Put-in-Bay and Kelleys Island have earned a reputation for fun over the years – playing host to countless bands, bachelorettes and boaters among the many watering holes and eateries that line the streets. However, the Lake Erie islands are more than just adult playgrounds. Whether your family is into outdoor adventure, snapping selfies or taking a look back in time, the islands have something for you.
“I think it’s very family-friendly, especially during the week,” says Tara Nilson, a teacher and mom of four from Avon Lake. “My kids love it over there.”
Nilson’s parents own a Put-in-Bay hotel and she her family spend a lot of time on the island each summer.
“They love golf cart rides,” she says.
Cabs, carts, bikes and scooters are available for a fee on both islands to help you get out and explore. And although there are countless ways to spend a day on the islands, here are some of the best bets for families of all ages and interests.
To really start at the beginning, visit Kelleys Island Glacial Grooves Geological Preserve on the north side of the island.
The 400-foot-long grooves were cut into the limestone by ice that covered North America 18,000 years ago. The site contains marine fossils ranging from 350 to 400 million on years old and is viewable from a walkway, stairs and footbridge. Admission is free and the site is open during daylight hours.
On the other side of Kelleys Island is Inscription Rock, which features symbols engraved by American Indians sometime between 1200 and 1600 A.D. The petroglyphs on a slab of limestone are on display under a protected roof and are accessible daily. For information on the grooves or the engravings, visit ohiohistory.org.
Another popular attraction for the historically inclined is the U.S. Brig Niagara, the flagship of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry during the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813. The giant ship will visit Put-in-Bay harbor each year through 2020 on the third weekend in June, docking in the shadow of Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial. Visit flagshipniagara.org and nps.gov/pevi.
Each Sunday on Put-in-Bay, islanders and visitors alike celebrate history with an antique car parade. The 20-year-old tradition starts at 2 p.m. and features different cars each week. For more information, visit putinbaycarparade.com.
If the view from land isn’t good enough, check out the scenery from the sky at Put in Bay Parasail (putinbayparasail.com) or head underground to tour one of South Bass Island’s caves. Crystal Cave — found under Heineman’s Winery — is the world’s largest geode (heinemanswinery.com) and also offers parents a chance to sample some of the adult fun on the island. Just across the street is Perry’s Cave — home to a rare underground lake and a full complement of family fun attractions including a giant maze, rock wall, miniature golf and the chance to pan for gemstones and fossils. Also on site and a must for selfie-lovers: The Butterfly House, home to more than 50 varieties of the colorful creatures.
“The kids love the Butterfly House and the Crystal Cave and the Maze,” Nilson says. “It’s nice because it’s all in one general area.”
Another favorite of the Nilson clan: DeRivera Park in downtown Put-in-Bay, which features play structures, cannons and a public bathroom and shower facility complete with lockers for rent.
“Of course the park is everybody’s favorite place,” Nilson says. “Hanging out in the park and getting your picture taken sitting on the cannon is always a favorite.”
When posting your pics online, don’t forget #lakeerielove, a campaign by Lake Erie Shores & Islands to promote the area and share images from visitors and islanders alike. The group’s website, shoresandislands.com, offers plenty of information for planning a trip to the region.
There are three ferries that service Put-in-Bay and Kelleys Island. Each boat ride is approximately 20 minutes and each boat offers guests the chance to sit indoors or out. Ages 5 and younger ride free on each.
The Jet Express (jet-express.com) offers ferry service for passengers and bicycles from docks in downtown Sandusky and Port Clinton to Put-in-Bay and Kelleys Island, as well as back and forth between the two islands.
The Miller Boat Line (millerferry.com) offers ferry service for passengers, bicycles and vehicles from Catawba Island (Port Clinton) to Put-in-Bay, as well as Middle Bass Island.
The Kelleys Island Ferry Boat Line (kelleysislandferry.com)offers service for passengers, bicycles and vehicles from Marblehead to Kelleys.
You also can enhance your island trip with a sunset cruise, sightseeing excursion or overnight liveaboard boat rental from Moon & Back Getaways (moonandbackgetaways.com). Services are offered in Sandusky, Put-in-Bay, Kellys Island and Middle Bass Island.