North Manitou Island: Tropical paradise meets backcountry trek
This trip easily goes into my top five favorite destinations. North Manitou Island sits just off the west coast of Michigan in Lake Michigan. It's accessed from the small harbor town of Leland by ferry which runs between the mainland and the island twice daily during the summer months. The island is like a giant playground for anyone who loves the outdoors. On the ferry ride over we rode along side other serious backpackers going to hike the trail system that circumvents the island and Manitou Lake in the center of it's namesake island. We also saw casual campers with massive loads not looking to trek more than a few miles from the dock where they would set up a base and either day hike or lay on the sandy beach listening to the waves crash into the island's shore.
Once on land my wife and I along with two of our good friends, Elliott and Joy set out for a three day hike around the entire island. We headed south on very easy, level trails and finally bushwhacked for several miles to a secluded perch not on any of the trails (more details on that campsite in my BACKPACKER magazine writeup). Throughout this entire trip we were rewarded with amazing views of Lake Michigan... after all we are on an island and you don't have to go very far in any direction to see the lake.
On the second day of our trip we started out walking along the beach which I found to be very enjoyable and relaxing. The beaches on North Manitou look as pristine as any you'd find on a tropical island in the Caribbean and the water was as blue and clear as you could imagine. We bounced back and forth between beach and woods as we hiked north along the west side of North Manitou. Stopping for lunch we reclined on the beach and soaked in the sun while we ate. In addition to the stunning views, the history was rich and very visible. Just down the coast from our lunch spot sat a long abandoned dock probably, at one time, the only access for boats to that side of the island. We saw abandoned logging camps - one of which was full of rusted 1940's era pickups used during the logging days. Clearly marked on the side of many of the trucks was a company with an 8 Mile address in Detroit. We hiked the rest of the afternoon and did not decide exactly where we'd camp that night until the trail split and we had to make a decision which way to travel. The decision was made that we'd head inland and camp near Lake Manitou which lies in the center of the island. Originally I saw this lake on the map and envisioned a small pond-like lake that you could easily see all the shoreline from camp. Quickly I learned that wasn't the case at all. This was a substantial lake, which sat in the middle of an island which was sitting in the middle of another lake!
Day three was short. We only had about 2.5 miles to go to get back to the dock where our ferry would pick us up. We hiked through the woods over flat terrain until finally we emerged into an open area known as Manitou Village where the ranger's quarters and dock as well as several old structures are located. We relaxed under the shade of a few trees while we waited for our ferry to arrive.
To see even more photos from this trip visit my Flickr page.
For more information on North Manitou Island and the entire Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake shore visit their website.
Look for a writeup on our North Manitou Island trek in BACKPACKER magazine in 2014.