Clay Cliffs Natural Area

As stated in our previous post, we recently explored three of the many natural areas that are managed by the Leelanau Conservancy.  The first place we visited was Clay Cliffs Natural Area, located just north of the village of Leland.  It sits on the 1/4 mile ribbon of land that separates northern Lake Leelanau from Lake Michigan.  Our friends Lane and Patti had recently visited here, and based on their recommendations we wanted to check it out before we left Leelanau for the year.


We went there in the evening on October 14, grabbing the last sliver of blue skies between the end of our shift at Wild Cherry Resort and a weather front that was moving in from the southwest.

Arriving at the parking area, we spotted the orange notice on the sign board.


Below is an explanation as to why they allow hunting on this particular land.


This particular area is open to hunting.  Michigan’s deer archery season is currently open, so we put on our hunter’s orange fleece vests as recommended.

Diana took a photo of the map on the sign. Lane taught us this little trick.  🙂


Not only is there 1700 feet of Lake Michigan shoreline in the preserve, there is also the corresponding amount of Lake Leelanau frontage.  The meadow on the southern edge of the property was farmland prior to the preserve’s establishment in 2013.


The first part of the trail was fairly wide as it twisted through mixed hardwoods.


To our delight, the trails were a bit more primitive than the trails at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  There are 1.5 miles of trails on the 100 acre property, with an elevation gain of 150 feet.  As you are able to see in the photo, the leaves were still very green on October 14th on the peninsula.  Just 10 miles inland from the lakeshore, the trees were well into their colorful autumn cycle.


There were a few wildflowers in bloom.  I attempted to photograph them with my iPhone, but I wasn’t very successful.  This area is said to be full of trillium in the spring.


We spotted this large beech tree and were intrigued by the twists and turns it has had to make in its struggle to seek sunlight throughout its life.


Diana gave the tree a big hug in honor of David from the blog In the Direction of Our Dreams, who is currently struggling with health issues.  He loves to wrap his arms around tree trunks, and Diana has been wanting to send him her best wishes for awhile now.  If you get a chance, send David a little love through your favorite tree.  🙂


Upon reaching Lake Michigan, the observation deck appeared along the trail.


The deck extends out over the clay cliffs that the natural area are named after.  While this is a glacial moraine like the rest of the peninsula, the sculpted clay formations here are different than are found at other locations in the area.  The typical composition of the land that makes up Leelanau is sand and gravel, while clay is found in high concentrations at this preserve.


Looking southwest, the line of fast approaching clouds signaled that we made it just in time!  🙂

Click here for a short video of the overlook.  North Manitou Island is seen to the right, and South Manitou is off to the left.  Both islands are part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and are within Leelanau County’s borders.  Interestingly enough, 86% of the county’s 2532 square miles is water… the second highest percentage of any county in the United States. Top billing goes to Keweenaw County, Michigan at 91%, primarily due to the amount of Lake Superior between the mainland and Isle Royale, which is part of the county.


Once the front came closer, the sun created several beams of light over the lake.  Looking at the radar on my phone, I saw that there was rain in those clouds.  We decided to skip the southern loop of the trail and head straight back the way we came.  Lane and Patti had taken the southern route a few weeks before us and found some huge puff mushrooms, where the trail transcends from forest to meadow.  We will have to look for those at another time.


 We did take note of the green ferns in the forest, though.  Most ferns in Michigan are brown by October.
Clay Cliffs opened up an entirely new facet of Leelanau that we weren’t aware of.  We look forward to discovering more of the areas being protected by the Leelanau Conservancy.

12 thoughts on “Clay Cliffs Natural Area”

    1. We’ve got more where that came from, Pam. The last one we did (Houdek Dunes…two posts in the future) was really rugged for this area. Not quite what The Nimble Hiker is used to in your scrambles out west, but good practice for us so we can keep up with you someday! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. If it is anything like the woods at the campground, Bonnie, it should be amazing!

      How have you and Fred been? We haven’t seen your blog for awhile…did you stop posting? Will you be in Florida this winter?


  1. The Leelanau and Sleeping Bear Dunes are some of my favorite spots in the country. Such a beautiful area, especially in cherry season. Thank you so much for the shout out and for adopting tree hugging. It does the body good to hug a tree. I had no idea you’d been following along for so long without commenting. I hope that will change now and you’ll comment. I love to know who is reading and what they think. So many page views, so few comments.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You guys always look so good, together or alone. Always happy and enjoying life! Way to go!
    Lovely area, and colors.
    By the way…. If Diane has to hug trees I’m not sure if you’re doing you job right. Make sure she stays happy. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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