Glen Arbor/Empire

Glen Arbor

Glen Arbor is home to the Big and Little Glen Lakes, and it’s the gateway to the Sleeping Bear Dunes area. Located about 27 miles from Traverse City to the southeast, the Glen Arbor area offers pristine beaches, hiking, water sports, superb art  and music, majestic sunsets, museums, unique shopping, great food, fine wine, antiques or just an overall perfect place for a vacation get-away, or home.

What’s Best?

Beach walking and sunsets over Sleeping Bear Bay. The scenic overlook from Inspiration Point and at Pyramid Point. Hiking the trails in the Sleeping Bear Dunes.

Where to Meet Locals?

At the Cottage Book Shop and Art’s Tavern, the corner hangout.

About the School District

Glen Lake Community School serves K-12. The district covers 200 square miles of southwestern Leelanau County including the towns of Cedar, Maple City, Glen Arbor and Empire. For more information visit Glen Lake Schools online.


Empire is a small village located on the Lake Michigan side of the Leelanau Peninsula about 26 miles to the west of Traverse City. It is home to the Headquarters for Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. It is the perfect place for outdoor lovers.

Empire is home of one of most popular beaches on the Leelanau Peninsula. The wide, expansive beach area is situated between Lake Michigan to the west and South Bar Lake to the east. It’s easy to spend the whole day here with children’s play structure, basketball and beach volleyball courts. The Empire Bluff Hiking Trail gives hikers beautiful views of the dunes, Lake Michigan and the Manitou Islands.

Downtown, you’ll find a mix of little shops and restaurants along with the headquarters of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore where visitors can learn about the history and geology of the park and enjoy wildlife displays and historical exhibits. Pick up your trail maps and don’t forget to check the schedule of programs and walks led by Park Rangers.

What’s Best?

A trip through Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is a must with a walk up to the Dunes Overlook situated 450 feet above Lake Michigan.  At day’s end sitting by a bonfire while watching a spectacular sunset can’t be beat. If you’re interested in the history of the area, the Empire Area Museum features a turn-of-the-century saloon, one room schoolhouse, 1911 firehouse, 1924 vintage gas station, blacksmith shop and woodworking shop.

Where to Meet Locals?

At the Asparagus Festival in May and Anchor Days in July; and at the Friendly Tavern any day of the week.

Historical Sketch

Native peoples paddled through the sheltered Manitou Passage between the Leelanau Peninsula and the Manitou and Fox Islands since earliest times. By the middle of the 19th century, hundreds of schooners and wood burning steamers were also plying these waters on the way to Chicago, then the fastest growing city in the United States. Passengers noticed the beauty of the Passage and the potential for a good life in the growing port towns of Leland, Glen Arbor, and Empire and many decided to settle there.

Fur trader John LaRue is credited with being the founder of both Glen Arbor and Empire. His original trader’s cabin at the mouth of the Crystal River (today the location of The Homestead, America’s Freshwater Resort) was a meeting place for many of the Leelanau Peninsula’s first pioneers. A remarkable stretch of the west coast of Leelanau from the lakeside town of Empire through the storied village of Glen Arbor is now preserved as part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. A recent national opinion poll ranked the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is the most beautiful place in America.