The Manitou Islands
Both islands are part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, with almost their entire area available for hiking, camping and exploration. The 15,000 acres of North Manitou Island are (with the exception of the village area) managed as a wilderness area, and the island is home to numerous species of hawks and eagles. Manitou Island Transit provides regular ferry service to both islands for campers and day trips to South Manitou. Please visit Manitou Island Transit for more information.
South Manitou Island
North & South Manitou Islands part of an island chain that extends north to the Straits of Mackinac. The island consists of a ridge of tilted layers of limestone, buried under a blanket of glacial debris from the the glaciers that carved out the Lake Michigan basin. When the basin filled with water, the peaks of the ridge remained exposed as islands. During post-glacial times, winds blowing on the high, sandy bluffs on the west side of the island moved sand inland, forming perched dunes.
Tucked away on the southwest corner of the island is a grove of virgin white cedar trees. One of the fallen trees showed 528 growth rings, dating its existence to before Columbus.
The South Manitou Island Lighthouse is the most familiar landmark on the island and is clearly visible from the mainland. The 100 foot lighthouse tower, active from 1871 to 1958, marked the location of the only natural harbor between here and Chicago. Ships took refuge here during storms and steamers stopped at the island to refuel with wood for their boilers. Be sure to get a tour when you are on the island and climb to the top for a spectacular view.
North Manitou Island
North Manitou Island is managed as wilderness with the exception of a 27 acre area around the Village. Visiting the island is a primitive experience emphasizing solitude, a feeling of self-reliance and a sense of exploration. The primary visitor activities are backpacking and camping. Travel in the wilderness area is by foot only. Power on the island is provided by a photovoltaic array located in the Village.
North Manitou Island is 7-3/4 miles long by 4-1/4 miles wide and has 20 miles of shoreline. The topography varies considerably on the island from low, sandy, open dune country on the southeast side grades to the high sand hills and blowout dunes on the southwest side of the island.
Lake Manitou occupies a lowland in the north central portion of the island. To the west of the lake the terrain becomes very rugged as you approach the west and northwest bluffs.
Information provided in part by Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore