North Manitou Island – Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Planning my Fourth of July trip this year was an incredibly stressful experience.  The idea was for Emma and I to take a girl’s trip. If Emma, known for being a little flaky, didn’t come, it would be a solo-Shelby trip.  Ideally, I wanted to go to the Apostle Islands, but that didn’t look like it would work.  So Emma and I settled on Isle Royale- but then the ferry schedule didn’t pan out how we needed it.  On to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore….which didn’t have any backcountry sites available.  Finally, I check on Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. North Manitou Island is part of Sleeping Bear Dunes and only allows backpackers.  It is all disperse camping, so no need to reserve backcountry sites.  If we got tickets for the ferry, we were good to go!  Beyond the trouble planning the trip, Brad and I had moved the week before I was going.  I had hoped to get some cool gear shots of what I brought with me, but packing was such a rushed experience. 

North Manitou Island is very small – only about 23 miles of maintained trails, with the large loop around the island being 17 miles.  The hiking is incredibly easy; the elevation doesn’t change much, so it’s a great place to introduce someone to a backcountry experience. It’s definitely a place you should do over a weekend – three days would be perfect.  However, Emma and I had initially planned for a six day trip, since we had been planning for other locations.

Emma and I were planning to leave Thursday night to give us plenty of time for our Friday afternoon ferry.  Thursday afternoon, Spencer told me he would be joining us and that he and Emma would be picking me up shortly.  It wouldn’t be a trip without some trouble – it took us over an hour to figure out what to do with my car.  Finally, we were on the road and driving to our hotel….that didn’t really go as planned either. I wrote a whole horrible review on Yelp, no sense in re-hashing it here.

After a night of no sleep, we stopped at Ursa Major Bistro for breakfast. My breakfast came heaped with toast all over the eggs- thankfully Spencer asked for them to make me a completely new plate. After eating quickly, we finished our drive and arrived in Fishtown.  It’s a cute, albeit touristy, part of Leland, MI that celebrates it’s fishing heritage.  Spencer and Emma got some sandwiches and organized their packs before we headed out on the ferry.  The water was so choppy, I took a Dramamine for the first time and could hardly keep my eyes open!

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Spencer, myself, and Emma on the ferry!
Once we got to the island and had a quick orientation, we were off.  We decided to do a short 5 mile trek to an inland lake and camp there for the night. The hiking was so easy that it didn’t feel like five miles had gone by at all. Previous trips with more elevation had left us feeling like we didn’t hike enough. Emma and I set up our tent closer to the water, while Spencer opted for a more secluded location. We ate dinner along the water, but with our lack of sleep, Emma and I were in bed by 8 pm.

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Inland Lake – Lake Manitou, our campsite for night #1. 
For our second day, I wanted to camp along Lake Michigan.  The water was so beautiful, especially compared to the Lake Michigan I see daily in Milwaukee.  We also decided to hike the sand dunes a bit that day.  It was a bit gray and gloomy out.  We ended up taking a nap on the beach, bushwacking our way up the steepest part of the island, and finding a beautiful campsite for the evening.

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Coming down the sand dunes to the beach. 
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Beach naptime.  Our sleeping pads got mighty sandy! 
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We camped off of Johnson’s Place and this was the gorgeous beach we were near.  We had dinner, watched the sunset, and sunbathed here. 
We woke up on Day 3 to an incredible downpour of rain.  Spencer yelled over from his tent that he was not hiking today; it was too rainy.  Emma and I decided to follow Spencer’s lead and take this day to relax.  We fell back asleep, but I woke up to Emma eating cheese out of my drysack, which was fun. Once the rain cleared, we had a really relaxing day.  We played cards, laid out on the beach, and had some fun girl talk about our respective boyfriends.  Also, I fell off a rotten log and scraped my leg.  It’s still healing and gross.

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So gross. 
For our fourth day of the trip, Emma and I wanted to see the cemetery and a section called Bourniques. Spencer wasn’t interested in moving, so we set out alone.  It was about a 7 mile trek.  We actually had one hill to walk up! Emma was keen to eat lunch by the dead people, so we stopped at the cemetery for lunch. Bourniques was actually a few abandoned buildings.   The island has a lot of cool history, but we wished there were signs to explain that history as we were there.  I didn’t take any pictures of the cemetery because my phone was dying, but I did get some of Bourniques.  We camped along Lake Michigan again.  Camping by water is my favorite thing, which makes island camping trips ideal.

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One of the Bourniques buildings. 
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Another abandoned building on the island. 
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Our campsite near Bourniques.
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Emma modeling the rice side we cooked up for dinner on night four. 
We had a lot of fun, just Emma and I.  We talked a lot about our futures, goals, trips we want to take, places we’ve been, the most meaningful part of our relationships, etc.  Girls camping trips can get super deep! With the hiking being so simple, we had so much free time to play on the beach and talk.  It was incredibly relaxing (until I started worrying about work, but I’m just a crazy person).

On Day Five,  there wasn’t much of the island we hadn’t explored.  Remember, it’s a great place for a 3 day trip. Emma and I decided to hike back out to where the ferry initially dropped us off. We figured we could explore the island’s village and take advantage of the one outhouse on the island.  We ran into Spencer; he’d spent his evening looking for us but wasn’t able to locate our campsite.  We chatted with some fellow hikers about gear (Spencer’s favorite topic of conversation) and decided to call the ferry company to see if we could get off the island a day early.  Luckily, they had room and we were able to take the ferry back to the mainland.  North Manitou Island is absolutely gorgeous and very fun, but 5 days is a bit too long to spend on the island.

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Emma playing with a frog
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Ready for the day!
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Most of the trails are wooded, like this, so you are hiking in a green tunnel. 
I’d love to go back with Brad and spend a weekend here.  It’s very peaceful and really fun.  If you are interested in backpacking, I’d recommend going here.


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