North and South Manitou Islands

Anyone have any recommendations about kayaking north and south manitou islands in lake michigan. We are planning on a week long trip in mid august. If anyone has any experience camping and kayaking there I would greatly appreciate any advice.

Islands are a nice/easy weekend trip or longer if you want to spend some time hiking (which I’d recommend).

When we went out we crossed from the mainland, over to South Manitou and then checked in with the ranger office there. They want to know that you made it ok. If you choose to cross, just look for a good weather window and watch for traffic (it’s a fairly busy channel and we experienced freighter traffic on both crossings. There’s a good campground on the north side of S. Mant and good trail access to most to key features of the island. Good day hikes or longer if you wish.

N. Mant isn’t as well traveled but good backcountry camping and hiking as well. If you have any specific questions, shoot me a pm and I’d be happy to assist.



s manitou
well not much info for you while paddling…but ive spent some time on s. manitou and its worth getting out and exporing…

1850’s lighthouse.

old town-sailor cemetary

sunken freighter that sticks out of the water on the south end.

largest cedar trees in michigan…south side

huge dunes worth exploring.

theres also a hull of a wooden scooner on sw shore…

do some hikeing its worth it.

Just got back!
Just paddled there a couple of weeks ago, and I highly recommend it!

If making the 8-mile crossing out to the islands, file a float plan and itinerary at the D.H. Day Campground office near Glen Arbor, then launch from the gorgeous beach at the old Cannery on Glen Haven Rd., just a mile away. This is the main shipping channel for this part of the lake, so keep an alert eye for freighters while crossing, and monitor your VHF marine radio: most captains announce their arrival and intention to enter the channel. Be sure to check in at whichever island you land on, so the rangers know that you’ve arrived safely.

Of the two, South Manitou Island (SMI) is the most popular, with daily ferry visits, a nicely restored lighthouse, miles of hiking trails, and some very well-kept old farm houses, schools, etc… If you have time, I suggest taking one of the historic DunesMobile tours on the island, as it looks like a good way to see many of the sights and, most important, learn the history of this fascinating place.

We camped at Weather Station campground on the S side of the island, and at Bay near the ranger station; bith are quite nice. Other paddlers also recommend Popple on the N shore, which gets fewer visitors but I’ve never visited it.

We also crossed over to North Manitou, which is equally beautiful and certainly more remote; aside from the Village campground near the ranger station, all camping is wilderness. Mother Nature has seen fit to locate the best wilderness campsites about 100-200 feet from the water’s edge, while the NPS has opted to enforce a 300-foot setback from the high-water mark, as well as from any trails.

So, in the many places where the island’s perimeter trail approaches the shore, you may need to carry all your gear up a steep, 45-degree sand bank and as much as 600 feet into the brushy interior in order to pitch your tent. If you adhere to this setback rule, as we did, there is no practical kayak-camping anywhere on the entire northern half of NMI. There is precious little elsewhere along its shores, so be prepared to hike further inland than usual, or keep paddling while looking for a better spot.

One possible way to make things easier, and which I believe does not violate the rule, is to pitch your tent or sleeping hammock the proper distance back in the woods, and do your cooking down near the beach by your kayaks. This reduces the amount of gear you need to haul up the sand banks (and therefore your ecological impact on the delicate dune trails), and offers a lake breeze to keep flies and mosquitoes down while you cook and eat. If a ranger stops by and questions you, call it a picnic. At nightfall, pack your kitchen stuff away in the boats and retire to your tent for the night.

A beautiful place, and I’ll definitely be going back.

Good luck!


I appreciate the information. It sounds like this location is an excellent selection for a trip. We were planning about five days. At first we were going to go to both islands but now I am thinking that for this trip we will spend it all at the south island. does that seem like a good length for exploring the south island?

A Good Time
Not sure if you’re including the drives to and from northern Michigan in your five-day stretch, but if you spend the better part of a day packing the boats and either paddling or ferrying out to the islands, and another day returning, that leaves a few days in between for enjoying the island.

With some hiking to the various historic and natural sites, a lighthouse tour, a short day-paddle around the island (look for the nearby shipwreck), and a healthy bit of loafing around camp, I’m sure you could fill up your time there, and enjoy most of what the island has to offer.

Have a good trip!


Is Popple campground on South Manitou easily accessible from the water? I read something about a ladder identifying the campground, which tells me there are walls??

So there were were on South Manitou Island last weekend, enjoying our campsite and paddling around the island. Around 6:00 we spotted a couple kayakers coming across the Manitou Straights (8 miles)from the mainland. As they got closer, I realized they were in short boats. When they got real close, we realized they were in very short boats. When they landed, I walked down to look at the boats.

They were Old Town recreation kayaks, about 8 feet long. No bulkheads. You know the kind. Wide with a very large cockpit. No spray skirt. No extra paddle. No paddle float (which wouldn’t much matter, because the boat would sink with no flotation. Shorts and a t-shirt with a cotton sweatshirt (soaked).

I don’t think these two guys really knew how much danger they were in. They are very lucky we are not reading about them lost at sea.

I’m still shaking my head…

Lake Michigan can be treacherous
I know of ocean sailors who don’t like to sail on Lake Michigan because the fierce storms come up suddenly and apparently out of nowhere. Many tales of ships and boats that didn’t make it near the Manitou’s.

I spent my childhood summers in Leland there and it’s an incredibly beautiful area.

Don’t fear the lake, but if you don’t respect it you can get into trouble quickly.

Consider taking your boats on the mail boat that goes to South Manitou and then paddle around the island.

Camped on N Manitou last weekend
On the ride back, the ferry crew was completely surprised by 10 foot swells in the channel. The forcast was for 2-4 building to 5-8 overnight. The weather was generally clear with some light scattered showers.

My point (to echo the posts above) is that this part of the lake is particularly dangerous and unpredictable. Winds and waves get funneled in funny ways around the bluffs. Anyone should think twice before that make this crossing, and had better have at least advanced intermediate skills.