You can purchase tickets ahead in advance on the Manitou Island Transit’s website or by giving them a call. During peak summer months it’s important to book as soon as you’re able to as spots will fill up on the ferry. During the summer months the ferry leaves from Leland in the morning and picks visitors back up from the island in the afternoon. It’s important to note that if you miss your return trip from the island you will be spending the night on the island.
Before heading out on the ferry be sure to get a lunch pack from the Village Cheese Shanty. Their sandwiches are absolutely amazing. You can also call in advance and place an order that they’ll have ready for you.
If you want to do a quick trip out to the island and sit around on the beautiful beaches, just head over to the South Manitou Lighthouse for the day. The lighthouse was in operation from 1858 to 1958 and stands 100 feet tall. The only other lighthouse in Leelanau County is located in Northport.
Find out on your way over if the lighthouse will be open. The 117 step spiral staircase leading to the top of the lighthouse has some spectacular views.
A lake on an island on a lake. You can walk by the lake on the way to the old growth forests or the shipwreck. Stop by to wade out into the shallow lake with a sandy bottom.
The Schoolhouse, Farms & Cemetery
South Manitou has a lot of history as a safe haven and road stop for shippers carting goods and material around the Great Lakes. With the completion of the Erie Canal in 1826 a huge amount of commercial navigation started in the Great Lakes, and the Manitou Passage was one of the few stopping points between Chicago and the Straits of Mackinac. Because of this South Manitou Island maintained a residential population to support the island port.
Walking around each of these landmarks shows the deep history of the island dating back to the early 1800s. While the last permanent resident of the island left sometime in the 1950s (I think) the cemetery is the final resting place for many of the island’s first residents.
At one point farming was a successful and necessary activity on the island. Near the cemetery are several very old homes, barns and farmlands. Check with the guides to see if the schoolhouse, built in 1899, will be open to visit.
Old Growth Forests
On the southwest corner of the island are old growth white cedars known as The Valley of the Giants. These are home to some of the largest trees in all of Michigan, towering to over twice the size of average white cedars. Many believe that the trees were spared because their bark was infused with too much wind blown sand, which would ruin the blades of lumbermen.
Bluffs & Perched Dunes
Manitou Island Transit folks do not recommend that day trippers try and make this hike. It’s nearly an 8 mile round trip, an elevation of about 300 feet and there is lots of poison ivy along the path, so pants are essential. However I was able to do it with some time to spare and it is well worth the hike. On a clear day I think it has the most spectacular views in all of the Leelanau peninsula area, beating out views from Pyramid Point and Sleeping Bear Dunes in my opinion.
Francisco Morazan Shipwreck
If you’re planning on making it out to the Bluffs or the Old Growth Forests a must stop is the shipwreck of the Francisco Morazan. The ship was grounded in a storm in 1960 off the south shore of the island and has since been left there. The majority of the ship sticks out over the surface of the water and is a favorite nesting spot for birds.
Image source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/78/Southmanitoulighthouse.jpg