North Manitou Island

North Manitou Island

North Manitou Island of Leelanau County, Michigan

Hiking North Manitou IslandCanoe or Kayak Manitou Island

Trail Distance:

Over 25 miles long.

Trail Description:

North Manitou Island is managed as wilderness with the exception of a 27 acre (11 hectare) area around the Village. Visiting the island is a primitive experience emphasizing solitude, a feeling of self-reliance and a sense of exploration. The primary visitor activities are backpacking and camping. Travel in the wilderness area is by foot only.

Deer hunting is also allowed on the island each year during the late fall. See below and also click on North Manitou Island Deer Hunt for more information.


North Manitou Island is 7-3/4 miles (12.5 km) long by 4-1/4 miles (6.85 km) wide and has 20 miles (32 km) of shoreline. The highest point on the island is in the northwest corner, 1,001 feet (305 m) above sea level or 421 feet (128 m) above Lake Michigan. The topography varies considerably on the island. Low, sandy, open dune country on the southeast side grades into inter fingering high sand hills and blowout dunes on the southwest side of the island.

Lake Manitou [elevation 675 feet (206 m)] occupies a lowland in the north central portion of the island. To the west of the lake the terrain becomes very rugged as you approach the west and northwest bluffs. The bluffs are very incised and steep between Swenson's and the Pot Holes. Its 300-foot (90 m) high face is deeply gullied by erosion.

Biology of North Manitou Island

The North Manitou wilderness environment is a reflection of the interesting wildlife and natural flora of the island. The island is one of a chain of islands between Michigan's Upper and Lower Peninsulas. Migrating birds pass from one island to another to cross Lake Michigan. These include many species of warblers and other songbirds, woodcock and snipe. The contiguous forests of the island offer shelter for these birds. Bald Eagles are also often seen flying over the island.

Some beaches are home for the Piping Plover, which is listed as an endangered species. Although there are only about thirty (30) nesting pairs in all of the Great Lakes, 3 to 4 plover nests are found on the remote beaches of the island. The 20 miles of beach are habitat for other shore birds as well, whether they are migrating or nesting. One often sees many species of waterfowl along the shoreline, including mergansers, scaup, goldeneyes, Canada geese, and even loons.

The island does not have the variety of mammals common to the mainland. Beaver are here because they are good swimmers. White-footed mice and chipmunks have made it to the island by methods unknown; raccoons were introduced but there are no skunks or porcupines. White-tailed deer were artificially introduced and have greatly altered the native vegetation. With reduced deer numbers, the forest flowers such as violets, trillium, and hepatica, as well as seedlings, white pine and cedar, can be seen once again.

The island is distant from the mainland, which protects the native plants from non-native invasive plants. The island is important for the native plants that grow there. People have accidentally carried the seeds of some non-native plants to the island, and the invasive non-native plants are unfortunately thriving. To prevent the accidental introduction of other non-native plants, such as Leafy Spurge and Garlic Mustard, we ask that you wipe your boots on mats provided on the mainland dock, to remove non-native seeds that you may be carrying.

The People of North Manitou Island

The island has seen the heyday of the lumber industry, has known farming, has watched a lighthouse and the U.S. Life-Saving Service come and go, and has been an escape for summer residents seeking solitude. Today,little remains of these activities. A few buildings are scattered throughout the island. Some appear usable while others are in obvious decay. Small family cemeteries are a sign of the time when residents once populated the island. The village area is composed of houses which were once used as summer homes or hunting lodges.

As you hike the island, you will see old buildings dating from the logging and farming days. MANY OF THESE ARE VERY DECREPIT AND DANGEROUS TO ENTER. Open fields, old orchards, stumps and weed-covered two-track roads speak of bygone times.

Planning Your Visit

North 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. Be sure to return to the dock in time for the boat departure. Only emergency medical assistance is available on the island.

Visitors to North Manitou Island are 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 10:00 am, or at any fee collection station within the park.

  • Boating - Docking is limited to 20 minutes. Fuel service is not available. There are no protected anchoring locations anywhere around the island.
  • Hiking - 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.
    CAUTION: Hiking on steep bluffs is dangerous.
  • Camping - Wilderness camping regulations are in effect on North Manitou Island. A backcountry permit and fee payment must be completed before camping. All trash must be packed off the island. Camping is prohibited within 300 feet (90 m) of the Lake Michigan high water mark, lakes, streams, ponds, springs, buildings or other camps. Camping is prohibited on any trail.

The Village Campground contains eight designated campsites, two fire rings and one outhouse. There is a limit of two tents and four people per site.

Open FIRES are prohibited in the wilderness area. Use gas or alcohol stoves. Fires are permitted in the community fire rings at the Village Campground. Waste food or empty food containers should not be burned in the village fire pits. Please pack out all your trash.

Potable WATER is available only at the Ranger Station. There are outhouses only at the Ranger Station and Village Campground. All water should be boiled and/or treated with appropriate purifiers. Washing is not permitted at/in any water source. All human waste and toilet paper must be buried at least 6 inches (15 cm) deep.

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


Entrance Fee For Mainland and Islands:
Park Pass (Valid for 7 days): $10.00
Annual Pass (Valid for 12 months):$20.00

North Manitou Island Backcountry Camping Permit Fees:

Camping at the Village or under wilderness camping conditions (no established campsites), $5.00 per night
Groups, up to 10 people, wishing to wilderness camp, $10.00 per night

Please note: To limit impacts to the resource, groups are limited to no more than 10 people.


In 1926 four male and five female deer were introduced to the island with the hope that they would multiply to a number large enough for hunting. Since then the deer population has grown significantly due to lack of predation and artificial winter feeding supported for many years by the island owners. By 1981 there were an estimated 2,000 deer on the island. The island vegetation could not sustain such a large herd, so many deer starved. The surviving deer over browsed the island, eating all of the Yew and young Maple trees. Through reduction of the deer herd by hunting, the vegetation has recovered to some extent. Hunts (by permit only) have occurred annually since 1985.

Click here for Deer Hunt Information and Permits or call the park at 231-326-5134.

Return to Leelanau County, MI Trails Page

North Manitou Island Map

Permission and information sources are from Contributers to this Web Site, the Department of Natural Resources,, National Park Service, and the USDA Forest Service.


See a correction or something that needs to be deleted? provide the URL of the page email


Web Design ContractorsWeb Ranking Consultants
Michigan Web Design by The Internet Presence, LLC