Looking to get away from it all? Then it’s time to find your own island. Cole Ruth found four islands where the year-round population ranges from 0 to 10. These tiny islands off the coast of Michigan, New York, California and Alaska aren’t easy to get to, but are worth the trip. Here’s your complete guide to getting there, finding accommodations, and what to do on your own private island.
There are few places left in America where you can be truly alone. They are so rare, in fact, that finding them and getting there can seem daunting. But those who persevere and find these oases from modern life know that they make for the greatest escapes. The rewards –freedom and space to wander and think – are well worth the effort. Here are a few dots of land in this country where you can be truly, or very nearly, alone.
North and South Manitou Islands, Michigan
Size: Both islands are approximately 22 sq. mi.
Getting there: Unless you have your own watercraft, the ferry from Leland is your only option. The nearest commercial airport is in Traverse City, about a half hour drive over the Leelanau Peninsula.
Grab your vintage Hemingway paperback and head for the land that’s shaped like a mitten. Although Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has been getting attention lately, on the ferry trip to the Manitou Islands, you can still be the only one who isn’t just going along for the ride. And once you take in the sweeping vistas, bound across the sand dunes and swim in the crystal clear waters of Lake Michigan, you won’t want to leave.
Where to stay: Tent camping is the only option. South Manitou Island offers fixed campsites with water pumps and pit toilets. Camping on North Manitou is the full back-to-nature experience. Permits can be obtained via the park web site or on the dock in Leland. On both islands, no-impact camping is the rule: all gear and supplies must be packed in and out.
What to do: Around the turn of the 20th century, the Newhall family built a collection of summer homes on North Manitou. In 1908 they circulated an advertisement. It read: “There is an island up in Lake Michigan that may appeal to you to spend a vacation. It’s a quiet place, no crowds, no hotel, and almost no modern improvements. There are many things wanting, which many people might expect – and might want – no boulevards, no merry-go-rounds, no automobiles, not even a golf course worthy the name.”
The experience on the Manitou Islands is the same today. In fact, there are even fewer modern conveniences than there were a century ago. When the islands were acquired by the park service in the late 1970s, they became a living illustration of what happens when nature takes back the land.
Day hikes around the islands will take you past crumbling homesteads sandwiched between giant sand dunes and abandoned farm buildings in the midst of old growth forests. Munch on wild blackberries while you hunt for abandoned wagon wheel parts in the grass. Stumble upon a cemetery for early model cars. Lay on your back and watch bald eagles fly overhead.
The land isn’t the only place that nature is re-staking her claim. The water surrounding the islands is littered with the remains of at least 50 shipwrecks. Over time the sandy bottom of the lake has shifted, sometimes hiding, sometimes revealing these treasures. Several wrecks on South Manitou Island are so close to shore and in such shallow water that they can be explored by snorkeling. Others are only for advanced divers. (Divers who don’t have their own gear can make a stop at Scuba North in Traverse City.)