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S. Manitou Island, Lake Michigan in Michigan - Weekend Trip Report

by  Pyker

A self-supported trip created by Pyker

Trip Overview

Almost three years ago I read a trip report on the open water crossing to South Manitou Island in Lake Michigan and that report was an influencing for me to relocate. Wouldn't you know that I got a chance to make this same trip with the original two ingrates that fueled my passion for Great Lakes passion through writing.

The trip started with me and Airwave meeting in Empire, MI after coffee induced high speed runs away from our respective cities. We checked in with the rangers, filed a float plan, and had breakfast at what quickly became our favorite restaurant in the Northern Lower Peninsula. No more details because we will both get in trouble. We arrived at Glen Haven and following an unceremonious boat packing we launched into the breaking surf and made an uneventful, yet enjoyable 8 mile, 2.5 hour crossing through 3 foot bow quartering seas in 15 mph winds.

We checked in with Rachael, the single friendliest ranger I have met in my entire life. She told us which Bay Campsites were still open and pointed across the bay to a spot about 1 mile away, to which we quickly paddled since Airwave had been there and knew right where we were supposed to be. Seems even Rachael wasn't familiar the campsites from the water because we wound up walking from where we beached the boats almost halfway back to the ranger station. Oh well, 2.5 hour paddle and 2 hours to find a campsite in a mile wide bay. Being tired from the escapade and hungry from the lateness of the day we set camp, had lunch at 4 PM, talked, ate dinner at 6 PM, and frittered the evening away around the fire on the beach.

The next morn the remainder of our party were due and after receiving a cell phone call with more static than conversation we deduced their arrival time, spent a while trying to spot their launch through underpowered binoculars from 8 miles away and made quick work of a walk to Florence Lake in the center of the island which Airwave insisted the CIA and FBI had been cooperating on stocking a genetically enhanced trout which was being used on covert underwater spy missions. We never did find it.

Our return to the ranger post found Reefraider, Longshadow, Brian, and Allen just completing registration and we welcomed them to the island in typical fashion (Hurry up and set up your tents we have paddling to do!) It didn't go that quick but following a noon repast we made our way to several wrecks along the southern shore of the island. The most looming of which is the Francisco Morizan which ran aground on a Christmas Eve decades ago and lays half above and half below the water. The temptation to paddle into the engine room was too great so we took turns gliding into the hulk, only to be overtaken by years of rotting cormorant waste. Still pretty cool though.

Along the shipwreck tour one of the groups developed a new diving technique for viewing the underwater wrecks. With visibility around 50 feet it was tempting to crawl out of the boat at each wreck, but that takes time and you need someone to hold your boat. So the enterprising team donned masks, lay back on the deck and capsized hanging underwater till just out of breath, then effortlessly rolling upright with the lazy sweep of the Greenland paddle. Except for Reefraider, who was still paddling Euro (though I did hear him muttering under his breath later that day as he fondled one of the groups GPs).

The evening brought much festivity including additional philosophical debate which eventually degraded into single syllable grunts. Sunday morn came to quickly as the group prepared to depart for the trip back to the mainland. Following the requisite filing of the float plan and a weather check which read "Wind 10-20 mph, Waves 2 to 4 feet", we launched with the GPS bearer in the lead. The group appeared to be having much fun as first one person would climb a wave and disappear in the trough only 10 feet from you. However, following 0.5 hours slogging into the waves, numerous instances of the bow being buried in the trough up to the cockpit and repeated checks of the GPS we decided that a rate of 1 mph would translate into 8 hours on the water in these conditions (I'm an engineer so I was able to do the math in my head.) The group convened and agreed to beat feet to shore. We checked in with Rachael again and we were informed that while she was watching us get beat up she thought she should check the weather (update Winds 20 to 25 mph, Waves 3 to 5 feet).

Following a run in with a self centered, egotistical, likely Republican shuttle operator it was clear we were on the island for an additional day. Cell phones came out, spouses were called and promised whatever favors necessary, travel agents were called to reschedule the 7:30 AM Monday flights, and bosses were all told we promised to be good boys when we got back. So we scraped together enough food to keep up alive another day and went for a 10 mile hike to the Valley of the Giants and places beyond. Pretty cool area of unlogged native white cedar that we couldn't get Airwave to keep his hands off. It was almost embarrassing (Oooh, I could make 100 paddles out of this one).

We had a final evening then tried again bright and early Monday to beat the winds. On the water by 7 and with winds picking up the group made its way through 3 foot seas to the take out. Of course the beauty was momentarily interrupted by the numerous emergency calls on my cell phone this morning. Then I thought, �They�re adults.� They can last 4 more hours till I get to the office, and I replayed the last 4 days over and over again.

P.S. One of the highpoints included the wonderful park volunteer Pat that gave us a private sunset tour of the South Manitou Lighthouse. THANKS PAT!!!!


National Park Service dispersed campground with pit toilets and potable water provided at regular intervals.


Sea kayaks.


$10 for a 7 day entry pass and $5 per night for a campsite.


From Lansing MI, take 127 then 115 north through Cadillac to the shore, then pick your way north to Empire.

Trip Details

  • Trip Duration: Extended Trip
  • Sport/Activity: Kayaking, Canoeing
  • Skill Level: Advanced
  • Water Type: Flat/Sheltered Water

Trip Location