Exploring Grand Manitou Island: A Hidden Gem in the Great Lakes

Exploring Grand Manitou Island: A Hidden Gem in the Great Lakes

If you are looking for a secluded and stunning destination to unwind and reconnect with nature, look no further than Manitou Island. This hidden gem in the Great Lakes is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers, with its pristine beaches, rugged trails, and diverse wildlife. In this article, we will take you on a virtual tour of the Manitou Islands and share all the information you need to plan your own adventure.

What is Manitou Island?

Manitou Island is a remote island located in Lake Superior, about 10 miles north of the Michigan mainland. It is part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and is home to various ecosystems, including forests, wetlands, and dunes. The island is approximately 8 miles long and 3 miles wide, with a total land area of 22 square miles.

Read also: Islands in Michigan — a must-see destination

The History of Manitou Island

Manitou Island has a rich history that dates back to the 17th century when it was used by the Anishinaabe people for fishing and hunting. In the 19th century, the island was used as a base for commercial fishing and lumbering, and several small settlements were established on the island. Today, the island is part of the SBD National Lakeshore and is managed by the National Park Service.

Manitou island waters

The Legend Of North And South Manitou Islands

Natives say there were several versions in which the Great One created the North and South Manitou Islands. In both versions, mother bears leave Wisconsin. In some stories, the survivors left because of a burning forest, while in another story they went in search of more food sources. In both legends, the cubs were too young to swim across Lake Michigan before reaching land. Instead, the bears drowned and the mother bear was eventually turned into SBD It seems that the dune on the Michigan mainland was created as giant sleeping bears.

North Manitou island

North Manitou Island

Manitou Island North is the more remote of the two parts of the island, and it offers some of the most stunning natural scenery you’ll find anywhere in Michigan. North Manitou Island lies is home to beautiful beaches, pristine forests, and some of the clearest waters you’ll ever see.

Sleeping Bear Dunes

One of the highlights of North Manitou Island is the SBD National Lakeshore. This park covers over 35 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, and it includes a section west of North Manitou Island. The dunes here are some of the tallest in the world, and they offer stunning views of the lake and the surrounding countryside.

Bear Dunes

North Manitou Island Lighthouse

Another must-see attraction on Manitou Island North is the North Manitou Island Lighthouse. This lighthouse was built in 1871 and was in operation until 1978. Today, it’s been restored and is open for tours. From the top of the lighthouse, you’ll get a panoramic view of the island and Lake Michigan.

Essential Information for Visiting North Manitou Island

It is not possible to find a hotel in the North Manitou Islands without having any dining or accommodation options for the day and the night of your stay. The village also has water spigots and compost toilets and there is no infrastructure. Get ready for roughing. Having complete knowledge about Leave No Trace will be helpful. Basic knowledge of wilderness camping. Get the equipment for this job. The Manitou Island Transit ticket is available on Lands End. You are able to go to the island using a vessel, though this is not necessary.

North Manitou island

South Manitou Island

South Manitou Island is the more developed of the two parts of the island, and it offers plenty of activities and attractions for visitors. This part of the island is home to several small towns and villages, as well as a number of historic sites. Here are some of them:

Manitou Island Transit

One of the most popular attractions on Manitou Island South is the Manitou Island Transit. This ferry service runs between the mainland and the island, and it’s the easiest way to get to the island if you’re not arriving by private boat. Once you’re on the island, the transit also offers tours and charters that allow you to explore the area by boat.

Manitou Map

Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail

Another highlight of South Manitou Island is the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. This trail runs for over 20 miles along the Lake Michigan shoreline, and it’s a great way to explore the island on foot or by bike. Along the way, you’ll see historic sites, scenic overlooks, and plenty of wildlife.

Manitou Island Lighthouse

If you’re interested in history, Manitou Island South has plenty of sites to explore. One of the most interesting is the South Manitou Island Lighthouse. This lighthouse was built in 1872 and was in operation until 1958. Today, it’s been restored and is open for tours. You can climb to the top of the lighthouse for an amazing view of the island and Lake Michigan.


How to get to Manitou Island

The only way to access Manitou Island is by ferry. Ferry service is available from the other shore of the town of Copper Harbor in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and from the village of Grand Portage in Minnesota. The ferry ride takes approximately 2-3 hours and offers stunning views of Lake Superior and the island’s rugged coastline.

Things to do on Manitou Island

Manitou Island offers a natural harbour and a wide range of activities for visitors, including hiking, camping, fishing, and wildlife watching.

Beach on island

Some of the island’s most popular attractions include:

  • Rock Harbor Lighthouse. The Rock Harbor Lighthouse is one of the island’s most iconic landmarks. Built-in 1855, the lighthouse served as a guiding light for ships navigating Lake Superior’s treacherous waters. Today, visitors can tour the lighthouse and learn about its fascinating history.
  • Greenstone Ridge Trail. The Greenstone Ridge Trail is a 40-mile hiking trail that winds through the heart of the island. The trail offers stunning views of the island’s interior, including the rugged rock formations of Mount Franklin and the lush forests of Greenstone Ridge.
  • Manitou Island Transit. Manitou Island Transit offers a variety of boat tours around the island, including a sunset cruise and a tour of the island’s shipwrecks. The tours offer a unique perspective on the island’s history and natural beauty.
  • Camping on the Manitou Island chain. Manitou Island offers several backcountry campsites that are accessible by foot or by bicycle. The campsites offer a secluded and peaceful camping experience, with stunning views of Lake Superior and the island’s rugged coastline.
  • Hiking and Backpacking. Manitou Island is a hiker’s paradise, with over 20 miles of trails that wind through the island’s diverse landscapes. From rugged shoreline hikes to peaceful forest trails, there is something for everyone on the island. Manitou Island’s most popular hiking trails include the Rock Harbor Trail, the Greenstone Ridge Trail, and the Feldtmann Ridge Trail. If you are an experienced backpacker, you can also embark on a multi-day backpacking trip and camp in one of the island’s backcountry campsites.
  • Beaches and Swimming. Manitou Island is home to some of the most pristine and secluded beaches in the Great Lakes region. The island’s beaches offer crystal clear water, soft sand, and stunning views of Lake Superior. Some of the most popular beaches on the island include Three Mile Beach, Daisy Farm Beach, and Moskey Basin Beach. Swimming in Lake Superior can be cold, but the beaches are perfect for sunbathing, picnicking, and relaxing.
Island beach

Practical Tips for Visiting Manitou Island

  • Plan ahead: Manitou Island is a remote and isolated destination, so it’s important to plan ahead and be prepared. Make sure to bring plenty of water, food, and appropriate clothing and gear for the activities you plan to do.
  • Follow Leave No Trace principles: To preserve the island’s natural beauty and protect its fragile ecosystems, it’s important to follow Leave No Trace principles. Make sure to pack out all of your trash and leave the island as you found it.
  • Be aware of wildlife: Manitou Island is home to a variety of wildlife, including black bears and coyotes. Make sure to store your food and other scented items in bear-proof containers, and be aware of your surroundings when hiking or camping.
  • Check the weather: Lake Superior can be unpredictable, so make sure to check the weather forecast before your trip and be prepared for changing conditions.
  • Respect the island’s history and culture: Manitou Island has a rich history and is sacred to the Anishinaabe people. Make sure to respect the island’s cultural heritage and leave artefacts and historical sites undisturbed.



Manitou Island is a hidden gem in the Great Lakes region that offers endless opportunities for photographers to capture unique and stunning shots. Whether you are interested in landscapes, wildlife, or flora, the island has something to offer for every type of photographer. So pack your camera gear and head to Manitou Island for an unforgettable photography adventure.



Can I drive on Manitou Island?

No, there are no roads on the island and the only way to get around is by foot or by bicycle.

Are there any accommodations on Manitou Island?

Yes, there are several backcountry campsites on the island and a few rustic cabins that can be rented through the National Park Service.

Is it safe to hike on Manitou Island?

Yes, hiking on the island is generally safe, but it’s important to be prepared and follow proper safety precautions, such as carrying a map and plenty of water and being aware of wildlife in the area.

Can I fish on Manitou Island without a license?

No, you must have a valid Michigan fishing license to fish on the island.fishing cabin

What is the best time to visit Manitou Island?

The best time to visit the island is from May to September when the weather is mild and the ferry service is running.

Can I bring my dog to Manitou Island?

Pets are not allowed on Manitou Island, with the exception of service animals.

Are there restaurants or stores on Manitou Island?

There are no restaurants or stores on Manitou Island, so make sure to bring all the food and supplies you’ll need for your visit.

Is it possible to do a day trip to Manitou Island?

While it is possible to do a day trip to Manitou Island, we recommend spending at least one night on the island to fully experience its natural beauty and peaceful atmosphere.

Is there cell phone service on Manitou Island?

Cell phone service on Manitou Island is limited, so it’s important to be prepared and have a backup plan in case of an emergency.

Read also: Private Islands for Rent in Michigan — Untouched Wildlife