South Manitou Island

South Manitou Island at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Summer road trip to Michigan- Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Isle Royale National Park and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

And Here’s our route: Michigan Trip

Following our trip to Isle Royale National Park, we decided to spend a couple of days at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  Once we had our backpacks unloaded off the Isle Royale Queen IV, we packed our car and drove about an hour to Houghton, Michigan. We ate dinner at a small Chinese buffet and checked in to the Holiday Inn Express in Houghton after first stopping at a drug store for nail polish and foot lotion to help repair the damage hiking Isle Royale had done to our feet. While we already missed being in the wilderness of Isle Royale, it felt like heaven to take a long hot shower and climb into a soft bed.  We spent a relaxing night doing pedicures on all the girls and watching the Summer Olympics on TV before we all went to sleep early.

The next morning we ate the hotel’s continental breakfast than headed out on the road to drive the 7 hours to Leland, Michigan where we would spend a couple of days and explore Sleeping Bear Dunes. Arriving in the late afternoon, we stopped at a grocery and picked up food to make dinner- steaks, salad, watermelon and garlic bread which we cooked on the grill outside our cabin at the Leland Lodge.  We also bought picnic supplies for our day trip to South Manitou Island which is a small island located in Lake Michigan maintained by Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Our cabin at Leland Lodge was very outdated (felt straight from the 1970’s!) but still comfortable with 2 bedrooms plus a pull out couch in the family room as well as a full kitchen. The lodge has since been bought by new owners and I hear they are making significant updates.  That’s great because our cabin was in a great location where we could walk to many restaurants and shops as well as the Manitou Island Transit dock to catch the ferry to South Manitou Island. We ate an early dinner and watched the Summer Olympics on TV as it started to storm outside.

The next morning we woke up to warm but cloudy skies and we walked the few blocks over to an adorable small bakery and coffee shop called the Sisson’s Main Street Specialties for a decadent breakfast of cinnamon rolls, scones and bagels to eat with hot chocolate and coffee. Full of the delicious treats we stopped at a small grocery to buy Dramamine for the boat ride since the wind had picked up and the water looked pretty rough as we headed over towards Historic Fishtown where the ferry was located.

Stone House Bread Cafe in Leland, Michigan

Check in at the South Manitou Ferry was at 9:15 AM and we had time to look around the area before our 10 AM departure.  We browsed the gift shop and bought our souvenir magnet, picked up some bread for our picnic at a cute little cheese and sandwich store called the Village Cheese Shanty (sandwiches from here would have been a great picnic on the island) and posed for a few pictures.

Manitou Island Transit to South Manitou Island

Mishe-Mokwa Ferry to South Manitou Island

Ferry to South Manitou Island

Once on the ferry, we were glad we had taken the Dramamine since the captain was warning the passengers that the lake was pretty rough that morning due to the storm the night before.  Crew members were even passing out bags to use “just in case.”  We headed to the top deck so we could enjoy the fresh air and hopefully avoid sea sickness.  It was windy and cool on the deck and one of the crew members lent Garrett his jacket which was above and beyond nice. The boat sounded its horn and we were on our way for the 1 hour and 15 minute journey to South Manitou Island.

On Board the Mishe-Mokwa to South Manitou Island

As soon as we got out of the harbor the waves picked up and we all had fun getting jostled around.  None of us felt sick although we saw a few people who were not so lucky hanging over the side of the boat. Thank you Dramamine! The ride to South Manitou was really exciting and it seemed we were at the island very quickly. We passed the beautiful South Manitou Lighthouse and unloaded at the dock for 5 hours of exploring.

South Manitou Island Lighthouse

South Manitou Island at Sleeping Bear Dunes

Exploring South Manitou Island

Our first stop after taking our park sign picture was to eat our picnic at the tables set up in the yard of the Ranger Station before we toured the historic buildings located in the village area. These buildings at one time housed members of the Coast Guard. We then hiked the 2.5 miles to the bluff overlooking the shipwrecked Morazan which had wrecked near the island in 1960. On our way to the shipwreck, a tractor pulling passengers passed us taking those who didn’t feel like hiking to various scenic parts of the island. We definitely didn’t want to miss the ferry back to Leland so we knew we had to hike quickly to get back on time.

Shipwreck Morazan on South Manitou Island

Valley of the Giants

After viewing the shipwreck we continued on the trail towards the Valley of the Giants, a grove of beautiful and huge cedar trees. There was a boardwalk trail around the giant trees and we saw a pretty snake on the way too. The hiking trails were easy and we made good time which we were glad of since we wanted time to relax on the shore before heading back to the mainland.

Valley of the Giants at South Manitou Island

South Manitou Island

After walking through the grove of cedars we hiked the 3 miles back to the ferry dock to relax on the beach for an hour or so. There are 3 camping areas on the island, and several groups were hanging out by the docks waiting to get on the ferry following their camp outs.  It seemed like a great place to camp with a group of friends. The Lake Michigan water is clear and beautiful and we had a blast splashing in the waves. The weather was now sunny and warm and it was very relaxing to hang out by the water.

Playing in Lake Michigan at South Manitou Island

Naomi and I on South Manitou Island

Swimming in Lake Michigan on South Manitou Island


After a while, the ferry captain blew the horn to let us know it was time to head back to the mainland.  Again we were thankful for the 12 hour Dramamine we had taken earlier as people were definitely getting sick during the journey back to Leland.  Luckily we felt fine in the fresh air on the top deck but we really had to hold on to the railings as we were getting tossed about in the waves. We again had a great time on the boat ride and Dave and I enjoyed a beer from the on-board bar. About halfway through the ride Garrett and I headed down to the very front of the boat where the splashing water sprayed up on us as the boat bounced in the waves. It was really fun and exciting on the front of the boat and we got soaked.

Sophie on Board the Mishe-Mokwa to South Manitou Island

Dave on the Mishe-Mokwa from South Manitou Island

Garrett on the Mishe-Mokwa Returning From South Manitou Island

Bluebird Restaurant

When we arrived at the Leland dock we unloaded and walked the 1/2 mile back to our cabin where we showered and cleaned up before walking to dinner at the Bluebird Restaurant.  We ate at the tavern section of the restaurant and were happy to be seated outside on a patio overlooking the water.  We all enjoyed our dinner- the weather was beautiful, the servers were friendly and the food was really good.

Ribs at the Bluebird Tavern

Ribs at the Bluebird Tavern

We all really enjoyed our trip to Leland and South Manitou Island.  I think the island would be a great place to camp for a few days as it would be fun and relaxing to hang out by the lake swimming and fishing. The boat ride was a blast and made even better by the friendly crew on the Mishe-Mokwa. I hope we get back there someday!

Have you been to South Manitou Island?  I’d love to hear about it!

Happy Travels!

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