“An incredible gem in the midwest, featuring great backpacking on a remote island in Lake Michigan.
— Rafi Wilkinson
Fall Colors · Lake · Swimming · Views · Wildlife
A backcountry camping permit is required to camp. Camping is allowed anywhere with the exception of staying 300 feet from water and off the trail. Wood fires are only allowed at the campground near the ferry dock. There is a potable water source at the ferry docks as well. Pack extra food as bad storms can prevent the ferry from running. Pack out all trash. Pets are prohibited. No bicycles or motorized vehicles are allowed.
This featured run is a great 2-night, 3-day backpacking trip. The trail is well marked and has gentle inclines. The stars are incredible as there is no light pollution. Lake Michigan is clear and feels great after a day on trail.
Need to Know
Lake Manitou, a lake within the island, offers great fishing but be aware that you'll get a really bad case of swimmer's itch if you wade into the lake. Please Google "swimmer's itch" if you are not aware of this medical condition caused by parasites in the water (please note that you'll not get swimmer's itch in Lake Michigan).
Get to the ferry dock early on your departure day. The ferry WILL NOT wait for you.
Pack extra food and fuel. Pay attention to the weather. The ferry may not run if there are severe storms. Plan accordingly.
This island is a backpacking gem in the Midwest. North Manitou Island is part of the National Park Service's Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore. The island is almost entirely covered in forests, but offers incredible views of Lake Michigan from the shoreline. The water of Lake Michigan is insanely clear at this latitude and provides for great sunrises and sunsets. Mosquitoes and flies can be bad during parts of the year, so plan accordingly.
The main trails are clearly marked and the footing good with packed dirt and gravel. The trails are wide and were once roads or logging rail lines. The secondary and "historic" trails are not being maintained and are becoming hard to follow and are clogged with downed trees. I wish the NPS would maintain these trails as most people that come to the island want solitude and these trails would better distribute backpackers.
The Northern Loop Trail is easily done in three days, with the first night spent on the west side of the island at Crescent City Beach and the second night on the east side at John Maleski Homestead. The trail grade is easy with the only moderate pull being the "Old Grade" which is north of the Crescent City Beach. The Old Grade is a 1.5 mile stretch of 5-6% grade that runs uphill from south to north.
From the ferry dock, head south towards the cemetery. After the 1.1 miles, turn right (west) at the trail junction towards Crescent City. This is a wooded, 4-mile segment the runs across the island. At the end of the four miles, the trail will descend a short, steep hill to a trail junction. Turn right (north) for 0.6 miles and look for the singletrack trail to Crescent City. This sandy trail leads to a wonderful beach. There are ample campsites throughout the grasses and tree clusters. Note that there are no buildings or ruins left of this town that once existed.
On the second day, return to the main trail and turn left (north). The trail follows an old railroad line known as the Old Grade. This moderate section is the hardest part of the whole trip, but is easy compared to running in the mountains. The trail will bend to the east across the top of Lake Manitou. Follow the trail to a junction that is just past a footbridge (Pole Bridge) across a small stream. At the junction, turn left towards the John Maleski Homestead. The trail will open up into old farm fields that were once part of the homestead (no buildings or ruins). Nature is now taking the fields back. Follow the trail until a junction that is at the edge of a steep bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. Camp the second night along this bluff.
For the third day, leisurely make your way south for 3-miles along the edge of Lake Michigan. Shortly after passing the island campground, look for the village docks and the preserve life-saving station.
The island does have a small campground. However, the beauty of North Manitou Island is its isolation. Enjoy the ability to strike out on your own and camp in the wilderness.