Grand Island National Recreation Area
Though it’s just a 10-minute ferry ride from Munising, the surrounding Lake Superior waters effectively isolate Grand Island. Owned since 1901 by the Cleveland Cliffs Iron Company, the 13,000-acre, largely wooded island was maintained for decades as a private hunting playground for the firm’s executives and stockholders.
In 1989, the Hiawatha National Forest (www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/hiawatha) purchased all but 40 acres of Grand Island and proclaimed it a national recreation area. Except for those few patches of private property, you have the entire island—roughly the size of Manhattan—for hiking, beachcombing, mountain biking, and camping.
With its status as a national recreation area, Grand Island will likely see more development than the rest of the Hiawatha National Forest. Since 1989, the Forest Service has generated mountains of paperwork developing various management plans and putting them out for public comment. Ideas range from leaving the island in its natural state to developing roads, lodges, and other visitor amenities.
So far, a few compromises have been reached. Autos are not allowed on the island except with special permission or those rare few owned by island landholders. Van tours now operate under special permit, bumping along few dirt roads on the island’s southern half. ATVs are allowed October–mid-April; mountain bikes are permitted anytime on all public-land trails. Pets are allowed on leash. Note that drinking water is not available anywhere on the island.
Getting to Grand Island National Recreation Area
A passenger ferry travels from Munising to Grand Island (906/387-3503, www.grandislandmi.com, times vary Memorial Day–early Oct., $15 adults, $10 children 6–12). The ferry’s departure point is about two miles west of downtown near Powell Point. Follow M-28 west and watch for the signs.
Even if you’re planning just a day trip, you’d be wise to pack some warm clothing and a method for purifying water. Rough weather can cancel ferry service at any time; similarly, probably more than one hiker or biker has lost track of time and missed the last ferry. There is a ship-to-shore radio at Williams Landing in the event of an emergency.
Altran Bus Service (530 E. Munising Ave., Munising, 906/387-4845, $16 adults, $8 children) offers two- to three-hour van tours of Grand Island, from June through early October. The tour makes six stops on the southern end of the island, including Echo Lake, the Trout Bay Overlook, and Mather Beach, an excellent swimming beach where Echo Creek empties into Lake Superior.
by Laura Martone from Moon Michigan, 3rd Edition, © Avalon Travel