Have you ever been to Sleeping Bear Dunes and looked out into Lake Michigan and wondered what that land mass in the middle was? Most likely you would have been looking out at South Manitou Island which is about 16 miles from the shore of Leland. It’s completely uninhabited and is smaller than North Manitou Island and I was going to both of them over the course of a week to hike. But when the ferry to leave South Manitou never showed up at the scheduled time for no apparent reason, our plans to visit the North Island the next day evaporated, since the ferry only runs on certain days. So if you plan to visit the Manitou Islands, be aware that they may change their schedule without telling you and you will be stuck on the island for an extra day or two, which is what happened to Emily and I. So when life gives you lemons, trade them in for limes, because limes are way better.
The time we spent on the Island was good nonetheless. The weather was near perfect, except for the second night it stormed pretty good. And I didn’t get bit by one bug! Emily and I had the perfect campsite, located at the weather station campground, it was nicely nestled on the shore. We could look out from our hammocks and watch the waves crash anytime of day, and listen to them at night to put us asleep. We hiked through the village to get our dose of history for the day and continued on to old cedar trees which are over 500 years old. I believe that’s older than just about every building in the United States. Eventually we made it to the dunes to have the highest vantage point on the island. Looking out from the dunes down into the forest reminded me of a jungle. A jungle filled with tormenting chipmunks, and maybe a fox or coyote. Oh and lots and lots of garter snakes.
There’s a lot of interesting stuff to see on South Manitou Island such as old uninhabited farmsteads, Cedar trees over 500 years old, sand dunes, and even a shipwreck that’s still visible. There’s also a lighthouse where you can take a tour through. The best and pretty much only way to get around on the island is to hike. The transit company, Manitou Island Transit, does do day trip tours to the island but it’s only for 4 hours is not enough time to see everything. If you really want to experience the island the way it should be, spend at least 2 nights there, since hiking will take up most of your time to get to the cool stuff. There’s three campgrounds on South Manitou, weather station, bay, and popple. All of the sites are well spaced from each other so you can have some good seclusion from people.
The cost of staying on South Manitou is $5 a night and a $15 national park pass, if you don’t already have one. The ferry is $40 round trip.
South Manitou Island was first settled in 1835 and served as a refueling station for wood fueled steam ships traveling from Chicago to New York. The lumber industry created a boom town and people started moving there and creating farms. But once coal powered steam ships took over in the 1890’s the islands inhabitants started to move back to the mainland and islands population dwindled. By the 1950’s the island had been pretty much deserted. Then in the 1970’s South Manitou had become part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and restoration began to take place. Volunteers and park rangers do a great job maintaining the island and hopefully will be there for generations to come.