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Clay Cliffs Natural Area

Clay Cliffs Natural Area at a Glance

Features: birding, canoeing, challenging terrain, uphill climbs, fishing, hiking, hunting by permit only, kayaking, lake frontage, wildflowers

Acreage: 104.5

Year Preserved: 2013

Trail Mileage: 1.5 miles

Trail Difficulty: moderate

Trail Map
Guided Hikes

Clay Cliffs Natural Area offers stunning views of both Lake Leelanau and Lake Michigan and provides ample recreation opportunities.   

This stunning natural area created in partnership with Leland Township protects 1,700 feet of shoreline on both Lake Leelanau and Lake Michigan. The sheer clay bluff hosts a rare and fragile ecosystem. Eagles that nest here swoop over the lake in search of prey. The steep, forested slopes are particularly beautiful in the slanting light of dusk, and when the trillium bloom. Clay Cliffs’ hardwood forest shelters one of Leelanau’s most prolific wildflower sites. An overlook at the bluff top shows off panoramic lake views while a meadow located midway along the trail features sparkling views of Lake Leelanau.

“Clay Cliffs is now a tremendous public natural resource with unparalleled conservation values and passive recreation opportunities,” says Matt Heiman, Conservancy Director of Land Programs. He adds that the mature hardwood forest features one of the most fantastic wildflower spots in the county, that the 200-foot bluff is home to a rare ecosystem and that eagles nest on this diverse property.

Trail System

1.5 mile trail system on flat and hilly terrain. There is a viewing platform above the bluffs, with breathtaking views from 200 feet above Lake Michigan. On the trail to the bluff there are views of Lake Leelanau to the East.

Please remember the Clay Bluffs are not accessible and all hikers should appreciate the view at a safe distance.


Getting there: From Leland, take M-22 north approximately 2.5 miles north. Park in the parking lot on M-22 across from the Lake Leelanau turn off by the silver poplars.


Clay Cliffs Natural Area, which was preserved in 2013, is officially owned by Leland Township. The majestic 104.5-acre parcel with 1,700 feet of frontage on both Lake Michigan and North Lake Leelanau is managed by the Leelanau Conservancy. The Conservancy assisted the Township in obtaining $2.9 million from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. Conservancy donors provided 25 percent of the $6.2 million project while the sellers donated 25 percent in land value. The land was purchased from the Crary family, who wished to see it preserved forever.

“Clay Cliffs is now a tremendous public natural resource with unparalleled conservation values and passive recreation opportunities,” says Matt Heiman, Conservancy Director of Land Programs.


Raptor perch on the cliff, (eagles nest here) Lake Michigan shoreline birds

Fantastic array of spring wildflowers: Dutchman’s breeches, trillium, spring beauties. Perhaps one of the best wildflower sites in the county.

Plants at Clay Cliffs Natural Area

A Clay Cliffs FQA and Summary is available here. An FQA, or Floristic Quality Assessment, tells the story of the types and quality of flora at Clay Cliffs Natural Area.

Related Articles about Clay Cliffs

Record-Eagle Outdoor Writer Mike Terrell sings the praises of Clay Cliffs in Winter–March 2016

Nov. 13, 2013: It’s Official Spectacular Clay Cliffs Protected Forever

Coming Home to Clay Cliffs: Nov. 2014 Essay by Carolyn Faught

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Safety & Hunting

Poison Ivy is commonly found on impacted areas. Keep an eye out for this three leafed ground cover for it can give you an itchy rash. If your skin comes in contact with ivy, wash that area with soap a.s.a.p. Stay on the trails to reduce risk of contact.

THIS AREA IS OPEN TO HUNTING with written permission from the Leelanau Conservancy to reduce an unnaturally high white-tail deer population.  Too many deer threaten wildflowers and tree seedlings. Please use caution when hiking during hunting season, wear orange and keep dogs on a leash.