North Manitou Island is located eight miles off the coast of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. To get there requires a ferry ride, an overnight stay, and planning. With that in mind, visitors often ask, “What are the things to do on North Manitou Island?”
Backpacking and Hiking on North Manitou Island
North Manitou Island is a designated wilderness area and offers more than 23 miles of maintained hiking trails and dozens more of non-designated trails and bushwhacking opportunities. Most of the trails are easy to moderate as they follow the more moderate terrain of the island. You will encounter steep bluff and dunes should you go off trail near the coastline.
Trail runners and lightweight hikers are sufficient footwear. There’s no real need for heavy-duty hiking boots. Trekking poles are optional but they can be handy for clearing your path through overgrown side trails and are useful for bushwhacking.
It should be noted that hiking the beaches of the island could be challenging, as you will be walking on a loose and off camber surface. The beach itself may not be passable in many places especially in recent years as Lake Michigan is at near record high levels. Storms can also erode the beach as well as cause trees on steep slopes to fall and block the beach. Check with the park rangers for current conditions.
Hiking down steep dunes to Lake Michigan, especially the taller ones located at the northern (The Potholes) and southern end (the Big Windfall) of the island can be dangerous. Climbing back up always takes more effort and time than most people realize.
Potable water is only available in the Village. Be sure to bring a water filter so you can safely drink water from Lake Michigan or the inland lakes.
Camping on North Manitou Island
Since the ferry to the island only docks long enough to drop off and pick up passengers (about 30 minutes), you will be staying overnight so camping is pretty much a given.
Backcountry permits are required and are available from the National Park Service. Get yours when you check-in for the ferry at Leland.
The Village Campground is the only organized campsite on the island, otherwise camping is permitted anywhere on North Manitou Island. This is the only place that open fires are permitted. Bring a gas or alcohol stove for cooking.
300 foot rule – You must camp more than 300 feet away from the high water mark of Lake Michigan. You must camp more than 300 feet away from other water sources too. You may not camp within 300 feet of any building or other camps. Also, you may not camp on any trail.
Fishing on North Manitou Island
Fishing is allowed with a State of Michigan fishing license. You must use artificial lures when fishing on either Lake Tamarack or Lake Manitou. Bass must be at least 18 inches and there is a daily limit of one.
Motors are not permitted on Lake Tamarack or Lake Manitou.
Boats are permitted on the inland lakes but must be cleaned by the National Park Service to prevent the introduction of non-native species. Boats on the inland lakes must be transported without wheels. So you will have to portage your boat several miles or consider using an inflatable.
Hunting on North Manitou Island
Deer hunting is allowed by special permit.
Swimming on North Manitou Island
Swim at your own risk. There are no lifeguards and rip currents are common in Lake Michigan. Hypothermia is a risk much of the year as Lake Michigan stays cold until late July and water temperatures in the low to mid sixties are common even in August.
Bird Watching on North Manitou Island
Opportunities for bird watching on North Manitou Island are abundant. Over 200 species are listed in the National Park Service Checklist of Plants and Animals at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Bald Eagles, Piping Plovers, Sandhill Cranes are some of the rare birds that can be found on the island.
The North Manitou Island was inhabited until the late 1970’s. When the timber industry ceased operations on the island, the town of Crescent became a ghost town and lumber camps were left to fade away into history. As the National Park Service took over the land, previous farms, homesteads, and cottages were abandoned. Evidence of these still exist in various states of both decay and preservation.
It is against park rules to enter any of the buildings or ruins on the island. Many of the old buildings have collapsed or are in unstable and dangerous conditions.
Biking on North Manitou Island
Nope! No wheeled vehicles are allowed on the island.
North Manitou Island Resources