North Manitou Island- You’d Better Really Want It (pt2)

This is the second article on a trip some college friends and I took to a remote island in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, North Manitou Island, last weekend. See the first part of this article here.

One of my favorite things about Lake Michigan, going back to my time working at Camp Arcadia, which is located right on the lake, are the glorious sunsets, with the sun seeming to drop down into the water. Since we were camping on the east side of North Manitou Island, we were going to miss the sunsets. Seeing them would have necessitated a 5.5 mile hike, most of which would be in the dark. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me to get up and watch sunrise instead (maybe my subconscious balking at getting our of bed at 530AM), but I was glad that I woke up so early on our second day on the island with the idea already formed. I quickly grabbed my camera and headed down to the beach. I was so glad I did.

I walked up and down the beach taking pictures of this outstanding sunrise. The seagulls were out reveling in the early morning, their presence in the pictures gave them some perspective. By the time I’d headed back to camp, I had taken over 300 pictures during the hour I spent on the beach.

The beach where we also took our frigid swim

When my friend Keath finally woke up, the two of us put our bathing suits on and headed down to the beach to wash up in the lake. I’d bought biodegradable soap especially for this at the camp store before I left. I knew the water would be cold, but I also knew I couldn’t go on without bathing, since I’d gotten comprehensively dirty and obscenely sweaty on our previous day’s hike. I had use some alcohol wipes the previous evening (mostly to try and wipe the poison ivy oil off me), and I knew that wasn’t going to be enough. The water was cold, and withing minutes, any part of my body completely in the water was numb. I found out late that the water was only 51 degrees. As cold as the water was, I was so glad I’d done it, and I felt refreshed to start another day.

Our pretrip plan had been to hike the whole southern loop (16.5 miles) on day two. I knew that wasn’t going to happen when I went to bed the previous day. I settled on the idea of simply hiking down the east side of the island, seeing the site near the southeastern corner of the island, and hiking back. Keath decided that that would be the most prudent option for him as well, while Tone, an avid biker who is in better shape than the two of us, decided he would do the whole loop.

Settler’s Cemetery

The corner we chose to visit had two highlights. The first was the small settlers’ cemetery, located in an open field less than a half mile off the main trail. This cemetery contained some old graves (as early as the 1910s) but also a few newer ones (from the 1990s). We recognized some of the names on the markers as the names of those settler families who names also appeared other places on the island.

The Bournique House

A short walk away from the cemetery was the Bourniques. This was the first group of buildings outside the village that we had seen. The main house seemed to be in decent shape, I suspect that the NPS or some other historical society has been keeping it from collapsing.

Tone headed off on his hike (I took this in case disaster struck)
The Katie Shepherd Summer Hotel

Tone headed off to continue the full southern loop, Keath and I made our way back toward the campground veering off the main trail to the smaller trail which took us through the ‘Village’ area. Most of the islands remaining buildings are on this stretch of land, ten side-by-side plots on a bluff overlooking the lifeguard station (now the ranger station) and dock. These 10 plots and associated buildings on “Cottage Row” are from North Manitou’s brief period as a resort island for wealthy families from Chicago.

The Lifeguard Station Complex from the dock

The next morning we rose and packed up camp, expecting the ferry to leave at the scheduled 11:15 departure time. Instead, we were informed by rangers that only the large boat would run that day and would have to stop at South Manitou Island first before coming to get us. This allowed us and extra hour to explore the Village Area and Lifeguard Station Complex.

The dock and Lifeguard Complex from Cottage Row
Keath napping while waiting for the ferry

So, that just leaves one question unanswered. Why include “You’d better really want it” as part of the title of this post. It should be obvious (if it’s not you can completely blame my writing) but, my advice to anyone who wants to visit North Manitou island would be those words. You’d better want what it has to offer- that is, a splendidly isolated camping and hiking experience, with all the trials and tribulations that sometimes go along with such an adventure. For the serious backcountry hiker, it is hard to imagine this island holding anything they are unprepared for. For the casual visitor, it’s probably better to have a pretty good idea what you are headed into. For the record, Keath was the only one who wound up with poison ivy, and that was only a small patch on one of his ankles. Unlike 15 years ago, we ate pretty well, didn’t get comprehensively lost going off trail, didn’t fall down any bluffs, didn’t sprain any ankles, and didn’t wind up drenched from forgetting the proper supplies for our tent.

I can say I had a pretty good time. Am I ready to go back next year like Keath wants? Uh……

3 Responses to “North Manitou Island- You’d Better Really Want It (pt2)”

  1. Heading to South Manitou for the first time here soon…can't wait to see what these islands are all about. Hopefully I'll make it to North Manitou sometime!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Do they have a Best Western? I'd settle for a Hilton…as always, beautiful writing husband.

  3. Kris Koeller says:

    Great photos. Quite the adventure!


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