south manitou island & food for the trail

My mother calls South Manitou Island the jewel of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, I couldn't agree more. The last time I had visited S. Manitou was on a family backpacking trip when I was in high school. I figured I probably didn't appreciated the experience nearly as much as I would now so I wanted to do it again. Just a couple of weeks ago, I decided that a Memorial Day weekend trip to the island would be a perfect time to take my boyfriend (camping and backpacking noob), my friend and her boyfriend also decided to join us. So we made it happen and planned a 3 day, 2 night trip to S. Manitou - leaving early Saturday morning and returning Memorial Day afternoon.

There are 2 parts to this blog post, the first is a day-to-day recap of my experience on S. Manitou. The second includes some backpacking food tips and a 3-day menu, so don't forget to scroll all the way to end of this page to catch it all!

the experience:

day 1

Catching the ferry leaving Leland, MI at 10am required an early morning wake up call. The ferry ride itself takes about an hour and a half. We arrived on S. Manitou around 11:30am at the "village" (where the only drinkable water is located) and hiked out to our campsite in Bay Campground where our friends had already snagged us an awesome spot. After a little pre-hike fuel, we decided to go out for an afternoon hike to see the Perched Dunes. Instead of taking the official/long way to the dunes we took a short cut that my dad, who has spent a significant amount of time on the island, told me about. We found the unofficial path relatively easy but found that it was full of poison ivy. Deciding to forge ahead, we carefully picked our way along the trail up to an incredible view of the Perched Dunes and Lake Michigan.

Here's where things got a little interesting. After discussing what we should do next, there was a unanimous agreement among the group to continue along the dunes until we met up with the official trail that leads out to the dunes from the village. However, we soon discovered that even the top of the dune was covered in poison ivy and were forced to go down to the water and try to get back on the trail that way. The beach started out as a pleasant walk but as we neared the southern end of the island, we discovered that the high water levels had submerged any walkable beach ... let's just say we had to do some real bushwhacking. Fortunately we ran into some girls that were headed in the opposite direction who showed us how to get back on the official trail. We also warned them about the un-walkable beach that we had just gotten through. We returned to camp with enough daylight after 13+ miles of hiking around, which was a little more than we had bargained for, but what's life without the unexpected? Dinner tasted like heaven and was 100% well-deserved.

day 2

After a glorious morning of camp stove oatmeal and coffee, we opted for a less adventurous itinerary and decided to stick to the main trails. Our destination was a grove of some of the oldest, undisturbed cedars in northern Michigan. We took our time on the way out, stopping to explore another campground on the island called Weather Station as well as a beach nearby. The weather that morning and afternoon was overcast with some scattered showers, but nothing too bad to spoil the day's activities. After eating lunch on the trail and exploring the old cedars, we headed back to the village to refill our water bottles and reservoirs and also to say goodbye to our friends who were taking the ferry back to the mainland that day. By late afternoon, the clouds broke and there was sunshine and blue skies into the evening. My boyfriend and I walked the along the beach just a couple hundred feet from our campsite out to Gull's point and back before dinner.

We decided to make a fire for the evening, though neither of us had ever made a fire by ourselves before. Starting a fire is harder than it looks, but after a few trials and errors, we successfully got a flame going and maintained it until we decided to crash for the night. I was pretty well pleased with my fire-making abilities. Some fellow backpackers joined us at the fire for awhile, it was fun to meet other people on the island and hear a little bit about their stories. By the end of the day, we had hiked another 13 or so miles - a camping mat and pillow never felt so good!

day 3:

The last day on the island was the most relaxed of them all as our ferry was leaving at 2pm and we didn't want to wander too far. While we were making breakfast, it started to rain so we had to eat in the tent. I don't normally do this because I don't want any lingering food scents to attract animals (namely small rodents in this location) to the tent, but since we were packing up I figured it was okay. After the rain stopped, we tore down the tent and backpacked back to the village. We dropped our stuff off at the boathouse and took a leisurely walk along the shore out to the lighthouse. The view from the top of the lighthouse was incredible. It never ceases to amaze me how beautiful the waters of Lake Michigan are. Once we were done soaking up the amazing scenery, we relaxed and had a little picnic on the beach. We also tried our hand at constructing some cairns, which is also harder than it looks! We headed back to the dock around 1:30pm to catch the ferry back to the mainland. 

Over the course of about 2 full days, we had managed to see most of the island and hiked about 30 miles in total. On the way back home, we drove straight to Hilltop Soda Shoppe for a much called for post-backpacking trip treat. Overall, the trip was fantastic. I felt revived and renewed after getting away from normal everyday distractions to just truly be present. I kept my phone on airplane mode for most of the weekend (which I highly recommend if you're going on a vacation/getaway trip) which really allowed me to unplug and disconnect from social media for awhile. Before the trip, I had been finding myself scrolling through instagram more than I usually do and feeling all the more drained because of it. Spending 2 nights on S. Manitou Island re-centered me and reminded me that social media often serves as a vehicle for comparison and discontentment. It's good to remember that from time to time so you don't lose perspective.

Keep reading for more details about what food (all gluten free and healthy!) I brought with me on the island as well as some general tips on meal-prepping for a weekend backpacking trip. If you all haven't been to S. Manitou, I (obviously) highly recommend! It's a perfect location for a short weekend adventure, if you're in Northern Michigan, as well as good place to start for beginner backpackers.

food for the trail:

My number one advice for packing food on a backpacking trip is to keep it simple and pack it light. For short trips, it's best to have the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Trying to plan several different meals gets complicated and you'll probably end up bringing more than you need. Opt for light weight options and try to avoid heavy food items for your trip. For example, bring packs of tuna as opposed to cans. Dehydrating fruits and veggies as well as full meals is an excellent way to go. This can be done with a dehydrator of course, or even in the oven on the lowest heat! This will save on space and weight. It's also good to remove as much packaging as possible before you go, ditch cardboard boxes and pre-portion out meals. Remember that what waste from food items you have will have to be packed out since most remote campgrounds will not have trash or recycling bins. You can cut back on waste by prepping your own backpacking food, which is also healthier, as opposed to buying. It is also helpful to pre-portion out meals in reusable baggies. My boyfriend and I had a close to zero-waste camping trip, the only trash we created was some plastic from the pre-cooked brown rice we brought for our curry. Finally, always bring enough food for an extra day, just in case something unexpected happens!

Scroll down to see what food we brought for breakfast, lunch. and dinner (we ate the same thing each day). I've also included some links to the recipes I used for dehydrating mango, zucchini, as well as the curry we had for dinner!





  • trail mix with banana chips, raisins, peanuts, almonds, and pumpkin seeds
  • dark chocolate hemp energy bites
  • candied ginger (perfect for cleansing your palette and breath after a meal!)