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One of my favorite spots to picnic is Peterson Park, north of Northport on the west side of the Leelanau Peninsula. Because it is so far from the thoroughfares and population centers, way out on the end of the peninsula, it's more of a local haunt. And as the sun drops into Lake Michigan, a small knowledgeable parade of cars will fill the parking lot 10 minutes before sunset. And while I might have been one in the parade when I was 18, I think those folks are very short-sighted.
I like to go to Peterson Park with enough time to walk down the 110 steps to the rocky beach below before sunset. I like to look for Petoskey stones, listen to the pounding waves and feel the wind. After the trek back up the steps, I like to picnic while watching both the sun paint the sky in neon colors and the kids play on the swings. Peterson Park's bluffs are 400 feet up from the beach and the sun sets into Lake Michigan with only a freighter or two to interrupt the view.
And I like to stay a bit after the official sunset to watch the bounce. Bounce is the expression used by the protagonist in Bridges over Madison County, a national geographic photographer. He talks about bounce as the way the sun, having set, will bounce light off the clouds for more brilliant color after the official sunset.
We were there recently to enjoy a picnic in our quest to have one picnic per week. My daughter instantly made a friend and enjoyed nearly an hour of games on the playground. And a few cars showed up about 10 minutes before sunset to see the show and left shortly after. Take a look at the photos of the post-sunset bounce to see what they missed.
Features of Peterson Park, north of Northport:
1. There are two picnic areas, so if the tables and fire pits by the steps to the beach are busy, continue around to the area in the back for more tables.
2. Permanent structure for bathrooms, but they are pit toilets.
3. The playground has swing sets, a slide and climbing structure. I'm pretty sure it's the same equipment that I played on as a child, so pretty old.
4. The beach is rocky and waves are big. The water gets deep quickly and there can be a bit of an undertow.
Directions: Take Mill Street (201) out of Northport, Michigan heading north. Mill St. will verre to the left and 640 will split off to the right. Stay left at that split. The split will be marked with a sign that points left for Peterson Park and right for Christmas Cove. At the "T", continue to the left, following Peterson Park Rd (conveniently named, don't you think?). The road bends to the right, then left. The park entrance is at the top of a hill. Large boulders and a green sign with white letters on the right mark the entrance.