Half the fun of the island-hopping is getting there. Located just three miles north of Ohio’s mainland, I took The Jet Express, a quick and comfortable ferry service from Sandusky to Put In Bay, South Bass Island (and eventually Kelley’s Island).
There’s no question as to why the islands have been an Ohio staple for nearly 150 years. From family activities to bachelorette parties, it’s the go-to for a good time on any occasion.
There’s a wide variety of special events to keep children occupied and entertained. They’ll especially enjoy the gem mining, cave tours, and the butterfly house as well as the more “common summer camp” activities of miniature golf, go-karting, and the arcade. Family fun outdoor activities also include fishing, watercraft rentals, kayaking, and parasailing on Lake Erie.
Though the island is definitely kid friendly, locals say once the sun goes down, the adults come out to play. Known more for its nightlife and varied music scene, Put In Bay has a more boisterous energy of the two islands and boasts more than a dozen establishments providing live entertainment. In fact, it’s hard to walk a few feet without stumbling into jovial crowds spilling out from the plethora of restaurants, art galleries, and pubs.
The best way to make your way from a wine tasting to the next microbrewery is to jump on the Put In Bay Train Tour. The narrated, hour-long ride visits all the main attractions and allows you to get off and board at any of the designated stops along the route. The tour also gives a scenic, behind-the-scenes sort of look of the island’s small, live-in community; the schools, churches, and breathtaking real estate.
One of the last stops on the tour is The Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, established to honor the soldiers who fought in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. The 352-foot, Doric column celebrates Lake Erie’s role in America’s quest for freedom and the long lasting peace/alliance between Britain, Canada, and the United States. The visitor’s center provides history buffs like myself with more context; historical paintings, dioramas of the battle, and interactive staff members.
Though it has a few similarities to Put In Bay (beautiful homes lake-front, fun shops, and delicious restaurants), Kelley’s Island has its own distinctive flare. Recognized as the “Top 10 Healthiest Beaches and Lake Getaways” by Health Magazine in 2009, its appeal is its natural spaces, scenic countryside, and unique geology.
Kelley’s Island is the largest American freshwater island on Lake Erie with over 900 acres of state park land and six miles of hiking trails. It’s also home to the largest and most impressive example of glacial grooves (scratches or gouges cut into rock by ice glaciers) left in the world.
That being said, I’d recommend starting at Kelley’s Island to take advantage of the ponds, trails, and bird watching and then make your way to Put In Bay for a night of fun… Island hopping for under $30? Only in Ohio.