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Top 5 Things-To-Do While Camping South Manitou Island

So you hung out in Fishtown, took the ferry to South Manitou Island, and learned about micro bears and other things in your orientation brief. Now what? Well, after rushing to get the best campsite and taking off your pack, here are my top five things to do while camping South Manitou Island.

5. Take a lighthouse tour.

One of the most iconic sights on the island is the South Manitou Island Lighthouse. It’s one of the first things you see as the ship pulls in to drop you off on the island, and can even be seen from mainland Michigan. Take a tour to learn more about its history. Plus, the view from the top is amazing.

view of South Manitou Island Lighthouse while approaching on the ferry

view of South Manitou from the top of the lighthouse

If you look closely, you can see Gull Point and North Manitou Island.

Looks like I was happy about seeing the lighthouse.

4. Wake up for sunrise.

For some magical reason, while I was camping here, I kept getting up before sunrise. And let me tell you what, as a girl who usually has the sun wake her up and then curl up in the sleeping bag pretending to sleep, I was actually glad to be up before the sun. Seeing it bring light and life to the world is never a disappointment. As my friend Kristen says, “ They are just so optimistic and full of promise .” On this occasion, I was lucky enough to be able to watch the sun rise and the moon set at the same time!

Sunrise at Weather Station Campground

Sometimes, if you turn around, you can see moonset at the same time.

Sunrise to the left, moonset to the right.

3. Have a campfire… and make friends while you’re at it.

.Camping just isn’t the same without a campfire. Something about gathering the wood, organizing it, watching it catch flame, and keeping it going is very soothing and fun for me. If you’re in the same boat, don’t stay at Popple Campground since fires aren’t allowed. All the other sites have community fire rings. This means that if there’s another group at the fire, you have the opportunity to make new friends. One night, we met a family from Kentucky who shared funny stories, good conversation, and their gourmet dinner of pork tenderloin, veggies, and potatoes with a bottle of Oregon pinot noir and Kentucky bourbon.

Making some new campfire buddies. Yes, that's a port tenderloin and a saucepan above the campfire.

Roasting marshmallows and Jiffy Pop with new friends.

2. Watch the sunset over the dunes.

There are a couple trails going through the dunes, so you might get a little lost trying to find the perfect spot. However, as long as you stay on the trails and head south east, you'll make it back. All that searching for the perfect spot worth it to see the sun sink into the water. On a really clear day, I’ve heard you can even see Wisconsin. Just remember to bring lots of layers and a headlamp or flashlight. It gets pretty windy atop a dune. Plus, you’ll want to stay warm and be able to see your way back to camp after the sun goes down.

Could that be Wisconsin in the distance?

It was so windy, we had to light our Jetboil and cook our food all the way on the other end of this dune crater.

Sunset at the West Side Sand Dunes

1. Hike through the Valley of the Giants.

There are 17 miles of trail on South Manitou Island, and I’ve hiked quite a few of them. However, my favorite by far is the one that winds through the Valley of the Giants (also known as the Old Growth Cedars and the Cedar Forest). These white cedar trees are so old and majestic that you can’t help but stop and look up in awe for a few moments. It’s always nice to connect to nature in a place that helps you realize how small we are in the world.

The Cedar Forest

You could get a neck cramp from looking up to see the treetops.

Here's a reference to how big these trees are. I read that one of the fallen trees showed 528 growth rings... and this one is younger.

This dead, decaying tree brings new life to the forest.

Useful Links:

  • I Hiked South Manitou: My take on the suggested hikes from the map of South Manitou coming soon.

  • Campground information: information and reservation links for South Manitou's three campgrounds

  • Map of South Manitou Island: an overview of the island and its trails

  • Manitou Island Transit: This is the only passenger ferry company that goes to the island. The only other way to arrive is through private boat.

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