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South Manitou Island


Grab a pack, climb aboard a rusty ferry, and get ready to party like it's 1834. This day trip takes you through a historic ghost town, an ancient cedar forest, near a shipwreck, and around some of the most beautiful and secluded beaches in northern Michigan.


COORDINATES: 45.012729, -86.094570

LEVEL: Beginner (anyone)  

TIME: Medium-long (Half a day or more)   

ACCESSIBILITY: Easy (parking on site, kid friendly).

Hiking, swimming, SUP/kayaking, hammocking, wildlife viewing

  • Hike around the island to discover the history of the ghost town.
  • Check out the lighthouse when you leave the dock. 
  • Hike the southern part of the island to see the Francisco Morazan shipwreck, astonishingly close to shore, visible, and intact.
  • Hike in the ancient forest surrounded by the world's oldest and largest known northern white cedars. The largest is about 18 ft and over 500 years old; but toppled a few years ago. Get your picture with it! 

WHEN TO GO: Catch the early morning boat to allow plenty of time for fun. Buy your tickets and get the schedule here (be sure to reserve them in advance): 

Manitou Island Transit information

Take the Manitou Island Transit ferry in Leland. There are several ways to get there, but we think M-22 is the prettiest, obviously. From Traverse City, head up M-22 just past Suttons Bay, and turn left on 204/E. Duck Lake Rd. Continue about 7 miles until it reaches M-22 again (you're basically cutting through the M-22 loop) and head right. Leland is about 3 miles north; take a left in the middle of town (River St) and you'll hit the ferry station in Fishtown. TIP: Have a friend keep the car running nearby, drop off your stuff, get your tickets, maps, and park pass, and then head to long-term parking and walk back to catch your boat.

WHAT TO BRING: Drinking water and/or a filtration system, food, comfortable daypack, camera, good hiking shoes, swimsuits, hammocks.

OPTIONAL SIDE TREK: Go early and take a walk around historic Fishtown, a collection of shops and old shanties—a booming place for fishermen back in the day.

KICK IT UP A NOTCH: Bring a kayak or SUP. Manitou Island Transit won't rent them, but they will transport them for you (for a fee).

TIPS: Be sure to book your reservation in advance; the boat fills up fast on weekends and popular holidays. 

You'll need a park pass, but don't worry—you can get everything you need at the ferry station that morning. Just plan an extra 20 minutes for parking and permits.

Pack an extra day's worth of food! At least a few times a year, the ferry has to suspend it's service due to weather (think 10 foot swells) and leave the islanders stranded. It's happened twice to our field researcher, and she's never regretted being prepared.

Watch for poison ivy, the island is covered in it. Here's how to spot it. 


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Nothing makes you fall in love with Lake Michigan more than crossing over it on a ferry, abandoning yourself on a remote island, and spending your day like its 1834.