South Manitou Island is an uninhabited island just off the coast of west Leelanau County. In the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries the island was a popular harbor and fueling station. In the 1800s the island was inhabited by farmers – their buildings, equipment, schoolhouse, and cemetery still remain on the island today. The island now has many miles of trails crisscrossing the island, an inland lake, a beautiful lighthouse, and the Manitou Passage State Underwater Preserve. The longest trail on the island is 7.4 miles, with others as short as .6 miles.
The village on South Manitou Island was located in the natural harbor on the west side of the island. The strategic location of the island and the fact that it had one of the only protected deep water harbors between Chicago and Buffalo, made it ideal for refueling the steamers. As a result, it became the first settlement in the area. In 1847, the village included Burton’s Warf, a house, blacksmith shop, grocery store, barn and a wooden tamarack railroad track extending from the Warf inland to haul wood for the steamers. The current village is located south of the original village near the Life-Saving Station and lighthouse. The houses in the village were used as summer cottages. The Visitor’s Center is located in the former General Store.
Cool things to do: bike to the old farms on the island, hike all the many miles of trails, check out the lighthouse, walk to the Virgin Cedars and check out the shipwreck on the way, take a guided tour of the old settlements, swim, scuba dive to explore the wreck of the Morazan.
Watch out for Poison Ivy! It can be found all over the island, a way to help remember about Poison Ivy is this little rhyme: Leaves of three, let it be. Before you go check out Wikipedia: Poison Ivy to learn more about it. The Poison Ivy in Leelanau County is normally ground cover and not a shrub. As long as you do not touch the Poison Ivy you will be fine.
How to reach the island: you can take a personal boat, canoe or kayak (beware it is 8 miles of open water from Pyramid Point), or take the Manitou Transit. When you take the ferry and do not plan on camping you have 4 1/2 hours to tour the island.