The Perfect Day of Fall Color in Leelanau County

Fall leaves held up to a colorful fall tree

With miles of gorgeous country roads, epic coastlines, incredible wineries and orchards, and really great chocolate, Leelanau county is the perfect place to soak in northern Michigan’s colorful fall season. Whether your style is more sit and sip or get out and hike, there is a way to immerse yourself in the Leelanau Peninsula fall colors. Here are our favorite ways to explore fall in the county and beyond.

Empire and Sleeping Bear Dunes

Finding Fall Colors

You won’t have to look far to find a gorgeous view, but we do have a few recommendations for making the most of the Leelanau fall colors.

  • The Dune Climb: Climb the famous dune for a panoramic view of Glen Lake and those incredible colors. 
  • Pierce Stocking Drive: This scenic drive through the woods will give you both a tunnel of trees experience and great views of the dunes towering over Lake Michigan. 
  • Alligator Hill: Our favorite trail in the park lets you soak in the fall colors and catch a glimpse of the big lake. 

Where to Stay

The best way to experience Leelanau County is by making the land your lodging with a camping excursion. These are our favorite spots to camp near Empire:

  •  D.H. Day Campground: This rustic campground is part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and puts you right in the heart of the dunes. 
  • Indigo Bluffs: If rustic isn’t your style, Indigo Bluffs offers great amenities for RVs as well as some gorgeous cabins, just outside of Empire. 
  • NEW IN 2022: Stay right above our Gelato Shop! Book our Dark Chocolate Suite or Milk Chocolate Suite for the perfect fall getaway. 

The Best Food

We know plenty of people who won’t visit Empire without stopping in our shop for some chocolate and we definitely suggest you do so! For a more substantial meal, try these spots: 

  • Shipwreck Cafe: A great place to grab a sandwich! 
  • Village Inn: Make sure to try the fried chicken sandwich, topped with fried mushroom.
  • Art’s Tavern: A Glen Arbor institution and the ultimate Leelanau County experience. 
  • Upscale eats: If you’re looking to splurge on an incredible meal, we recommend Blu in Glen Arbor, or Funistrada and La Becasse in Burdickvile. 

Do Some Shopping

One of the best things about Leelanau’s little towns are the locally-owned shops. Here are our favorites. 

Leland, Lake Leelanau, and Suttons Bay

Finding Fall Colors

  • Clay Cliffs Natural Area: We absolutely love this quiet Leelanau Conservancy trail for a walk through the woods and views of both Lake Michigan and Lake Leelanau. Check out their website for other lesser-known trails in the area. 
  • Wineries, Cideries & Breweries: This region is packed with great places to grab a drink and take in the views. Some of our favorites are Tandem CidersHop Lot BrewingSuttons Bay Ciders and Mawby

Where to Stay 

Leland is packed with charming, beautiful and perfectly located lodging. Try one of these incredible spots.

  • Whaleback Inn: Catch a view of Lake Leelanau and hike the Whaleback trail from this sweet Inn just outside of Leland. 
  • Leland Lodge: Equidistant from Lake Leelanau and Lake Michigan, this is a great place to soak in all northern Michigan has to offer. 
  • Falling Waters Lodge: We’re pretty sure there’s no better way to take in Fishtown than from this special spot in the heart of it all. 

The Best Food 

Don’t miss these stellar spots to grab something to eat or drink:

  • Village Cheese Shanty: Leland’s famous sandwich shop is the perfect place to grab a sandwich to eat while soaking in the colors. 
  • 9 Bean Rows: Whether you’re in the mood for the best croissants, a sweet treat, freshly baked bread or a pizza fresh from the oven, don’t miss this stop outside Suttons Bay. 
  • Mundos East House: Grab an incredible cup of coffee from this shop in Suttons Bay. 
  • Martha's Leelanau Table: A classic spot for a great meal in downtown Suttons Bay. 

Do Some Shopping

  • Fishtown: Leland’s Fishtown district is a must-see in the area! Old fishing shanties are filled with sweet shops to explore. 
  • Poppy Things: Handmade clothing and other one-of-a-kind goods make this Suttons Bay shop a special place to visit. 
  • Happy Woman: Stop into this Suttons Bay shop for seriously fun fashion and gifts. 

Benzie (and South)

Our shop is located at the southern edge of Leelanau County, so we couldn’t help but include a few of our favorite Benzie County gems as well! 

Finding Fall Colors

Where to Stay 

We absolutely love Hotel Frankfort for a gorgeous hotel just blocks from Frankfort’s incredible beach. If a house to yourself is more your style, Benzie county boasts plenty of great Airbnbs!  

Grab a Drink

Benzie county is home to some of our favorite places to sip a drink. Try these spots: 

  • Iron Fish Distillery: This farm based distillery serves up the area’s best cocktails and is a gorgeous spot to soak in the fall colors.  
  • St. Ambrose Cellars: Beer, wine, mead and cider made with the best local ingredients mean this spot has something for everyone! Enjoy a glass in the expansive outdoor area or cozy up inside. 
  • Stormcloud Brewing Company: Frankfort’s local brewery is a regional favorite. Grab a brew or a meal in downtown Frankfort!  

Do Some Shopping 

Take a stroll on the streets of Frankfort and Beulah to explore the local shops. And absolutely don’t miss Gwen Frostic, located in Benzonia, for nature inspired block prints that we can’t get enough of. 

Ready to Explore Fall Color in Leelanau County? 

Whew! If you made it this far, congrats! Leelanau County and the surrounding area is packed with special places off the beaten path. We hope this guide helps you explore the region this fall season. Don’t forget to stop in our shop in Empire while you’re here for a little chocolate to fuel your adventure.