South Manitou Island is part of an island chain that extends north to the Straits of Mackinac. The island consists of a ridge of tilted layers of limestone, buried under a blanket of glacial debris. Glaciers carved out the Lake Michigan basin. When the basin filled with water, the peaks of the ridge remained exposed as islands. During post-glacial times, winds blowing on the high, sandy bluffs on the west side of the island moved sand inland, forming perched dunes.
The 100 foot (30 m) lighthouse tower, active from 1871 to 1958, marked the location of the only natural harbor between here and Chicago. Ships took refuge here during storms and steamers stopped at the island to refuel with wood for their boilers.
In 1901 the U.S. Life-Saving Service built a station on the island to assist ships in distress. After World War II, modern equipment ushered in a new era in life-saving. As a mark of the changing times, the station was permanently closed in 1958.
Manitou Island Transit offers guided tours in open-air vehicles with stops at the old schoolhouse, farmsteads and cemetery. Some tours focus on natural history and there is an opportunity to customize tours for special interests. The tours take approx. 1-1/2 to 2 hours.
The Visitor Center is in the old island post office in the village. Exhibits tell the human and natural history of the island. The facility is open daily from mid-May through early October.
The Ranger Station is in the former Coast Guard Station in the village. Rangers are here to help you enjoy your visit and protect the natural resources.
Camping is permitted at only three locations - the Bay, Weather Station and Popple Campgrounds.
Campers must purchase a Backcountry Use Permit before camping.
South Manitou Island is accessible only by boat.
Manitou Island Transit operates a commercial walk-on passenger ferry which is based at the Fishtown Dock located in Leland, Michigan. For reservations contact Manitou Island Transit at (231) 256-9061.