The Manitou Islands in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore are perched off the coast of Leelanau County. With their miles of undeveloped shoreline, towering dunes and thick forests, the Manitou Islands in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore are a siren call for a Northern Michigan vacation. 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.
South Manitou Island
There are no stores or restaurants on South Manitou 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 since the 1970s, but it was once a thriving island community with farms, a schoolhouse, a manned lighthouse and 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
North Manitou Island
North Manitou Island embraces about 23 square miles of classic Northern Michigan terrain: 400-foot-high dunes on the northwest corner, flat beaches on the southeast corner, and in between, forests of can’t-get-your-arms-around-them hemlock, beech, maple and oak. One extra-special treat is the shimmery Lake Manitou – an easy wade loaded with huge and hungry smallmouth bass. More than 20 miles of gentle trail, plus 20 miles of beach.
Rustic camping only, $5 per night, plus fee for National Park Pass; water purification needed if you camp outside the campground. Bring a garden trowel to bury your scat. Get there via Manitou Island Transit’s ferry, 231.256.9061, manitoutransit.com.
Cornerstone post: The Manitou Islands in the Sleeping Bear Dunes