A backcountry camping permit is required to camp. Camping is allowed anywhere with the exception of staying 300 feet from water and off the trail. Wood fires are only allowed at the campground near the ferry dock. There is a potable water source at the ferry docks as well. Pack extra food as bad storms can prevent the ferry from running. Pack out all trash. Pets are prohibited. No bicycles or motorized vehicles are allowed.
This island is a backpacking gem in the Midwest. North Manitou Island is part of the National Park Service's Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore. The island is almost entirely covered in forests but offers incredible views of Lake Michigan from the shoreline. The water of Lake Michigan is insanely clear at this latitude and provides for great sunrises and sunsets. Mosquitoes and flies can be bad during parts of the year, so 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 classic trail is typically done in three days, with one night spent at the south end of the island and one night at the north end. The trail grade is easy with the only moderate pull being the "Old Grade" which is in the northwest section of the island. The trail has a 1.5 mile stretch of 5-6% grade that runs uphill from south to north. Camping close Lake Michigan is preferred as there is easy access to water and great views. Fredrickson Place and Crescent City are excellent camping areas on the southwest side of the island. On the southeast side, the area around the cemetery has good campsites.
Camping at the north end of the island is more difficult as there are very steep bluffs that prevent access to the water. Even without a pack, it can be sketchy to get down to the water and back. There is not 300' of clearance to allow camping at the base of the bluffs. Plan ahead and bring water.
Lake Manitou, a lake within the island, offers great fishing but be aware that you'll get a really bad case of swimmer's itch if you wade into the lake. Please Google "swimmers itch" if you are not aware of this medical condition caused by parasites in the water (please note that you'll not get swimmer's itch in Lake Michigan). The lake does provide ample water to filter and excellent fishing. Many camp along its eastern shore.
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.