If you’re looking for a super fun, family-friendly day trip from Columbus this summer, look no farther than the easily accessible island getaway known as Kelleys Island, Ohio.
For a long time, Lake Erie’s shores and islands have been on our travel wish list. I’d heard all about “the lake that’s almost an ocean” and the fun that can be had visiting Ohio’s offshore islands. This weekend, we finally decided to head north and see for ourselves. It was just the kind of weekend getaway that we love – one that makes you feel as though you had a mini-vacation and actually “traveled” to a faraway place, if only for a day.
Kelleys Island highlights for us included racing and feeding seagulls from the ferry boat, renting a golf cart (dubbed “dune buggy” by Zoe) and cruising around the island to see the sights – including stops at the Glacial Grooves national park and deer-watching along the shady, wooded island roads. Alas, there was a water advisory the day we went so we were not able to swim. That would have truly been the icing on the cake of a sunny, fun day. I highly recommend researching the water conditions and going on a day when swimming is an option!
Getting to Kelleys Island
We headed north from Lewis Center by 9 am on Saturday and made it to the ferry a bit after 11 am. We chose to go with the Kelleys Island ferry boat line which leaves from Marblehead, Ohio (a pretty lakeside destination in its own right). Other ferry options are also available, but we were happy with this choice. You can either take your car over to the island by ferry ($32 per car in addition to the per-person ferry fare), or you can park your car for $10 and head onto the ferry on foot. That makes it easy to justify renting a golf cart on the other side – part of the fun of your island getaway!
Once on the island
We arrived at Kelleys Island after a lovely 20 minute ferry ride with scenic views on all sides (but which Zoe dubbed boring, unfortunately). We panicked for a moment as we had no idea where to go, but we needn’t have worried – the island is that small. It’s super easy to find your way around, everyone is exceedingly friendly and you can hardly take a wrong turn.
The marina where we disembarked rented golf carts, but alas they were all rented by lunch time. We asked for directions to the nearest alternate rental place and walked about five minutes into “town” – a tiny hot spot with a few shops, restaurants and another marina. I enjoyed the walk and it was shady for the most part, but I’ll admit I was getting a few complaints by now from the other two members of my family who wanted to eat!
We rented the last golf cart at the in-town marina and soon were motoring around town – and that’s when the fun really began. First we found a lunch spot (pizza and subs freshly made at Caddyshack, right in the tiny heart of the Kelleys Island “downtown”). Then we cruised around the island to see the sights. This does not take long. We were given a handy map at the rental place and were told it takes about an hour and a half to putt around the whole island.
We headed for the Glacial Grooves Geological Preserve, the largest easily accessible site of this kind in the world. It was pretty neat to see the lines carved in stone made by glaciers all those ages ago. We looked for fossils but didn’t see any – I didn’t realize we should have been looking in the cliff walls themselves. Next time, we’ll know! The fossils are from the Devonian age and are approximately 350-400 million years old.
On the pretty, wooded road to the Glacial Grooves, we noticed deer just inside the tree line so we stopped our golf cart to watch and count the deer. It was a peaceful moment, just us and four does. We kept a sharp eye out for fawns but didn’t see any, though the does flicked their white tails a few times as if saying “stay put, little ones!” Zoe loved the relatively close (about 20 feet away) encounter with wild deer out in nature.
Then we headed to the Kelleys Island state park campground for two important facilities: the restrooms and the playground! The beach there was lovely and we really would have loved a swim to cool off. Instead, right across the street was an ice cream place so we enjoyed some frozen treats while sitting in our covered golf cart before zooming off again.
I have to say, from my perspective, the best part of Kelleys Island was the overall vacation/summer/island vibe and cruising around in our golf cart, waving at other folks in golf carts and enjoying the sights of gorgeous sparkling water and waves on one side and beautifully upkept island-style Victorian houses on the other. The views those houses have… wow. I get why people rave about Lake Erie. As someone who grew up on the East coast and has salt water in her veins, a lake will never be the ocean, no matter how Great – but it’s certainly pretty cool in its own right.
We were coming up on the two-hour mark for our golf cart rental, so we motored back to the marina and returned it ($14 per hour – but so much more fun than taking your own car over!). Then we walked back to the ferry after picking up one souvenir Zoe and I just had to have – a little blown glass mermaid ornament.
- Awesome island getaway perfect for families or couples
- Being on the water is so peaceful and relaxing
- You truly feel like you went on vacation even though it’s just 2.5 hours from Columbus
- No cell service. This is actually both a pro and a con.
- There’s not a ton to do here. One day, or even half a day, is probably sufficient (there are some really cute B&Bs and inns, so maybe stay for a night? But I can’t imagine staying much longer)
- Watch the water quality advisories. It was a total bummer being surrounded by sparkling water on a hot day but not being able to swim or even wade!
- No cell service. See above in pros list, too.
So, there you have it! If you’ve been to Kelleys Island before did we miss any highlights? We definitely plan to make this an every summer trip, and likely will stay a bit longer next time – maybe even overnight. I’d love to find a dog-friendly place to stay and then be able to take Autumn with us too next time. We saw loads of island dogs enjoying golf cart rides and I’m sure our goofy Goldendoodle grrl would love that, too!
I’d love to hear your Lake Erie or Kelleys Island stories in the comments below – or over on Facebook.