Leelanau Peninsula

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Map of the Leelanau Peninsula.
Leelanau Peninsula.

The Leelanau Peninsula (/ˈllənɔː/ LEE-lə-naw) is a peninsula of the U.S. state of Michigan that extends about 30 miles (50 km) from the western side of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan into Lake Michigan. Leelanau County encompasses the entire peninsula. It is often referred to as the "little finger" of the mitten-shaped lower peninsula.


The Leelanau Peninsula is a roughly triangular-shaped peninsula that extends about 30 miles (50 km) off of Michigan's Lower Peninsula into Lake Michigan. The peninsula forms the western shore of the Grand Traverse Bay. At its base, the peninsula is about 20 miles (30 km) wide.

Lake Michigan forms the western coast of the peninsula. The southernmost section of the peninsula is flanked by the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Leelanau State Park and the Grand Traverse Light are located at the northern tip. Traverse City, the largest municipality in Northern Michigan, is located at the base of the peninsula on the east side, at the head of Grand Traverse Bay. The North and South Manitou Islands are located to the northwest of the peninsula in Lake Michigan. Lake Leelanau runs 13 miles (21 km) through the eastern half of the peninsula, almost completely dividing the Leelanau Peninsula in two sections. At the eponymous community, Lake Leelanau narrows and is crossed by M-204. It is drained by the Leland River into Lake Michigan, and covers 8,700 acres (40 km2). Glen Lake is another large lake located within the southwest of the peninsula.

East of the Leelanau Peninsula is the smaller Old Mission Peninsula. This peninsula, which is part of the neighboring Grand Traverse County, is much thinner than the Leelanau, only about 3.2 miles (5 km) at its widest, and only about half the length, at 17 miles (27 km).

M-22 is a famous highway that runs along the coast of the Leelanau Peninsula, as well as further south down Lake Michigan. M-72 and M-204 are other highways that cross the Leelanau Peninsula west–east; M-72 runs across the base of the peninsula from Empire to Traverse City, while M-204 crosses roughly halfway up the peninsula, from Leland to Suttons Bay via Lake Leelanau. Another highway, US 31 between Beulah and Chums Corner, runs perpendicular to M-72 and M-204, although it lies a few miles south of the base of the Leelanau Peninsula.

The Leelanau Peninsula is known for its unusually steep terrain and large bodies of water, both of which produce a milder microclimate than the more temperate areas further inland. Some of the area was developed for agricultural purposes and annual festivals related to the cherry crop have been held in Traverse City since 1925.

In the early 21st century, the Leelanau Peninsula AVA is known as one of the best Michigan wine regions and is a designated American Viticultural Area (AVA). The peninsula is also a productive fruit region growing apples and tart cherries.


Communities on the Leelanau Peninsula include:

The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa & Chippewa are a group of Native Americans who live on the peninsula around Peshawbestown, Michigan. Their ancestors were among the Algonquian-speaking tribes that largely occupied this area prior to European colonization.


The Leelanau Peninsula is just to the right of the center as seen from the Cupola of the International Space Station. North is oriented towards the upper left; taken on March 11, 2012.

Leelanau County was set off in 1840 and organized in 1863.[1]

The first railroads on the peninsula were built in 1892.[2] Additional railroads would snake up the peninsula with lines from Lake Ann and Traverse City to Provemont, Suttons Bay, and Northport. The last railroad on the peninsula, from Traverse City to Northport via Suttons Bay, was removed in 1996.[3] It was subsequently replaced with the Leelanau Trail, a 17 miles (30 km) recreational rail trail.[4]

The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the most renowned part of the peninsula, was authorized on October 21, 1970. The park's creation was controversial because it involved the transfer of private property to public ownership. The federal government's stance at the time was that the Great Lakes were the "third coast" and had to be preserved much like Cape Hatteras or Point Reyes, which are National Seashores.


Native Americans who first inhabited the area called this land "ke-ski-bi-ag," which means "narrow body of water."[5]

"Leelanau" was traditionally said to be a Native American word meaning "delight of life,"[6] but the name was more likely invented by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, the United States Indian agent for the territory in the early 19th century, or his wife Jane Johnston Schoolcraft. Henry also used the name Leelinau for a character in his writing. Jane was the daughter of a prominent Scots-Irish Canadian fur trader and an Ojibwe chief's daughter based in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and Michigan, and Henry learned about the Ojibwe (or Chippewa) through his wife's and mother-in-law's family. See Leelanau County for a more complete discussion of the etymology of the name.

Scholars have established, however, that Jane first used Leelinau as a pen name for her writings in The Literary Voyager, a family magazine which she and her husband wrote together and circulated among friends in the 1820s.[7] She and her siblings were well-educated and she wrote in Ojibwe and English.

While her writing was not published formally in her lifetime (except as her husband appropriated it under his own name), since the late 20th century Jane Johnston Schoolcraft has been recognized as "the first Native American literary writer, the first known Indian woman writer, the first known Indian poet, the first known poet to write poems in a Native American language, and the first known American Indian to write out traditional Indian stories."[8] In 2008 Jane Johnston Schoolcraft was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame.[8]

Points of interest[edit]


  1. ^ "Bibliography on Leelanau County". Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University. Retrieved January 19, 2013.
  2. ^ "michiganrailroads.com - Evolution Map - Lower - 1892". www.michiganrailroads.com. Retrieved 2022-10-28.
  3. ^ "michiganrailroads.com - Evolution Map - Lower - 1996". www.michiganrailroads.com. Retrieved 2022-10-28.
  4. ^ "Leelanau Trail | TART Trails Inc". Retrieved 2022-10-28.
  5. ^ "Leelanau County website re Lake Leelanau history". Archived from the original on Dec 15, 2007. Retrieved Oct 9, 2020.
  6. ^ "Lake Leelanau, Michigan 49653 - InfoMI.com". www.infomi.com. Retrieved Oct 9, 2020.
  7. ^ Jeremy Mumford, "Mixed-race identity in a nineteenth-century family: the Schoolcrafts of Sault Ste. Marie, 1824-27", Michigan Historical Review, 22 Mar 1999, pp.3-4, accessed 11 Dec 2008
  8. ^ a b Robert Dale Parker, Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, accessed 11 Dec 2008

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 45°03′00″N 85°39′18″W / 45.05°N 85.655°W / 45.05; -85.655