau Conservancy has acquired several pieces of land for public access, including this one. The group works with private owners using conservation easement, a legal agreement to keep natural areas undeveloped. The owner chooses to make the land public or not.
After arriving at our campsite, I began to explore Leelanau Peninsula thanks to the Conservancy. A walk in the woods topped the day as the sun began to set over Lake Michigan. You can’t see the lake from here, but just beyond those trees is a steep embankment toward the shoreline.
Just north of Traverse City, Leelanau Peninsula is wine country as you can see from the red points on the map – each indicating a winery. We were parked on the north end of Lake Leelanau and could easily tour all the wineries within a radius of 15 miles.
At one of the many wineries we visited in the peninsula. This area has an ideal climate and soil for growing fruit. In fact, Traverse City is known as the Cherry Capital of the World.

Michigan is full of beautiful places and almost entirely, they are associated with a Great Lake. While growing up in Gaylord Michigan, Lake Michigan was to me largely inaccessible. A scenic drive along its northern shorelines offers very few places to park the car and walk to the water. Mostly, private property separates the road from the lake, making the Great Lake nothing more than a distant glitter of blue flashing between the trees and houses as you drive through a tunnel of trees which contributes the ‘scenic’ part of the drive.

Point Betsie Lighthouse, one of 102 on Lake Michigan.
The G. Marsten Dame Marina, a public boating facility in Northport, Leelanau Peninsula.
We enjoyed the little coastal town Northport on the eastern side of the peninsula for its Bohemian vibe. I learned that my sister and her friends visited a commune there when she was living in Traverse City in the 70s.

The Lake Michigan side of the state is impressively beautiful. Relating to this is that Lake Michigan’s shoreline contains the largest freshwater sand dunes on the planet. The sand gives the clear turquoise water an iridescence. The coastal sand forests are unique and provide an ecosystem for a variety of animals and plants. But where there is unique beauty, there are buyers. The picturesque Glen Lake located a short distance from Lake Michigan is the perfect example of this. In the 1920s, an exclusive resort was planned to overlook the scenic coastal lake. It was to include an 18-hole golf course, an airstrip, tennis courts, bridle paths, polo field, a ski jump and toboggan run, and more than 100 estates – all ‘ideally restricted’.

A view of Glen Lake from Alligator Point where the exclusive resort was to be built. Now, the land is within Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore for all to enjoy.
A pastoral view of both Lake Michigan and Glen Lake, from the Sleeping Bear Dunes scenic drive. Off in the distance is a replica of the farm once owned by D.H. Day, the developer of what was to be the exclusive resort.

Fortunately, the stock market crashed and investors pulled their money. A decade or so later, residents began to imagine another use for the land. In 1970, Congress established the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore with the intention of preserving Michigan’s outstanding natural features. Eventually, more of Michigan’s dunes became protected with the passage of the Sand Dune Protection and Management Act in 1976. Today, the state of Michigan along the entire expanse of Lake Michigan has several designated state parks where the dunes and water can be accessed by the public.

A view of Lake Michigan from Empire Bluff.

One morning, I hiked to Empire Bluff, located within Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore – a mere .75 miles but a steady incline all the way. Soon, I was rewarded for the effort as I stood alone on top of the bluff gazing over Lake Michigan. Between me and the shoreline was a 450-foot nearly vertical drop. The Great Lake was breathtaking in the silence of the sandy ecosystem. I had a 180-degree view of Lake Michigan’s sparkling clear blue water gently disturbed by a slight breeze – to the left and to the right as far as my eyes could see were magnificent dunes and nothing else. I wandered around the sand and interrupted my views of the water to examine the wildflowers and grasses – a brilliant show of resilience in a stark environment. Such are the dunes, a wilderness of sand created by wind. Nature’s brilliance!

As I stood on the bluff looking at the endless horizon of Lake Michigan, I felt so lucky to be in an amazingly beautiful and unique place, like I have in so many others places Vivian and I have traveled to. Enjoy these photos from our time on ‘The Third Coast”.

Another Lake Michigan coastal town we enjoyed was Holland, well known for its spring tulip festival.
Frank Baum, author of the Wizard of Oz had a summer home in Holland, which no longer exists. But the town plays it up well in this city park where you can find Oz characters throughout.
Like this well known one.
The Holland farmers’ market was one of the best we had been too.

And if you enjoy this blog, please check out some of these others about Michigan, one of our favorite states to explore – and we’ve done a lot of exploring there!

Sep 19, 2018 – We’re not in the tropics anymore

Aug 4, 2021 – The lake they call Gitch Gumee

Aug 28, 2022 – The Other Side of Michigan

4 thoughts on “Sep 7, 2022 – The Third Coast

  1. I enjoyed reading your blog because it brought back so many good memories for us. We loved our time traveling along the rim of Lake Michigan. Such a beautiful area. We were blown away by the large sand dunes at Silver Lake. I never knew anything like this existed in this country. It makes you feel like you’re in the Middle East! We actually looked at buying real estate in the Holland area but then remembered what the winters are like in Michigan! No thanks. Great pictures as always, you never disappoint!


  2. We spent two months in Michigan 2 years ago at the Grayling National Guard Base and made hops to Traverse City, Alpena, Mackinac Island, etc. Now we’re planning on spending 3 months in St Ignace next summer. Absolutely love Michigan!


  3. Just WOW! Amazing pictures. Love the narrative as well. We have barely explored Michigan, but there is so much to love. Can’t wait to explore it more. Your travels, stories, and pictures confirm my desire to return to Michigan.


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