Long before there were roads and highways in Michigan, people and goods were being transported regularly on the ships of the Great Lakes. The Manitou Passage (between the Manitou Islands and the mainland) was a busy corridor for commercial shipping. The location of the Manitou Islands made them ideal for a refueling stop for steamers to pick up wood for their boilers. That was one of the driving forces for early settlement of the islands. Docks were built, and trees were cut to fuel the growing Great Lakes Shipping fleet.
The high amount of ship traffic, the unpredictable weather, and unmarked gravel and sand shoals in this area, caused many ships to be lost. During the severe winter of 1870-71, 214 lives were lost due to shipwrecks on the Great Lakes. In 1871, congress created the US Life-Saving Service to conduct rescues from shore. Lighthouses were also built at strategic points along the shore to guide ships safely along their way. There were several lighthouses in and around the Sleeping Bear Dunes. The South Manitou Island lighthouse is open for tours.
Transportation to the Island is available from Leland Michigan through the Manitou Transit Company Visit the website for a schedule of trips to the Island.