Perched off the coast of the Leelanau Peninsula, the Manitou Islands, with their miles of undeveloped shoreline, towering dunes and thick forests, are a siren call to adventurers. The Manitou Island Transit (231-256-9061, leelanau.com/manitou, reservations recommended) ferries passengers to both islands from Leland (leelanau.com/leland) with twice-a-day runs to South Manitou and once-a-day runs to North Manitou. Which means, of course, that if you’re looking to do an island in a day, purchase your ticket for South Manitou.
There are no stores or restaurants on the island, so pack everything you’ll need. Food, water bottles, swimsuits, water shoes (the Lake Michigan bottom is rocky off the island), hiking shoes and warm clothes are musts. The trip over takes an hour and a half – enough time to decide how to spend four-and-a half idyllic island hours until it’s time to go home.
South Manitou has been a part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (231-326-5134, nps.gov/slbe) since the 1970′s, but it was once a thriving island community with farms, a schoolhouse, a manned lighthouse and a life-saving station. Jeep tours (sign-up is aboard the ferry) guide you past the remnants of this life gone by.Another option? Head out on foot to the spectacular view of the Francisco Morazan shipwreck. Stop into the visitors center for trail maps, then get trekking the two-and-a-half miles to where the ruined freighter has loomed just offshore since it ran aground during a snowstorm in December of 1960. Hike another half mile and you’re in the Valley of the Giants, a grove of ancient white cedars – some more than 500 years old.
Katie Holland was an intern at Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.
Note: This article was first published in May 2007 and was updated for the web February 2008.