Island Hopping in Ohio
Becky Linhardt © 2015
Ohio’s Lake Erie Islands are a treasure. Spring may be cool but for birders, the month of May is exciting as birds of all types migrate across the lake. June, July and August are the big tourism months. The waters fill with sailboats, cruisers, and jet skis; the beaches are popular with families; state park campgrounds host many who booked months in advance. September and October are quieter, the mornings cool and the afternoons warm – as are the lake waters. Here are some specifics about three of the largest islands – and their state park locations.
The sand beach at the north end of Division Street in Kelleys Island State Park is a favorite with day trippers as well as campers. Part of the state park campground faces the beach and those spots are snapped up quickly during summer months. Shallow water at the beach warms early in the season and stays warm into early fall. There is a boat launch along the west side of North Bay within a short walk of the campgrounds.
Also in the park is Glacial Grooves, an exposed section of limestone from the former north quarry that shows the grooves cut into the rock during the last by a glacier. Eagles have been known to nest at the North Pond wetlands area. There is a Lilac Walk in May that blooms on a portion of former farmland. The East Quarry is a great place to hike and some trails can be used for cross-country skiing. Almost ¼ of Kelleys Island is protected within state park lands or those under the stewardship of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Residents of the island are protective of the natural wonders and the Kelleys Island Audubon Club is very active with birding programs in the spring and fall.
The small town center is at the southern end of Division Street with a small motel, bed & breakfasts, restaurants, and marinas along the south shore. Renting a golf cart or biking Lakeshore Drive from the Ferry Dock provides a shoreline view over to Marblehead Lighthouse and Cedar Point along the south shore and then over to the Bass Islands from the west shore – great sunsets include a silhouette of Perry’s Monument on South Bass.
South Bass Island
South Bass Island has a reputation as a party island. Ferries filled with tourists come and go; and the marina is usually full at Put-in-Bay where lots of shops, restaurants, and bars line the main street along their lakeside park. Perry’s Monument is a focal point for exploration but there are also small museums, rural roads to explore out of the town area and Crystal Cave at the interior of the island.
South Bass Island State Park is nestled into shady trees not too far from town, closer to the Miller Boat Line docks. It is an oasis of quiet with lake views available from most campsites. No need to buy camping gear, since the park has rent-a-camps and two yurts that can be reserved.
Middle Bass Island
It’s all about the water. Middle Bass Island State Park has a beautiful marina with rent-able dock space, showers and bath pavilions, covered picnic areas. Across the road on the other side of this small island, there are primitive camping spots with views over to South Bass Island’s Put-in-Bay.
The park property was once land owned by Lonz Winery and is new to the Ohio park system. The Harbor Master building is all new and a huge, rent-able event pavilion near the original press room was recently completed.
Boaters often bring bike; day trippers, to ride on the county roads past original farms, winery properties and island churches. A few restaurants can be found near the ferry dock and plans are to convert the Lonz Winery press room into a seasonal restaurant.