A Running Hike on South Manitou Island

Sometime last summer, Tony and I created a list of things we wanted to do before the weather turned. Having the list helped focus some of our free time, but we didn’t cross all our items off, and so they popped back up on this year’s list. After living in northern Michigan through four summers, we finally ventured over to the Manitou Islands…specifically a day trip to South Manitou.

It’s a popular place, but only one ferry undertakes the voyage (about 15 miles direct…which is definitely not how we traveled), so it never gets too crowded. Or so I imagine. We did just make our first trip on the last day they do daytrips, so I could be making this up. But it stands to reason.

The boat ride lasts about an hour and a half, and while accommodations are Spartan, they’re also pretty comfortable. We faced into the wind for the majority of the trip, so incoming waves pounded the boat, eventually dousing the semi-interior carpets in a constant stream. It didn’t feel dangerous or daring – just amusing.

North Manitou Shoal Lighthouse – getting close to our destination


This sweet lady (in her 70’s) stood here the entire journey – thoroughly enjoying the crashing waters
lady who loves life

The lighthouse greeted us from afar, and soon we were within the calmer waters of the bay.
South Manitou Lighthouse

The lighthouse was high on our sight-seeing priority list, on the way to other list items, and close to where we disembarked, we headed there first. It is a lovely structure in beautiful condition, built in the mid 1800’s. Maybe next time we’ll climb inside.

We didn’t linger. With time slipping quickly by, we hopped onto the trail to the (by our reckoning) main attraction.

Canopied trail – typical of the island’s trails
canopied trail

One hour later, we arrived at the high bluffs overlooking the Francisco Morazan shipwreck. Carrying a motley cargo lineup, she ran ashore of the shoal November 29, 1960. All the crew escaped, and eventually some of the cargo was salvaged.


Zoomed-in panorama; click for more detail
Francisco Morazan shipwreck-2

Though the remains of the wreckage were supremely cool, they were also buffeted by large waves…and were also waaaay down a sandy bluff with no elevator back to the top. So, again we shouldered our packs, and rejoined the main trail continuing west to the perched sand dunes. Checking the time, we picked up the pace to avoid an accidental overnight stay.

The trail narrowed and then finally took an upward turn as we began the sandy ascent up the dunes. At the top of the first rise, we quickly decided it was imperative to keep climbing, but we were in a serious hurry. We tossed our packs down – gearless except for my trusty camera – and ran the rest of the way. Sweating, muscles burning, and out of breath, we marveled at the sights: 360-degrees of Lake Michigan along with a ghost forest and commanding views of the Sleeping Bear Dunes (back on the mainland), North Manitou Island, and the entirety of South Manitou.

Atop the perched dunes – North Island visible in the top photo, SBD in the bottom (click to embiggen)
North Manitou from South Manitou
Sleeping Bear Dunes from South Manitou
I’ll take a picture of you if you take a picture of me 😉

Vanity photos snapped, we recommenced our run. Truth be told, we quite enjoyed the descent.

Another time check revealed that we had about an hour and forty minutes to cover the trail that had taken us two hours on our way in. So of course, we forked off the main path to explore the old growth cedars. Once again, we found ourselves jogging up a steep rise. At least this time it was packed turf instead of shifting sands. The diversion was again worth the sweat. The cedars were Jurassic beasts.
Heather and giant white cedar

With no remaining checklist-sights to divert our attention, we made good time back en route to the dock – arriving early enough to enjoy some of the trail mix we had been packing.

While we had been gallivanting, the winds had kicked up and the lake was a mess of six-foot rolling swells. Again, not dangerous, but definitely a seasick concern. (We packed stomach-settling mint gum: crises averted!) Somewhere in the middle of the passage, we came across a tallship, bucking in the waves. I think even a tub of gum would have been ineffectual.

I definitely recommend checking out larger versions of the right two images

And as we neared the mainland, we savored the last views of some of our favorite hiking destinations – places we visit so that we can look out to where we were currently sitting 🙂

Different views of Pyramid Point

Back on land, we were exhausted (and gross), but eminently glad we had (finally) made the journey. Perhaps we won’t wait four summers to get back over there. And assuming that’s the case, perhaps we’ll even budget our time better!

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19 thoughts on “A Running Hike on South Manitou Island

  1. Great shots! Love the tall ship & the sun halo around the lighthouse. And I gotta say – that pic of the lady getting splashed keeps drawing me back. Here’s to being THAT lady in a few decades! 🙂

    • I thought of you while taking the sun halo photo 🙂
      I SOOO want to be that lady in a few decades. It was like she stood under a waterfall or out in the pouring rain the whole ride, and LOVED it.

    • The good news (that I didn’t write about because I was already long-winded) is that they also do wagon tours of the island where you get to hop off at some of the main attractions without doing all the hiking. It’s a perfect option for you 🙂

  2. I was soooo ready for an adventure, thank you! Oh, in case you weren’t sure, I was that old lady standing at the front of the boat, and I’ll treasure that picture forever. The other pictures are wonderful too, of course, and appreciated since I opted out of the running hike. And yes, I do suffer from delusions.

    • I knew you were ready for an adventure – that’s why we invited you along. I did love to watch you out on the front of the boat. I wished I could borrow your gear to share a bit of the fun 🙂 Next time you should take the wagon ride they do on the island. You know, so that you can do just a bit of hiking, but not the whole running hike thing 😉

  3. What a wonderful time you had, Heather and Tony! Did you not feel the slightest bit seasick from those waves? I imagine Manitou Island as being amazing because of course Manitou means Spirit in Annishinabe. Would love to go there some day. Walking sedately. 🙂

    • While I’m probably not entirely impervious to seasickness, I have a pretty high threshold – I can read from the backseat of a car while on curvy, hilly roads. Tony is much more normal in that regard, and he only had one moment of “uh-oh,” but it passed 🙂
      So glad to know that “Manitou” means “Spirit.” It’s fitting.

  4. Oof…the blues are just so gorgeous, I felt like *drinking* your pictures! And do watercolours of the lighthouse pix 🙂
    Thanks for taking us along! That shipwreck panorama was quite spectacular.

    • Just as soon as I learn how to watercolor, I will paint away 🙂
      Actaully, there’s a local artist who watercolors, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she hadn’t been inspired previously by South Manitou…
      I’m glad you joined the adventure. Next time we go, we’re thinking of packing some water gear, so hopefully we’ll capture more images of that wreckage!

  5. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bluer blue than this here blue!! Gorgeous place and awesome pics as always 🙂 LOVE both the lighthouses but the North Shoal one is my favourite coz it just seems more mystical. And that green canopy is to die for! I’m very envious 😉 but thankful as always for vicarious journeys 🙂

    • The very blue blue is thanks to the polarizing filter I almost always have on the camera. Since we’re by the water so much, I hate to be without it. I wear polarizing sunglasses if the sun is even thinking of shining, so I don’t like it when my camera doesn’t capture things how I see them 😉
      Thanks for going on this journey with us! I’ll go along yours, too 😉

  6. Pingback: Summer Lovin’ | Adventures in Michigan's Up North

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