Discovering the myriad things to do on Kelleys Island, a hidden jewel nestled in the expansive waters of Lake Erie, is an experience like no other.
The fact that Kelleys Island is known as Lake Erie's Emerald Isle should come as no surprise. From its lush state park and wildlife areas to historic homes and charming vineyards, the island offers an array of experiences.
This beautiful island, accessible by plane, ferry, or private boat, offers a delightful escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Whether you're here to explore its historical sites, bask in its natural beauty, or enjoy the slower pace of island life, Kelleys Island promises a journey worth remembering.
From leisurely bicycle rides along scenic trails to exploring unique geological formations and indulging in fresh, local cuisine, Kelleys Island provides diverse activities suitable for all ages and interests.
Whether you're a nature lover, a history enthusiast, or simply seeking a peaceful retreat, this island has something special for you.
Kelleys Island, once a refuge for Native Americans and a crucial point in the Great Lakes maritime history, today stands as a testament to the resilience and beauty of nature and history intertwined.
Spanning just over four square miles, it's the largest American island in Lake Erie and is easily accessible by ferry, personal watercraft, or flight.
We had a great day trip visiting the small island last summer and were able to experience so much in a single day. The island is a fun place full of unique things to see!
Join me as we embark on a journey to uncover Kelleys Island's best experiences.
Fun Fact: The entire Island is on the National Register of Historic Places!
Things to do on Kelleys Island
1. Visit the Glacial Grooves State Memorial
The Glacial Grooves on Kelleys Island are a must-see natural wonder and arguably the island's most famous attraction. The creation of these grooves blew me away.
It is such a fascinating history, and I had no idea this famous glacial grooves site would be so beautiful.
These grooves are the largest and most spectacular examples of glacial scarring in the world and are recognized as a National Natural Landmark.
Carved into limestone bedrock about 18,000 years ago by the movement of the massive glaciers that created the Great Lakes, they are an awe-inspiring testament to the power of nature.
The grooves are up to 15 feet deep, 35 feet wide, and an impressive 400 feet long. A walkway and stairs allow you to view these remarkable grooves from above.
It's a not-to-be-missed opportunity to step back and witness the natural forces that shaped the region.
Address: 739 Division St
2. Explore Kelleys Island State Park
Kelleys Island State Park is a 677-acre haven for outdoor enthusiasts and is located on the northern shores of Kelleys Island.
The park's stunning Lake Erie shoreline provides opportunities for swimming and sunbathing while hiking trails and mountain biking trails wind through lush forests and along rocky cliffs, showcasing the island's natural beauty.
Visit the unique North Shore Alvar and North Pond with diverse natural habitats. The park has multiple hiking and mountain biking trails and picnic areas with grills and tables.
Are you looking for an affordable place to stay overnight? Check out the camping options at the park!
There are plenty of options: non-electric sites (43), sites with electric hookups (46), and sites with full hookups (35). Unique accommodations like the Sherman Cabins or Yurts are also available.
The park features a 150-foot-long sandy beach where visitors can relax or rent kayaks for a water adventure.
Address: 920 Division St,
3. Check out the Inscription Rock Petroglyphs
Located near the island's south shore (right by the ferry dock), Inscription Rock showcases Native American petroglyphs, offering a glimpse into the island's early inhabitants.
This limestone boulder, now protected by a shelter, features carvings believed to be over 300 years old, making it an important archaeological site.
I found this underwhelming after visiting sites like Chaco Culture in New Mexico, which displays more extensive carvings.
Address: E Lakeshore Dr
4. Enjoy birdwatching at the North Pond State Nature Preserve
The North Pond State Nature Preserve is a birdwatcher's paradise, especially during migration seasons.
The pond and its surrounding 51 acres are home to a variety of bird species, providing excellent opportunities for bird watching and nature photography.
The wetland preserve is home to a large number of waterfowl and rare plants. A boardwalk leads to a pond observation tower.
Address: The trailhead is on Ward Rd.
5. Relax on the beaches of Kelleys Island
The island's beaches offer a perfect spot for relaxation, sunbathing, and swimming. Clear waters and scenic views are ideal for a peaceful day by the lake. Below is a breakdown of four of the beaches found on the island.
Kelleys Island State Park Beach
- Location: Located within Kelleys Island State Park, on the island's northern side.
- Features: This beach is known for its picturesque setting and sandy shores. It's a family-friendly beach with relatively shallow waters, ideal for swimming and wading. The beach area includes picnic tables, restrooms, and a nearby kayak rental hut. It's an excellent spot for a relaxing day by the water, with stunning views of Lake Erie.
North Shore Alvar Beach
- Location: Situated on the northeastern side of the island, accessible through Kelleys Island State Park.
- Features: North Shore Alvar Beach is unique due to its alvar terrain – a rare limestone pavement ecosystem. This beach is less about sandy shores and more about exploring the unique alvar environment. It's an excellent spot for nature enthusiasts and those looking for a more rugged, natural beach experience.
- Location: Found on the southern side of the island.
- Features: As the name suggests, this beach is rocky rather than sandy. It offers a different kind of beach experience, ideal for those who enjoy beachcombing, exploring tide pools, or simply enjoying the scenic views. The rocky shoreline here provides a peaceful and contemplative environment. Look off to the horizon, and you'll spot Cedar Point!
Scheele Preserve Beach
- Location: Located on the island's west side at the Scheele Preserve.
- Features: This small, secluded beach is part of a nature preserve. It's a quiet spot perfect for those looking to escape the more crowded areas. The preserve surrounding the beach is great for birdwatching and spotting wildlife.
6. Explore Local Flavors at the Kelleys Island Wine Company
Indulge in local flavors by visiting the Kelleys Island Wine Co. This family-owned winery is a must-visit for wine enthusiasts.
The Kelleys Island Wine Company offers wine-tasting locally produced wines in a picturesque setting.
Grab a bite to eat, drink, and relax in the outdoor patio area. The Wine Co. is family-friendly, with a playground and barnyard animals for the kids to enjoy.
Address: 418 Woodford Rd.
7. Hike the trails at East Quarry and Horseshoe Lake
The quarry encompasses a large part of the island's eastern region. Expect to see impressive limestone formations that were left behind from limestone mining.
The terrain is rugged with cliffs and is home to many plants and animals.
This area has a five-mile network of hiking and biking trails that wind through woodlands and around Horseshoe Lake, a flooded area at the eastern end of the abandoned quarry.
Horseshoe Lake is rich with a variety of aquatic life and lush plant growth. It's one of the prime fishing spots on the island, and it also serves as an ideal location for wildlife observation and photography.
The quarry is also the best place for fossil hunting on Kelleys Island.
Its rocky walls and ground are embedded with an array of fossilized remnants, including corals, brachiopods, cephalopods, and more, offering a fascinating glimpse into the island's ancient ecological history.
Address: The main entrance to the trail network is on Ward Road
8. Experience kayaking or paddleboarding in Lake Erie
Kayaking and paddleboarding along the Lake Erie Shores offer a unique and serene way to explore the coast of Kelleys Island. You can enjoy the tranquility of the water while observing the island's diverse wildlife and scenic cliffs.
With rental options readily available, both beginners and experienced paddlers can easily partake in these activities, making them a perfect addition to any Kelleys Island adventure.
9. Visit the Kelleys Island Historical Museum
Kelleys Island Historical Museum offers a compact yet rich exploration of the island's past. You can delve into a range of exhibits showcasing the island's geological features, Native American history, and the evolution of its community.
With artifacts, photographs, and interactive displays, the museum provides a captivating glimpse into the diverse tapestry of Kelleys Island's history, making it an essential stop for history enthusiasts.
Allow about 1 to 2 hours to enjoy and engage with the exhibits fully.
The Kelleys Island Historical Museum often hosts a variety of special programs and events. Check with the museum for the availability of guided talks or tours and other community events.
Address: 224 Division St.
10. Take a scenic bike ride around the island
Bring or rent a bike and discover the island at your own pace. The relatively flat terrain makes exploring the island's attractions easy for cyclists of all levels.
Rental shops offer bikes for all ages and create a fun and healthy way for the entire family to explore the island!
We enjoyed the ride along Titus Road and West Lakeshore Drive.
11. Enjoy a picnic at one of the island's scenic spots
With its picturesque landscapes, Kelleys Island has numerous spots perfect for a picnic.
The best picnic areas are at Kelleys Island State Park, which offers panoramic lake views and shaded spots, and North Pond State Nature Preserve because of the serene setting.
12. Go fishing in Lake Erie's bountiful waters
Fishing in Lake Erie around Kelleys Island is a popular activity. Lake Erie is known for its rich fishing grounds, teeming with walleye, perch, and bass.
The waters off the North and South shores of the island, especially around the limestone ledges, are considered prime spots for anglers. A fishing license is required for those 16+ years old.
For the best experience, consider hopping on one of the many guided fishing charters, which provides local expertise and access to the most fruitful fishing areas.
Fun Fact: Lake Erie is known as the “Walleye Capitol of the World!”
13. Explore the Downtown Kelleys Island
Exploring the downtown area of Kelleys Island is a delightful experience. Wander through a charming array of local shops and boutiques.
This quaint district offers a variety of unique finds, from handcrafted goods and island-themed souvenirs to artwork created by local artisans.
The friendly, small-town atmosphere of the downtown area, coupled with its diverse shopping options, makes it a perfect spot to stroll, shop, and soak in the local culture.
14. Attend a local festival or community event
The island's community hosts various festivals and events that showcase local culture and traditions. These events are a great way to engage with the island's residents and experience its vibrant community spirit.
One of the most popular local festivals on Kelleys Island is the “IslandFest,” which is typically held in mid-July. This vibrant event features a parade, live music, local food vendors, crafts, and fireworks.
Expect a lively, family-friendly atmosphere that showcases the island's community spirit and cultural heritage.
Another notable event is the “Kelleys Island Film Festival” at the end of July. Popular box office movies highlight the event. Pull up with your golf cart and some snacks for the drive-in theatre feel!
15. Discover the art at the Charles Herndon Sculpture Garden and Galleries
The Charles Herndon Sculpture Garden and Galleries display the works of local artist Charles Herndon, known for his sculptures and paintings.
You can explore outdoor installations set against the natural backdrop of the island and view additional artworks in the indoor galleries.
Address: 111 W Lakeshore Dr
16. Take a leisurely golf cart tour of the island
Golf cart rentals offer a fun and easy way to explore the island. They're a popular choice for visitors wanting to cover more ground while enjoying a relaxed pace.
If you take the Kelley's Island ferry over from Marblehead, the Seaway Marina has a bunch of golf carts available.
For the best chance of getting one, arrive early in the day or make a golf cart reservation in advance.
Tip: Note that the golf carts/golf cart drivers are not very fast – we passed them on our bicycles without much effort! Or maybe we just got behind slow drivers?
17. Sample local cuisine at island restaurants and cafes
The island's eateries offer delicious local and regional dishes, from fresh seafood to homemade desserts.
Dockers Waterfront Bar and Restaurant is popular for seafood and great water views.
Another notable spot is The Village Pump, famous for its lobster chowder and perch. The place has a cozy, welcoming atmosphere.
18. Visit the Monarch Winery and Butterfly Box
The Monarch Winery & Butterfly Box on Kelleys Island is a unique attraction that features wine and butterflies, as you would expect.
There is an 1800-square-foot walk-through greenhouse that houses the fluttering butterflies.
The winery is relatively new at making its wines and keeps expanding its offerings.
Address: 604 Division St.
19. Stargaze on a clear night at the beach or a quiet field
The island's low light pollution makes it an ideal spot for stargazing. Bring a blanket and enjoy the night sky. Some of the best places are:
- Kelleys Island State Park: The park's remote location and minimal light pollution make it ideal for stargazing, especially along the beachfront.
- East Quarry and Horseshoe Lake: These areas, away from the main village, offer dark skies and a tranquil setting perfect for observing the night sky.
- North Shore Alvar Area: This location provides unobstructed views of the sky over Lake Erie, making it a great spot for watching meteor showers and spotting constellations.
20. Participate in a guided tour
There are a few options for tours on Kelleys Island.
The Chamber of Commerce has also put together a few self-guided walking tour options.
21. Relax at Caddy Shack Square with mini-golf and ice cream
This family-friendly spot offers mini-golf, ice cream, and a relaxed atmosphere, perfect for an evening of fun.
Caddy Shack Square is located in the heart of Kelleys Island's downtown area and is a family-friendly hub known for its entertaining mini-golf course and delicious ice cream.
This vibrant area offers a relaxed, fun atmosphere where you can enjoy a round of mini-golf. After the game, indulge in a variety of ice cream flavors at the on-site parlor. This is a great spot for a leisurely afternoon or evening treat.
Address: 115 Division St
22. Go Hunting
Hunting on Kelleys Island is permitted during designated seasons. Hunters can hunt for deer (bow only), small game, and waterfowl.
All hunters are required to have a valid Ohio hunting license, along with any necessary permits or stamps for the specific game.
Hunters must know and adhere to all state regulations and local ordinances, including designated hunting areas and safety guidelines.
23. Explore the Quarry Ruins
The Quarry Ruins near the East Quarry on Kelleys Island offer a unique hiking experience. Trails lead through historic remnants of the limestone quarry, showcasing old machinery and structures amidst natural landscapes. This area provides an intriguing blend of the island's industrial past and geological features, ideal for both history enthusiasts and nature lovers. It's next door to the Glacial Grooves!
Address: End of Division Street
24. Visit the North Shore Alvar State Nature Preserve
The North Shore Loop Trail, encompassing the North Shore Alvar State Nature Preserve, is a 1-mile trail starting at Kelleys Island State Park.
This easy and well-marked path offers scenic views of Lake Erie and traverses through unique and rare natural alvar ecosystems, making it perfect for birdwatching and nature observation.
What exactly are alvars? I didn't know and had to look it up – so I thought you might, too! They are: Alvars are flat limestone landscapes with little soil, creating a unique environment not commonly seen elsewhere.
This preserve offers visitors a chance to discover and learn about this unusual and fascinating type of terrain firsthand.
Address: 920 Division St. (Trail starts at Kelleys Island State Park)
25. Discover the Scheele Preserve
Scheele Preserve is a serene natural area offering a half-mile hike to the beach. The preserve features a winding trail through diverse habitats, leading to a small, secluded beach ideal for relaxation and nature observation.
This spot is perfect for those seeking a quiet escape into nature, with opportunities for birdwatching and peaceful walks.
This was one of our favorite hikes on the island. The trail does get narrow in a few places, but the beach there is a perfect place to spend some quiet time.
Address: West end of Monaghan Road
How to get to Kelleys Island
Getting to Kelleys Island, nestled in the western basin of Lake Erie, is an adventure in itself and sets the tone for an exciting visit. Here's how you can reach this charming destination:
The most common and scenic way to get to Kelleys Island is by ferry. The Kelleys Island Ferry Boat Line, from Marblehead, Ohio, offers a convenient and picturesque journey.
This ferry can accommodate passengers and vehicles so you can take your car. The ferry ride is about 20 minutes and offers stunning views of Lake Erie.
Check the ferry schedule in advance, as it varies seasonally. We took this ferry when we visited the island.
The Jet Express is another option to get to the island, but this option doesn't take vehicles.
Tip: You can bring your bicycle with you on the ferry! There is a small fee, but it's well worth it! We had a great time cruising around the island on our bicycles.
By Private Boat
If you own a boat or can rent one, traveling to Kelleys Island by private watercraft is exhilarating. The island has several public docks where you can moor your boat.
This mode of arrival allows for a more flexible schedule and a personal touch to your journey.
For a faster and more unique experience, flying to Kelleys Island is an option. The island hosts the Kelleys Island Municipal Airport, which accommodates small private planes and charters.
Arriving by air provides a breathtaking aerial view of the island and its surroundings, making for an unforgettable start to your trip.
Each of these travel methods offers its unique experience, turning the journey to Kelleys Island into a memorable part of your adventure.
How to get around Kelleys Island
Once you've landed on Kelleys Island, the pace slows down, and so do the modes of transportation – it's all part of the charm!
Rent a Bicycle
Biking is a wonderful way to soak in the island’s natural beauty. You can rent bikes in several places, making it easy to explore at your own pace. The island is relatively flat, making it suitable for all biking levels. Plus, it's eco-friendly!
Rent a Golf Cart
Golf carts are the unofficial transportation mode on Kelleys Island. They're perfect for leisurely exploring and can get you to places that cars can't. Rental shops are easy to find, and driving a golf cart adds a fun, quirky twist to your adventure.
Where to stay on Kelleys Island
Whether you're seeking luxury, rustic charm, or the comforts of home, Kelleys Island has a bit of everything.
From cozy bed and breakfasts to scenic campgrounds and private rentals, the island offers accommodations to suit every traveler's needs.
Final Thoughts: Things to do on Kelleys Island
These ideas can help you plan an unforgettable trip to Kelleys Island. From its rich history and natural wonders to the warm, welcoming community, the island promises a truly unique experience.
Whether it's adventure or relaxation you seek, Kelleys Island is a destination that caters to everyone and will leave you with lasting memories.
If you enjoyed your visit, consider exploring Put-in-Bay, just a few miles away!
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