Big Island Lake Wilderness

Area Status: Open
This area is Open

Big Island Lake Wilderness Map

Natural Surroundings
Big Island Lake Wilderness is located centrally in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. White birch, maple and aspen cover the wooded hills that surround the lakes. Berries, mushrooms and wildflowers grow throughout the area. A wide range of wildlife and waterfowl, including sensitive species, may be observed but should not be disturbed. Click here for pdf map.  Link to purchase Big Island Lake Wilderness Map.

This wilderness contains 23 small lakes ranging in size from 5 to 149 acres. Some of the lakes are connected by maintained portages while some of the lakes are remote, making access more challenging.  See the General Information section below for more details about the portages.

Also, please be aware of the threat of spreading invasive species into our Wilderness waters by reading this brochure.

Wilderness Courtesy
Mechanized equipment (including radios, bikes, portage wheels, motors, carts, trailers, ATVs or other wheeled devices) is not allowed in designated Wilderness. The use of horses and pack stock is prohibited. Solitude and non-disruptive enjoyment of the natural setting are essential to the Wilderness experience.

You can help preserve the Wilderness quality by practicing "Leave No Trace " camping. 

Day Use and Camping Day use opportunities include off-trail hiking, flat-water canoeing, and fishing. There are no designated footpaths, so most hiking is cross-country and requires strong orienteering skills.  Several portage trails lead into Wilderness lakes where fishing and flat-water canoeing opportunities exist.

At a Glance

Operational Hours: Open year round.
Reservations: Reservations are not available.
Fees No fees for camping or day use.
Permit Info: Currently, there are no permits required for camping or day-use in BILW. Camping at designated campsites is allowed and encouraged.
Open Season: January - December
Usage: Light-Medium
Busiest Season: Spring & Summer
  • Groups larger than 6 are prohibited at campsites.
  • Groups larger than 10 are prohibited from traveling together or congregating.
  • Overnight camping at designated sites is allowed in Big Island Lake Wilderness. A designated campsite consists of a site post, metal fire ring and rustic pit latrine. Twelve designated campsites are available for overnight use (please refer to the attached map.)
  • Random camping is prohibited within 200ft. of any lakeshore or designated site; and/or within 100 ft. of any trail or portage.
  • Camping is limited to 14 days. 
  • Keep all tents and equipment within 15 feet of the campsite post.
  • Campfires are prohibited except in Forest Service provided metal fire rings located at designated sites. Keep fires small and use only downed vegetation. Be sure to put your fire dead out.
  • Glass food and beverage containers, including returnable beverage containers, are prohibited.
  • Bury food waste at least 6 inches deep, at least 100 yards from any campsite. Fish entrails can be disposed of in a similar manner. By keeping food smells away from campsites, you help reduce the threat of unwanted attention from rodents, bears, and other animals.
  • Deposit human waste in latrines or, in the absence of a latrine; it should be buried using the "cat hole" method. Use a small backpacker's trowel to dig a small 6" hole and to cover waste and toilet paper. This method eliminates unsightly and unsanitary conditions sometimes found around campsites.
  • The use of soaps and/or detergents in lakes or streams is prohibited.
  • Do not burn trash; pack it out. Wilderness visitors should follow the "pack-it-in, pack-it-out" method of handling trash. 
Closest Towns: Big Island Lake Wilderness, part of the Munising Ranger District of the Hiawatha National Forest, lies about one-half mile northwest of the community of Steuben - 22 miles northwest of the city of Manistique and about 18 miles southeast of the city of Munising. Big Island Lake Wilderness is bounded on the south by County Road 437 and on the west by County Road 445. The remaining border is delineated by Forest Road 2303 on the northeast and an abandoned railroad grade (Haywire Grade - Forest Road 8109) on the south side.  
Water: No drinking water provided.
Restroom: Unsheltered wilderness latrines

General Information

General Notes:

Portage -- Degree of Difficulty, Length

  • Big Island Lk to Mid Lk -- Easy, Short 102'
  • Townline Lk to Mid Lk -- Easy, Short 200'
  • Mid Lk to Coattail Lk -- Steep, Short 424'
  • Coattail Lk to McInnes Lk -- Easy grade, Moderately long 1,046'
  • McInnes Lk to Klondike Lk -- Gentle grade, Long1,233'
  • Klondike Lk to Vance Lk -- Gentle grade, small hill, Long 1,799'
  • Vance Lk to Twilight Lk -- Gentle grade, Long 1,490'
  • Twilight Lk rt to Byers Lk -- Easy grade, Moderately short 780'


Parking lots are located at the trailheads.


Camping & Cabins

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Water Activities

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Boating - Non-Motorized

Big Island Lake Wilderness offers remote, non-motorized recreation opportunities for those who want to be free of amenities -- For instance, in BILW you will find no directional signs, no restrooms, and no trashcans.  There is no easy access and no wheeled or motorized equipment is allowed -- so if you want to canoe or kayak, you can't use portage wheels;  you must carry your watercraft across portage trails to reach the water.

If it sounds a bit more rustic than you had in mind, fear not -- we have lots of places on the Forest that offer similar solitude but where there are a few more amenities! 

Status: Open
Fees: None
Difficulty Level: Difficult
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