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Things To Do In Northport, Michigan

Updated on February 14, 2013
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There are many things to do in Northport, Michigan. Northport is a small, picturesque town in Northern Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula. The Peninsula, to the north of Traverse City along the Lake Michigan coast, features stately dunes, rolling hills, miles of shoreline on both sides, and several inviting villages. Northport is the northernmost such village, a short drive from the Peninsula’s northern tip.

Location

Northport is the northernmost real settlement on the Leelanau Peninsula, situated along Grand Traverse Bay on the Peninsula’s eastern shore – which, at the Village’s latitude, isn’t too far from the western shore.

History

The history of modern Northport can be traced largely to 1848, when Native American convert Chief Peter Waukazoo and Rev. George Smith moved their Ottawa mission out of Southwestern Michigan to Leelanau Peninsula’s northernmost region. They dubbed the settlement Waukazooville. The land just to the settlement’s north was platted six years later and given the current name, Northport. The next year, the United States formally established the Grand Traverse Ottawa and Chippewa reservation surrounding the new village, but excluded Northport.

Northport grew along with its region. Around the turn of the century, small industrial concerns emerged on the peninsula. Immigrants from Bohemia, in the present-day Czech Republic, joined the Native Americans and the more recent transplants from the Eastern United States, finding work in the newly-established factories. Tourism also emerged, setting the stage for Northport’s future as a vacation destination. The stately Northport Beach Hotel opened in 1903, but was short lived – it burned to the ground in 1908.

Over the course of the twentieth century, Northport grew along with the rest of Northern Michigan as a tourist region, serving as “Up North” for southern Michigan’s growing middle class, along with visitors from throughout the Midwest – particularly Chicago. Over time, car travel supplanted the train, and the community became defined in large part by the summer influx of weekend visitors.

G. Marsten Dame Marina
G. Marsten Dame Marina | Source

Northport Today

Northport today manages to be like something out of Norman Rockwell without seeming like it’s trying too hard to do so. Its downtown consists of a couple of unassuming streets, filled with modest storefronts and eateries, along with a post office and grocery store. It’s anything but gritty – but it also departs from many nearby towns in that it doesn’t look like something from a postcard.

In terms of statistics, Northport has a population of 526, according to the 2010 United States census. It's area is a modest 1.7 square miles. But both of these numbers are at least a little misleading. The population swells in the summer, especially on weekends -- although it never really gets crowded, it's hardly as deserted as the numbers might suggest. And, while the Village proper is certainly compact, the community extends into the surrounding countryside. A lot of people consider themselves to live in Northport, even if they're outside the boundaries.

The main attraction in Northport is the Marina. Adjacent to the Village core, it is sheltered by a breakwater and flanked on either side by beaches. And, perhaps most important for someone who isn’t planning to drop anchor, it is fronted by a wide lawn that serves as an off-center town square.

One of Northport’s main attractions is its surroundings. Aside from the sparkling blue water, there are deep woods, open vineyards, cherry orchards, and rolling dunes that fade into gentler inland hills.

Many regular vacationers own impressive homes throughout the countryside surrounding Northport. One especially tony area is “The Point” north of town, a spit that juts into the Bay and that comprises the area’s most exclusive neighborhood.

Things to Do

There is no end to the number of activities available to do in this gorgeous area. Year-round Northport has numerous offerings to keep you and your family entertained.

In Town

Quaint shops and restaurants abound in Northport. The town is easily navigated by foot, and there is something for everyone. Shops include everything from a classic hardware store to quirky gift shops to antique shops.

In addition to shopping, Northport offers lots to see simply by spending time in the town. In the center of town at the water’s edge sits the beautiful G. Marsten Dame Marina. The marina is the summer home for many boaters, and it offers slips for visiting boaters. The marina park boasts a lovely picnic area with tables, benches, and green space picnics, shaded by mature trees. It is the perfect place to watch the boats or a gorgeous sunset.

You’re certain work up an appetite while exploring all that Northport has to offer. There are several casual in town eateries to choose from. Barb’s Bakery bakes delicious breakfast pastries, breads, and sweets daily. The North End, Garage, and Stubb’s Bar & Grille offer up tasty lunches and dinners. If you’re looking to have a picnic lunch, you can pick up supplies at Tom’s Food Market, located in the center of town.

Special Events

Special events are held throughout the year. A few highlights:

  • The Fourth of July is a major event. The Marina hosts musical performances, all leading up to a class small-town fireworks display.
  • Later in the summer, the Fly-In/-Drive-In breakfast is held at Woolsey Airport, just north of town. General aviation pilots from throughout the Great Lakes fly in and join the "driving in" locals for pancakes. Many arrive in vintage aircraft.
  • Throughout the year, the Northport Community Arts Center hosts local and travelling performers in its auditorium at the edge of town.

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Wineries

Located in one of Michigan’s most productive agricultural regions, Northport is close to several vineyards and wineries. Situated among the rolling hills, the area’s wineries offer an opportunity to go wine tasting in a laid-back environment. Some nearby options include Gills Pier, Ciccone, Raftshole, and Bel Lago. The most elaborate local wine-tasting experience is at Black Star Farms just outside nearby Suttons Bay, where an expansive tasting room offers a multitude of tasting options.

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Grand Traverse Lighthouse

The very northern tip of the Leelanau Peninsula is the home of Leelanau State Park’s northern unit. There are two main attractions. One is an inviting campground, for those so inclined. The other is one of the Great Lakes’ many lighthouses. The grounds make for a pleasant stroll, and the house itself features a museum.

Hikes

Given the region’s natural splendor, it’s no surprise that hiking opportunities abound near Northport. Just north of town, the southern unit of Leelanau State Park features a series of trails through the hilly woods abutting Mud Lake. The western edge of the park features a hike up the forested, inland slope of a dune ridge, culminating in a series of steps up to a deck overlooking Lake Michigan and the distant Manitou Islands. The Leelanau Conservancy has preserved multiple wilderness areas near Northport. Hiking options include the Kehl Lake Natural Area, with a system of trails along an undeveloped lake, and the Whaleback Natural Area along the Peninsula’s western edge, with a dune-top viewing platform similar to the state park’s.

Nearby Destinations

Besides exploring the Peninsula outside Northport, two destinations stand out. The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is about a 30 to 45 minute drive, depending on your destination within the park. Recently voted the most beautiful place in the country, Sleeping Bear features dramatic dunes towering over Lake Michigan’s stunning blue water. The entire park is crossed with great trails, from inland hikes to long traverses across the desert-like dunes. There are also beaches, and the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive offers several overlooks.

Nearby Traverse City offers a more urbane alternative. Although hardly a big city, it punches above its weight with a bustling, walkable downtown, quality restaurants, and interesting shops. Perhaps best of all, downtown is only a block or so from the waterfront, with its bayside trails, marinas, beaches, and parks.

Northport, MIchigan and its surrounding area offer a wonderful variety of sights to see and things to do year-round. There is something for everyone in the whole family!

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