ElevationAscent: 649' 198 m
Descent: -649' -198 m
High: 887' 270 m
Low: 591' 180 m
GradeAvg Grade: 2% (1°)
Max Grade: 10% (6°)
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“An incredible gem in the midwest, featuring great backpacking on a remote island in Lake Michigan.”— Rafi Wilkinson
Get to the ferry dock early on your departure day. The ferry WILL NOT wait for you.
Pack extra food and fuel. Pay attention to the weather. The ferry may not run if there are severe storms. Plan accordingly.
The main trails are clearly marked and the footing good with packed dirt and gravel. The trails are wide and were once roads or logging rail lines. The secondary and "historic" trails are not being maintained and are becoming hard to follow and are clogged with downed trees. I wish the NPS would maintain these trails as most people that come to the island want solitude and these trails would better distribute backpackers.
The Northern Loop Trail is easily done in three days, with the first night spent on the west side of the island at Crescent City Beach and the second night on the east side at John Maleski Homestead. The trail grade is easy with the only moderate pull being the "Old Grade" which is north of the Crescent City Beach. The Old Grade is a 1.5 mile stretch of 5-6% grade that runs uphill from south to north.
From the ferry dock, head south towards the cemetery. After the 1.1 miles, turn right (west) at the trail junction towards Crescent City. This is a wooded, 4-mile segment the runs across the island. At the end of the four miles, the trail will descend a short, steep hill to a trail junction. Turn right (north) for 0.6 miles and look for the singletrack trail to Crescent City. This sandy trail leads to a wonderful beach. There are ample campsites throughout the grasses and tree clusters. Note that there are no buildings or ruins left of this town that once existed.
On the second day, return to the main trail and turn left (north). The trail follows an old railroad line known as the Old Grade. This moderate section is the hardest part of the whole trip, but is easy compared to hiking in the mountains. The trail will bend to the east across the top of Lake Manitou. Follow the trail to a junction that is just past a footbridge (Pole Bridge) across a small stream. At the junction, turn left towards the John Maleski Homestead. The trail will open up into old farm fields that were once part of the homestead (no buildings or ruins). Nature is now taking the fields back. Follow the trail until a junction that is at the edge of a steep bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. Camp the second night along this bluff.
For the third day, leisurely make your way south for 3-miles along the edge of Lake Michigan. Shortly after passing the island campground, look for the village docks and the preserve life-saving station.
The island does have a small campground. However, the beauty of North Manitou Island is its isolation. Enjoy the ability to strike out on your own and camp in the wilderness.
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Land Manager: NPS Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore