Leelanau Trail – TART (Traverse Area Recreation & Transportation)
Suttons Bay to Traverse City
29.1 miles out-and-back
14.6 miles one-way
This route will begin and end in Suttons Bay, but it’s just as easy to begin and end in Traverse City. It’s a very straightforward, easy to follow route that’s one of the nicest rail trails that you’ll ever lay tread upon. Be aware that there are all kinds of users on this path: hikers, dog-walkers, roller bladers, pogo stickers, stilt walkers, you name it. I haven’t seen the latter two, but I’m sure they’ve had their moment. The point is that there are many opportunities for cordial deferral to families and users of all athletic abilities.
The original rail line was a spur of the Manistee and North-Eastern Railroad from Manistee to Traverse City, developed in 1887. It mostly carried old-growth timber, one of the major resources that brought settlers to the region. The route operated as a standard rail line, in one form or another, well into the twentieth-century. In 1995, its right-of-way was purchased by the Leelanau Trails Association. In 2004, it was officially connected to the TART Trail in Traverse City.
As a rail trail this is a route to savor. It’s saturated in beauty that includes everything from deeply shaded bowers and tunnels of trees to wide open views out over working fields and orchards and classic farmsteads. There’s seldom a moment that you don’t think that this is a joyful place to be if you like pleasant rural settings. I can almost promise that there will be moments when a vista arises that bring out an audible ahhh.
Perhaps the only things that impinge on the nirvana are the numerous road crossings, some of them with fast moving traffic and some that cross near roadway curves where traffic appears seemingly out of nowhere. Still, that’s standard on most pathways. Roads need to be crossed. Take your time, listen, look both ways twice, keep an eye on the kids, and cross without dawdling and you should be fine.
On the whole, the path rolls on a gentle grade. There are slopes that might be slightly stouter than you’re used to if you’re a regular on flat bike paths elsewhere, but even these are very manageable.
This is also a good access route for those interested in venturing farther into the depths of Leelanau County. The road crossings offer jumping off points where you can drift into the beautiful ether that is Leelanau.
Best of all, at each end is a great place. Suttons Bay at one end, Traverse City at the other. This is good. The southern end of this layout ends at the TART parking area on Cherry Bend Road. The actual path continues into Traverse City and well beyond.
It’s also got an excellent website devoted to it that will give you a map and things to ponder. traversetrails.org/trail/leelanau-trail. This will give you up-to-date information on parking areas, restrooms, BATA bike-n-ride opportunities and more.
If it’s been a while since you’ve ridden it, be aware that it’s now paved the entire way. The photo below of the caboose is just south of the Cedar Bend Road parking area, but it’s an iconic symbol of the trail.