ENDLESS ADVENTURES await the boaters who venture to the numerous islands located off the southern shores of Lake Erie in Ohio. This chain of islands has been a top cruising destination for boaters from all over the Great Lakes. The 20-plus islands are all in close proximity to each other which makes for great “day tripping.” Not all the islands are open to the public, but many offer full-service marinas and local attractions worth exploring. Whether you are looking for a laid back vacation on a sandy beach, a historical walk through the past or a full schedule of tourist activities, you will find it in this area. You could spend an entire summer in this region and never see everything that this boaters’ paradise has to offer.
Be sure to refer to Lake Erie charts while planning your trip to any of the islands. The waterways are well marked with buoys and lighthouses and the depths are more than adequate for worry-free cruising.
Day 1- Put-in-Bay, South Bass Island
Put-in-Bay is definitely the most popular destination in the Lake Erie Islands. Boaters visit once and come back year after year. This major commercial hub is filled with bars offering nightly entertainment, restaurants with first-rate food and tourist attractions to keep you busy for weeks.
High on the list of things to do is to visit the Perry Monument, a 352-foot limestone memorial that offers a breathtaking view of the entire Lake Erie Islands region. This area is rich in history and folklore dating back to the early 1800s. One of the most significant battles of the Midwest was the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812, where Commodore Oliver Perry secured the United States’ claim to the Great Lakes from the British. A visit to this monument will take you back in time and give you a comprehensive history of this area.
The best way to explore the island is to rent a golf cart and chart your course through the maze of restaurants, bars, shops and attractions. Must-see highlights include Perry’s Caves, Butterfly House, Heineman Wineries, the historic Round Bar, the world’s longest bar at the Beer Barrel Saloon, the Historical Museum, the Island Tour Train and the Nature and Wildlife Center. And if you are looking for a “foodie” experience, don’t miss the lobster bisque at the Boardwalk, the famous fish tacos at The Goat Restaurant, perch and walleye dinners at any one of the numerous restaurants and the ice cream at the Chocolate Museum. For the wine lovers, visit Heineman Winery or Put-in-Bay Winery to sample the outstanding wines of the island.
If outdoor recreation is your passion, you can rent bikes, kayaks and jet skis to explore the island. Numerous sandy beaches are perfect for swimming and sunning. Parasailing in the bay is also a popular activity. And, of course, fishing is world-renowned in this area. Take your own boat, or charter a fishing boat for a memorable catch of local perch and walleye.
There is no shortage of places to find transient docks for the day or for the week. Cruisers looking for a family friendly marina can enjoy the quiet clean atmosphere of Miller’s Marina (419-285-5902, millermarinapib.com), located in the western area of Put-In-Bay’s downtown harbor-just a few blocks from Perry’s Monument, provisioning options, and restaurants. Another docking option, Park Place Boat Club (419-285-6183, parkplaceboatclub.com), is considered the exclusive Crew’s Nest facility for Park Place Boat Club Members. The marina offers reciprocal club member docking during the week, depending on availability and advanced reservations. All marinas in Put-in-Bay offer full services, and gas and diesel fuel is available at Park Place Boat Club. If you prefer to keep your boat docked in Put-in-Bay, you can go island hopping via the Miller Ferry Line or the Jet Express.
Day Two- Middle Bass Island
Only a short half-hour cruise from Put-in-Bay, Middle Bass Island is the ultimate relaxation getaway. This 750-acre island is a nature lover’s dream with plenty of wetlands, marshes, sandy beaches and glacial grooves. Visit the Kuehnie Wildlife Area and Peterson’s Woods for birdwatching and wildlife sightings.
The Ohio DNR recently completed a state-of-the-art marina located on the southeast side of the island. The Middle Bass Island State Park Marina (419-285-0311, parks.ohiodnr.gov/middlebassisland), has 190 slips including transient slips for boats of all sizes. Amenities include electrical, water, restrooms, showers, laundry, a campground, launch ramp, miniature golf and picnic areas. Bikes, kayaks, golf carts and paddleboards are available for rental. J.F. Walleye’s and St. Hazard’s restaurants are short walks from the marina and offer weekend entertainment during the season. Boat fuel is not available on Middle Bass Island, so be sure to fuel up before leaving Put-in-Bay.
Day Three- Kelleys Island
Kelleys Island is the largest island in Ohio and is seven miles east of Put-in-Bay. A small downtown offers a few bars, restaurants and shops. Bike and golf cart rentals are perfect for exploring this unspoiled island. Hiking and biking trails wind through the parks, the nature preserve and the quarries. This island is famous for birdwatching because of the large variety of species and diverse habitats.
Located on the north side of the island is Kelleys Island State Park, featuring beautiful sandy beaches and a favorite spot for boaters to anchor and swim. The largest prehistoric glacial grooves in the country are also located in the State Park and are visited by geologists from all over the world. Families gravitate to Caddy Shack Square, where they enjoy activities including gem mining and Putt-Putt golf. Island bars and restaurants include the Village Pump Restaurant, which is famous for its Brandy Alexander cocktails and Lake Erie perch. The Casino Restaurant has great food and live entertainment on the weekends. Kelleys Island Wine Company and Kelleys Island Brewery offer local craft brews and wines. And to top off the perfect island day, visit the West Bay Inn for dinner and cocktails while watching the beautiful Lake Erie sunset.
Portside Marina (419-746-2668, portsidemarinaki.com), is located on the south side of the island, right in the heart of downtown. Recently renovated, this marina has 120 slips accommodating boats up to 80’. Portside services include transient docking, electrical, water, showers, restrooms, Wi-Fi, Dockers Restaurant, marine store, weekend entertainment, picnic areas, bike and golf cart rentals. Fuel and pump-out is available at Seaway Marina (419-746-2506, seawaymarina.homestead.com), just about a half-mile down the shoreline from Portside Marina. Discover why the Lake Erie Islands has long been one of the most popular destinations for boaters from all over the Great Lakes!