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Backpacking on North Manitou Island

Leland, Michigan



22 miles

Elevation Gain

120 ft

Route Type



Added by Lisa Zook

North Manitou Island in Lake Michigan is about 8 miles long, 4 miles wide, and only accessible by boat, meaning you have 20-miles of uninhabited shoreline to explore by foot!

North Manitou Island is the lesser-visited of the two Manitou Islands but well worth the trip if you're looking for solitude, wilderness, private access to Lake Michigan, and beautiful scenery for backpacking. While this adventure focuses on the backpacking trip, there's tons of incredible history on this island. Be sure to check out the NPS' write-up so that you can appreciate everything you come across on your hike.

To get to the island, catch the ferry from Fishtown in Leland. Reserve a ticket in advance for the ferry using Manitou Island Transit. The ferry only runs from May to October and depends on weather, so be sure to check the transit website. Arrive early toFishtown, check in with the transit service, and then enjoy some of the great shops/cafes before heading to the wilderness. A few favorites are Village Cheese Shanty, Blue Boat Coffee and Bluebird Restaurant -- ask for the cinnamon bread!

The ferry takes approximately 1.5 hours depending on weather. It drops hikers off at Village Dock on the east side of the island. Upon arrival, meet the Park Ranger and purchase your camping permit. You will be expected to provide your itinerary to the Ranger, so be sure to have a plan for your time on the island.

To see the most of island, follow the outer loop of the Figure-8, camping along the way, and then stay at the Village Campground for a few day hikes before leaving the island:

Day 1. Village Dock to Campsite near Cemetery (3.1 miles)* Head south from the Village Dock for 3.1 miles and set up camp near the old cemetery.* Several things to explore nearby: Old Stormer Dock on the water, Cemetery, Homsteads, The Big Windfall (southern part of the island)

Day 2. Cemetery Campsite to Campsite near Swenson's Barn (5.3 miles)* From the Cemetery, head west for 2.0 miles and arrive at Fredrickson Place. This is a great place to hop down to the water for a refreshing dip and a lunch break.* Follow the train north for 3.3 miles from Fredrickson Place to the Big Field.* There is a campsite here, just to the east of the Big Field, but there are also campsites down along the water. Once you arrive at the Big Field, look for footpaths heading west for some nice campsites tucked away in the woods, right next to the beach.* Drop your packs and go check out the ruins from Crescent Dock. Great place to watch the sunset.

Day 3. Swenson's Barn to Bennon's Place Campsite (5.4 miles)* From Swenson's barn, head north along The Old Grade. Most of this hiking is in the woods and away from the coast, so be sure to pump water and fill bottles the night before.* Once you come to the Pole Bridge (4.5 miles), you can set up camp or continue on 0.9 miles to the south and camp at Bennon's Place. Bennon's Place is nice because it's close to Lake Manitou - a large and beautiful lake on the island.
* Be sure to go check out Lake Manitou during your time on at Bennon's!

Day 4. Bennon's Place to Village Campground (2.2 miles)* From Bennon's Place head southeast, for 2.2 miles, passing the Apple Orchard and Frank Farm.
* Grab a campsite at the Village Campground where you can find the only outhouse and water spigots on the island.* Enjoy the afternoon down on the beach!

Day 5. Day Trip from the Village Campground - The Pot Holes* For your last day on the island, leave your packs at the Village Campground and explore the island a bit!* By following the trail from the Village Campground northwest to Paul Maleski Place, take the unmaintained trail down to the beach.
* Follow the coastline west for approximately 2 miles.* On the coastline you will see the giant Pot Holes created by weathering. Quite the sight!* Enjoy a snack or picnic lunch at the potholes and go swimming in Lake Michigan before heading back to the Village Campground for the night.

Day 6. Depart the Island* Check with the ranger the morning of your departure and s/he will be able to tell you when the boat is expected. Due to weather, the schedule changes occasionally.* Hang near the Village Campground and the Village Dock to ensure that you don't miss the boat. You only have one opportunity to leave the island every day!

A few things to remember:* The ferry only arrives to North Manitou once a day, so there are no 'day visits' to the island* No campfires are permitted on the island except at the Village Campground* The only water spigot and outhouse are located at the Village Campground* Poison Ivy is on the island so know how to identify and avoid* Groups are limited to 10 people* Check out a map of the island here

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Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!


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