In Lake Michigan, just off the shore of Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes sit the islands of North and South Manitou. The Native American legend tells that the islands are the lost cubs of a mother bear that fell asleep on the shore waiting for her cubs to return. They never did and sand covered the mother, creating the 450 foot high dune in northwest Michigan. Today the dunes and islands are part of the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore and administered by the National Park Service.
The only way to reach the islands is by boat. During the summer the Manitou Island Transit runs a twice daily ferry service to both islands. The ferry schedule is available on their web site. North Manitou is larger and with fewer services. It is managed as a wilderness area. A visitor to this island should be prepared for a primitive experience. South Manitou by contrast is the place to be. There is a Coast Guard Station and lighthouse that are open to visitors. Scattered across the island are the remains of farms dating back to the 1870’s. There is also a shipwreck that is visible from shore.
South Manitou is a great place for hiking and backpacking. The old farm roads make great trails and it’s easy to follow the beach around the island. The trails lead to scenic vistas, an old school house, and a stand of virgin cedar trees that is over 500 years old. There are three hike-in campgrounds on the shores of the island. The Bay campground is closest to the ferry dock. The Weather Station campground offers great views back to Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes. The Popple campground is the farthest from the dock, a hike of almost seven and a half miles.
South Manitou Island provides a great overnight, or several night, camping and hiking adventure. Plus the lack of city lights makes for some excellent star gazing.