The Chippawa tell a story of the Sleeping Bear Dunes that goes like this. A long time ago there was a great fire that chased a family of bears to the eastern shores of Wisconsin. The mother bear, Mishe-Mokwa, and her two cubs attempted to swim across Lake Michigan to safety. Mishe-Mokwa made it, but the two cubs drowned. The Great Spirit covered the cubs with sand and they became North and South Manitou. Meanwhile, Mishe-Mokwa sits at shore forever waiting for her children to return
As part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore North Manitou is protected wilderness. Other than the ranger station and a few maintenance buildings the 22 square mile island is absolutely primitive. The isolation, shorelines, pristine lakes, and maintained trails make North Manitou Island one of the best backpacking spots in America.
5 Great Camping Spots on North Manitou Island
If you’re looking for convenience Village Campground is your spot. The ferry drops off here, so you can bring plenty of gear and food and not have to carry it far. You’ll also have access to clean drinking water and porta potties. The Village Campground is also the only place on the island that permits fires.
The Cemetery is approximately 2.5 miles from Village Campground. The moderate hike is mostly flat while it winds through inland forest and sandy beach front. When you reach the Cemetery take a left (east) towards the patch of tress. There you’ll find a handful of tenting spots and a great viewing area that overlooks Lake Michigan and mainland Michigan. Wake up early and enjoy an unforgettable sunrise.
North Manitou Island is so well known for it’s coastlines that many backpackers neglect to hike out to Lake Manitou. It’s a shame, because Lake Manitou has plenty to offer. One ranger is quoted to say the lake has such good fishing that hooking a fish loses its fun. Lake Manitou is approximately 2.4 miles from Village Campground. There are plenty of tent sites to choose from as you head west from Bennon’s Place. Pick one. Toss in a fishing line and enjoy yourself.
A little more than 6 miles from Village Campground you’ll find a little slice of heaven. If you approach from the south end of the island after you pass Johnson’s place there’s an unmarked trail that leads to an impressive view of South Manitou Island and Mishe-Mokwa. It’s worth noting that a short, steep approach is required to reach the shoreline. The beach is mostly rocks and pebbles.
Cat Hole Area
There really isn’t a bad spot on the island, but the Cable Box Area feels a bit more dramatic than the rest of the island. Enjoy the expansive views on the rising bluffs or relax on the sandy beach. Depending on the weather you’ll either want to camp in the open field above the bluffs or head a bit further into the woods.