South Manitou Island, Michigan



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Places: South Manitou Island

South Manitou Island, which is part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, is located in Lake Michigan about 15 miles east of Leland, Michigan. There have been no permanent residents on the island for many years, and the only way to reach it is by boat. There is no marina, only a dock for the passenger ferry from Leland. When cruising here, if you wish to spend the night (or even just the afternoon) you must drop anchor in the harbor. It is well worth stopping here, though, and is a popular spot for cruisers heading up or down the Michigan coast.

We spent a night at South Manitou in August 2007. We left from Leland harbor on a beautiful sunny morning, crossing the Manitou Passage along the same route taken by the Leland passenger ferry. The route provides you with a good view of the North Manitou Shoal Light.

We anchored out in the harbor, which is protected from all directions except the east. A good wind from that direction would likely make it uncomfortable. Luckily, the prevailing weather pattern is from the west. The weather was calm while we were there.

When we arrived at the island, the harbor was pretty deserted with only three boats anchored there. One of them was a tall ship, but it didn't stay in the harbor long. It hauled anchor and sailed away prior to sundown. Three or four more boats joined us by nightfall.

During the afternoon, we took our dinghy ashore and explored the island. The walk along the crescent beach that lines the harbor was very memorable. From a distance, it reminds you of a Caribbean island with white sand and turquoise water. Up close, though, you notice that the "sand" is mostly gravel sized rocks. We noticed some interesting items that washed up along the beach.

One word of warning: we found the beach to be longer than it first appeared. If you look at the inset at the bottom right corner of NOAA Chart 14912, you'll see an area of shallow water (under 20 feet) along the shoreline. That's where we anchored, and it is a LONG way from there to the visitor center and lighthouse at the south end of the harbor. Also, the sand (or gravel) isn't always easy to walk on. If we had to do it over again, we'd have anchored farther south. Also, we had to drop the anchor twice in order for it to set properly. The bottom had large patches of weeds here and there (which, had we paid attention, we could have seen because the water is so clear) and the anchor - a Fortress - clogged on them the first time. On our second attempt, we were careful to drop the anchor in a clear patch of sandy bottom. After that, it held just fine.

The island contains a number of paths and gravel roads for the hiker. They lead from the visitors center to campsites, a lighthouse, a an exposed shipwreck, old buildings (some still standing, some not), farm implements, lots of nature, and a number of other sights that we didn't get to experience. Our biggest regret is that, because of our limited time there, we didn't get to hike to the other side of the island and see the giant cedars. Hopefully we'll get to see them the next time we are on South Manitou.

The next morning, we weighed anchor and made our way up to Northport, Michigan.



Blog entries from 2007:

South Manitou Island

NOAA Online Charts:


General info about South Manitou Island:

Wikipedia entry
National Park Service page 


Thumbs up:

Getting a good view of the North Manitou Shoal Light out in the  the Manitou Passage.

Visiting the Sleeping Bear Dunes visitor center and hiking around the island.