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South Manitou Island
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Planning Your Visit

South Manitou Island is accessible only by boat. Visitors utilizing private watercraft should be aware of the restrictions listed below. Manitou Island Transit operates a commercial walk-on passenger ferry which is based at the Fishtown Dock located in Leland, Michigan. For reservations contact Manitou Island Transit at 231-256-9061. Also, click on their name above to see their website for further information.

The following suggestions are offered to help you have a safe and enjoyable visit. The boat trip can be cool even in summer, so plan ahead and bring a jacket. In case of rain, bring rain gear. Wear comfortable hiking boots. Mosquitoes are common in summer. Poison ivy is abundant. There is no food service or store on the island. Bring a lunch. Be sure to return to the dock in time for the boat departure.

Visitors to South Manitou Island are also required to secure an entrance pass to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Fees are described below. Park Passes are available at the Fishtown Dock during the summer months from 8:30 am to 10:00am, or at any fee collection station within the park.

Docking is limited to 20 minutes. There are no fuel services available. Set your anchor with wind shifts in mind. Squalls and passing weather fronts can create damaging wave conditions.

Island Tour
Manitou Island Transit offers guided tours in open-air vehicles with stops at the old schoolhouse, farmsteads and cemetery. Some tours focus on natural history and there is an opportunity to customize tours for special interests. The tours take approx. 1-1/2 to 2 hours.

The Visitor Center
The Visitor Center is in the old island post office in the village. Exhibits tell the human and natural history of the island. The facility is open daily from mid-May through early October.

The Ranger Station
The Ranger Station is in the former Coast Guard Station in the village. Rangers are here to help you enjoy your visit and protect the natural resources. Report all emergencies and requests for assistance to the rangers. In an emergency the Ranger Station can be reached from the mainland by calling (231) 334-3976.

Camping is permitted at only three locations - the Bay, Weather Station and Popple Campgrounds. Low impact camping is the rule. This minimizes human impact on the fragile natural resources.

There is no transportation for camp gear so you must pack it in (travel light). Food should be stored in hard containers or hung from a line to thwart chipmunks.

Individual Campsites : Individual sites are limited to 4 persons and 2 tents. Campers must purchase a Backcountry Use Permit before camping. The fee is $5.00 per night per permit. Permits are available at the Fishtown dock in Leland from 8:30 am to 10:00 am during the summer months. During the off-season, please contact the Visitor Center in Empire for permits. Upon arriving at the island, a park ranger will meet you at the dock to complete camper registration and to help you plan your visit.

Group Campsites :There are several larger group campsites, each designed to hold 20 campers. Group sites are available by reservation only . Please call 1-800-365-2267 or go online for reservations. The cost for group campsites is $23.00 per night. Please note: The fee for group camping does not include transportation to the island. Please contact Manitou Island Transit to make ferry reservations.

Various factors may require the ferry's departure immediately after arrival. Be at the dock with your gear at 11:30 a.m. in case of an early departure.

Fires are permitted in community fire rings only. Dead and down wood may be used. Cutting any standing vegetation, alive or dead, is prohibited. Fires are prohibited on the beaches.

Pets are not allowed on the island due to disturbance of visitors and wildlife.

Deposit all trash in receptacles located at the boathouse near the dock.

Water is available at locations marked on the map. However, as of the spring of 2001, water is no longer available at the Bay Campground. Campers utilizing the Bay Campground are required to carry water from the Village. Please do not use pump areas for bathing or dishwashing.

For safety, hike with a companion and notify someone of your route and expected return time. Wear footgear that gives good support. Terrain varies from sandy beaches to gravel and boulder-surfaced slopes. Carry drinking water. Please stay on designated trails to avoid causing erosion and damage to plants. This is especially important in sensitive areas such as the gull rookery, old growth cedars, dunes and steep bluffs.

CAUTION: Hiking on steep bluffs is dangerous.


Entrance Fee For Mainland and Islands:

Park Pass (Valid for 7 days): $10.00
Annual Pass (Valid for 12 months): $20.00

(NOTE: When not contained within a vehicle, the park pass includes yourself, your spouse, your children and your parents.)

South Manitou Island Camping Fees:
Bay Campground, per night: $5.00
Popple C.G., per night: $5.00
Weather Station, per night: $5.00
Group Sites, up to 20 people: $23.00

The Geologic Story
South Manitou Island is 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. Glaciers 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. The dunes are a fragile environment. Please stay on existing paths and avoid stepping on plants.

The Old Growth Cedars
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 Island Fauna
The island has only about eleven species of mammals, compared to about forty species on the mainland. The island mammals include fox, beaver, coyote, chipmunk fox squirrel, snowshoe hare, deer mouse and four species of bats. The small size and isolation of the island make it difficult to maintain a diverse mammal population.

The Lighthouse
The 100 foot (30 m) 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.

The Coast Guard Station
In 1901 the U.S. Life-Saving Service built a station on the island to assist ships in distress. The life-savers could row out in their surfboat or use a line-throwing gun and breeches buoy to rescue stranded sailors. A wreck from this era, the Three Brothers (1911), can be seen from shore at Sandy Point between the dock and the lighthouse. In 1915 the U.S. Life-Saving Service became part of the U.S. Coast Guard.

After World War II, modern equipment ushered in a new era in life-saving. This was demonstrated on the cold, stormy night of November 29, 1960 when the Liberian freighter, Fransisco Morazan ran aground on the southwest shore of the island. Three Coast Guard cutters and a helicopter rescued the fifteen people on board. The battered wreck is still visible today. As a mark of the changing times, the station was permanently closed in 1958.

The Manitou Passage State Underwater Preserve
This preserve was established in 1988 to conserve the historic and archeologic value of over fifty known shipwreck sites, dating from 1835 to 1960. White mooring buoys with a blue band mark popular dive sites and are used to moor dive boats. Do not drop anchor on or near wreck sites. For more information about the preserve, contact a park ranger. These sites are protected by state and/or federal law.

The Farms
Farming developed slowly on the island, but by 1870 most islanders were self-sufficient farmers. Surplus crops were sold to passing ships and mainland markets. The isolation of the island provided an ideal environment for growing prize-winning rye, beans and peas. Today, there are no active farms on the island, but farm buildings, abandoned machinery, the old school and cemeteryare reminders of the past.

Above source: National Park Service

Leelanau Brewing

Our friend Lars has a great eye for photography- Click here for some Great South Manitou Island photos.

Great Video of the newly lit South Manitou Lighthouse.

Thanks to Ken Scott Photography for the video.

last updated 12/9/12 by
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