Diving & Underwater Exploration

The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore provides a historic and engaging freshwater diving experience.

All bottomlands within the National Lakeshore have been designated by the state of Michigan as the Manitou Passage Underwater Preserve. The clear and clean waters of the Preserve contain a number of shipwrecks and a multitude of marine species.


The Alva Bradley was one of the earliest built of a class of approximately 200-foot Great Lakes schooners. It was built in 1870 and wrecked on the North Manitou shoal in 1894 when its tow-line parted while it was serving as a schooner-barge. The site is located one and a half miles south of Miller Beach, off North Manitou Island, in 26 feet of water. The ship has disarticulated along the turn of the bilge on both sides and there are major debris fields associated with the wreckage. It’s a fascinating dive with numerous turn-of-the century artifacts to be seen and enjoyed. This shoal area can be subject to strong currents.


This 211-foot wooden steam barge was built in 1889 and wrecked off South Manitou Island in 1924. The vessel was partially dynamited to remove its cargo of pulpwood. Swim about 1,300 feet north of the island marina building to see the pieces of hull and machinery that are the main visible parts of the wreckage. The largest piece of hull and a boiler is in 40 feet of water and the engine is near the shore in 16 feet of water.


The 133′ wooden steamer stranded north of Pyramid Point on October 29, 1917. She went to pieces and her wreckage now rests in 6 to 12 feet of water. Also see Wreck of the Rising Sun in the Leelanau blog!


The remains of this wooden schooner lie in a 10-foot-deep scour surrounded by the four-foot-deep waters of the North Manitou Shoal. It is an interesting and safe site for snorkeling or beginning divers. If someone gets into trouble, they can always swim out of the scour and stand up. The ship was built in 1870 and lost in 1910 without loss of life. We saw some zebra mussels at the site in 1994, so the wreck might look very different by the time you get there.


The depth of this site puts it toward the death-cheating end of the scale. The Congress is a very early steam-barge originally named Nebraska. Built in 1867, it was waiting out a storm in October of 1904 at a dock on South Manitou Island when a fire broke out. The ship was towed away from the dock by the Life Saving Service and sank in 160 feet of water. It has been frequently dived, but its depth limits it strictly to advanced wreck divers. It would definitely be a good dive for those interested in early Great Lakes steam technology.


The largely intact remains of this steamer made a reappearance in 1996. In April of that year, NPS employees reopening an area of South Manitou for summer visitation noted that the spit that had been led “Sandy Point” was gone. The object around which the spit had apparently formed was, however, now exposed, and turned out to be the Three Brothers. This is a spectacular dive and an easy one, ranging from 10 to 40 feet in depth. You should put it on your “must see” list for the park and for Michigan in general. Over 1,000 divers visited the wreck in the short dive season after its discovery, making it the most popular diving destination in Michigan according to state archaeologist John Halsey. Given its history of coming and going it is not a dive you want to put off. It would be a shame to arrive with great expectations only to find Sandy Point again and no Three Brothers.

Information provided in part by Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore