View Of An Island On North Manitou Island
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A Michigan Love Story: Camping on North Manitou Island

I thought I hated camping. I didn’t think I was an “outdoorsy” person. Of course, I loved to play outside growing up. We lived in East Tennessee for a few years and I enjoyed exploring the Great Smokey Mountains. I liked trees and swimming in rivers, but the type of person who finds joy sleeping on the ground?  I didn’t think that was me.  

Like a normal midwest girl, I was an indoor gal.  I was taught I needed all modern amenities to be “comfortable.”  Without a bathroom, how would I survive? The only girls that I knew camped did so at a campsite with all major amenities and no real challenge to figure out how to pack in food or water. And even that wasn’t something I wanted to do!  

I was positive that I was not an “outdoorsy” person because those people have a way about them. They carry Nalgene bottles and recycle. Their idea of fun is getting away from their phones and staring at a lake. They wear Birkenstocks unironically and have National Parks stickers on their car bumpers. 

That wasn’t me. Notice I said wasn’t, because that all changed with a camping trip to Michigan’s North Manitou Island in Sleeping Bear Dunes.

North Manitou Island Beach
North Manitou Island beach

My First Not-So-Great Camping Experience

My husband was a camper. He spent his evenings planning backpacking trips and sewing his own waterproof hammocks. He told me I would enjoy camping.  So, I gave it a try. We went to Wayne National Forest in Ohio. We hiked into a remote location with no bathrooms or water. We set up our tent and then settled in for the night. 

The first thing that scared me to death was the lack of bathrooms. I didn’t want to pee in the woods. I also didn’t understand the point of camping in general.  I had a nice comfortable bed at home with a bathroom. Why did I hike out into the woods to sleep on the ground?  I asked, “So, what’s next?”  He said, “What do you mean? This is it. We’re camping.” 

Camping meant sleeping next to bugs and hearing sounds all night long. Most likely what I was hearing was a bird or a squirrel, but the picture in my head was a pack of hyenas gnawing on their prey. After a terrible night of sleep and a crick in my neck from sleeping on a tree root, I was ready to swear off camping forever. 

Giving Camping a Second Chance in Michigan

But, my husband had a subscription to a camping magazine. I thumbed through it and saw places to camp all over the United States. Some of the ones that caught my eye were in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The sort-of remote North Manitou Island looked beautiful. The water was crystal clear, and the beaches were lined with rocks. 

We started researching and the more I read, the more intrigued I was. We would have to take a ferry to the island and be completely cut off from running water, bathrooms, and all modern amenities. But, we would have untouched, raw nature. We would have a private beach to ourselves without light pollution to enjoy the stars. This was a trip for an outdoorsy person. Could I pretend to be someone who enjoys sleeping on the ground for a chance to experience this beautiful island? I was about to find out.

We got our packs ready, and I spent some time making camping snacks like homemade granola and honey bars. I had only hiked with a pack once before, but for less time and fewer supplies. This was going to be interesting. 

After arriving on the island, a ranger gave us a talk which helped us realize that we would be completely alone. There was only one place to get potable water, and if we needed medical attention, we would be waiting a long time for someone to come. Camping spots were first come, first serve.

Hiking North Manitou Island
Hiking North Manitou Island

We hiked for a while until we found a nice beautiful little spot that overlooked the water. 

Camping, North Manitou Island
Camping, North Manitou Island

It was August so we were very hot from the hike. Once we set our tent up, we suited up and headed for a dip in the lake.

Swimming In The Lake On North Manitou Island
Swimming in the lake on North Manitou Island

Even though it was peak season, only a certain amount of people can come to the island on any particular night. So we really had a large portion of the beach to ourselves. One of the disgusting and beautiful realities of camping on the lake meant I had a place to go to the bathroom if I didn’t want to hike into the woods. 

The untouched, raw landscape of this island was exactly what I hoped it would be. Sleeping outside to the sounds of the waves smacking against the sand was soothing.

View Of An Island On North Manitou Island
View of an island on North Manitou Island

I woke up to the sun peaking into my tent, begging me to wake up and have my morning coffee on the lake.

Sunrise View From A Tent On North Manitou Island
Sunrise view from a tent on North Manitou Island
Sunrise On North Manitou Island
Sunrise on North Manitou Island

Evenings were not boring. We were not just sitting in the woods in the pitch black. We were lying down on the sand staring up at nature’s planetarium. I have never seen that many stars in all my life. I live in a Suburb and we’re lucky to see what seems like 20 stars on a clear summer night.  There were so many visible stars I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me.

During the day, we could swim, relax or hike to other parts of the island. The coast was lined with rocks and it was so different from an ocean beach.

Rocks On The Beach Of North Manitou Island
Rocks on the beach of North Manitou Island

The water was so clean that filtering it was quick and simple.

Feet In The Lake On North Manitou Island
Feet in the lake on North Manitou Island

I felt free and happy there. I actually started to enjoy the fact that I couldn’t charge my phone. I couldn’t reach people. I couldn’t use modern amenities. I had to “rough” it.

Officially an “Outdoorsy” Person

What surprised me the most was that I enjoyed it. I enjoyed not having the things I thought I needed. I enjoyed being free to just sit and relax. I enjoyed not having to think about anything but what I was doing at the moment. 

It was then I realized I was an outdoorsy person. I loved my Nalgene bottle. I wanted my car lined with stickers of the parks I enjoyed. I wanted to go home and recycle. I wanted to simplify my life. (I will keep my toilet at home, though, I do like that still.)

Since this trip, I found myself wanting to camp more and more. I wanted to experience freedom from my industrialized, commercialized life at home. I wanted to experience more unspoiled nature. I wanted to dip my toes in more lakes and oceans. I wanted to hunt for rocks on the beaches while the sun sets in the distance.

Our camping trips have taken us out west to Yosemite, north to Canada, and way down south to the Patagonia region. We’ve camped in tents, in cars, and in hammocks, all while enjoying what nature has to give.

Hiking In Chile
Hiking in Chile

That single weekend camping in Michigan turned me into an outdoorsy person. Maybe it could turn you into one, too.

Camping In Ohio With A Fire Pit
Camping in Ohio with a fire pit