May 19 – 20 – For a spring camping trip, we decided to hit up Kelleys Island. This small island in Lake Erie is just under 4 1/2 square Miles. It has a nice mix of natural areas to explore, restaurants to check out, and touristy things to do. It has a little something for everybody. The Chamber of Commerce site is a good starting point for planning what to see.
Half of the fun of a trip is the journey, right? That was the certainly the case for us.
We headed out of North Columbus at about 4:00 Friday afternoon. The Kelleys Island Ferry out of Marblehead was the best route for us. It took us just under 2 1/2 hours to get there and we arrived just before 6:30. Most of the drive is on two- lane country highway with the occasional small town. Tip: there are, like, no good food options on this route, at all, not even a McDonald’s. Eat before you take off and pack snacks. (You might find a restaurant/diner/bar in downtown Bucyrus if you want to sit down.)
When I was planning the trip, I saw that in mid-May, the ferry leaves Marblehead every 30 minutes until about 7:00. Then it’s every hour. (Check their schedule before you go.) We were aiming for that 6:30 ferry so we could get our camp setup and cook dinner when we got there. I did not account for the amount of people heading over after work on Fridays…and we were ahead of the busy season. We didn’t get onto a ferry until after 7:30. Since we were camping, we needed to take our car across so we just had to wait. (If you aren’t camping, park at the ferry lot and just go across on foot or with your bicycle. There is no need for a car.)
Living in the middle of Ohio, a ferry is very novel experience for all of us. Waiting to get on the ferry is a lot of just waiting. We were able to kill the time by watching the ferries come and go, watching people move around, and a quick trip into the restroom/vending machine.
The ferry ride is about 30 minutes or so. We really enjoyed watching the shore line disappear, seeing the waves crash over the side of the boat 😱, and watching Cedar Point appear. The cars were so packed in and the waves were so choppy, no one got out of the cars at all. It was quite a ride! The waves were coming up enough that some splashed in my open car window.
On the Island
The campground is just a short drive from the ferry landing. All of the island is a short drive from the ferry landing. It’s a small island. If you are driving, stay aware. There are lots of people on bicycles, in golf carts, and on foot in the roadway.
We opted to stay at the Kelleys Island State Park Campground for a couple of reasons: We enjoy camping and it’s a whole lot cheaper than a hotel. The Kelleys Island Campground is a pretty decent spot as far as state park camping goes. There are a number of sites very near the lake, sites around a couple different loops, and a handful of yurts to rent.
We opted for a site very near the lake, which would have been super cool if it was better weather. We had strong winds coming off the lake that made a fire impossible Friday night. About half of the folks setting up tents Friday night bailed out at some point. Saturday our weather was better and I was able to get a breakfast fire going. Pay attention to the weather if you’re choosing the lake view sites. There is no protection from the wind.
There are houses to rent and other places to stay if you don’t want to camp but want to stay on the island.
Dining on the Island
The weather was so windy Friday night and it was after 8:00 when we got to the camp site. My patience ran out and trying to cook our planned meal wasn’t going to happen. We ended up running back into the main area and having dinner at a restaurant. I made up for it the next morning with an amazing camp breakfast!
There are several places to eat on the island if cooking over a campfire isn’t your thing. We opted for the Island House because it looked less bar like than some of the other options. I’m very grateful that they held the kitchen open for us for a few extra minutes so we could eat.
Exploring the Island
We spent Saturday bicycling around the island and checking things out. Many people bike or use golf carts and the little bit of car traffic is aware of this. So riding in the road, even for the kids, is very comfortable.
From the campground, we headed down to check out the Historical Museum and Church to learn a little about the island’s history. The museum is pretty small but has a lot to look at.
From there, we biked down along the southern coast checking out things as we went. Inscription Rock is one of my favorites. After we got tired of checking out the coast (and fighting the wind), we decided to go in search of Ice Cream. We were a bit early for the ice cream places to be open, but finally found some back up by the campground.
Restored with some ice cream, and a break from the bicycle seat, we went on up to check out the glacial grooves. The KI Glacial Grooves are the best example of glacial grooves in the world that you can actually get to. They are pretty cool if you are into Geologic features. However the chain link fence and slightly worn down nature of the park leaves something to be desired.
After checking out the beach at the north end of the island, we headed back to camp to eat some lunch and decide our next steps.
We watched the forecast for a bit and decided to bail out a day early. It was predicted to rain most of the next 24 hours. Based on the previous nights wind and inability to start a fire, we decided we’d rather miss out on a little fun than be miserable just sitting in the tent, wet. We were all a little disappointed, but I think it was the right call. (And… honestly, my thought process was this: “If it gets really bad, I can’t get off this damn island until morning. There is no driving home in the middle of the night.” Sometimes you just have to walk away.)
On the way out we took in a short hike at the North Pond State Nature Preserve and on the East Quarry Trails. Both were great hikes and we really enjoyed them. The East Quarry is almost other-worldly. We only walked part way around the East Quarry area due to threatening weather. But we got a good feel for it.
The rain started coming down just as we finished up hiking, so back to the ferry we went. The trip back across the lake was more choppy than the way over. We were all pretty happy to land on solid ground back in Marblehead.
While in Marblehead, we headed over to check out the Marblehead Lighthouse. Marblehead is the oldest lighthouse in continuous operation in the Great Lakes. The park takes only a few minutes to explore but is worth a stop.
We headed on back to Columbus after the lighthouse. We all had a good time but were happy to be out of the weather and back in our own beds. We made our planned campfire food at home when we got there, which was a lot of fun. S’mores made under the broiler worked out quite nicely!
What We Spent
We were $92, round trip for the ferry ride (1 car, 3 people 12 and over)
Campsite $70 for 2 nights ahead of the season
Dinner due to lack of fire – $35
Ice Cream – $12ish for 3 cones
Otherwise our costs were limited to the food we took up with us, which wasn’t much more than I would normally spend for groceries if we were at home. And about a tank of gas. The Museum was free the day we went (normally it’s a couple of dollars), and everything else we did was free.
There are other things on the island that we didn’t see. There are a couple of other hiking trails that are short. And there is a winery and a brewery to check out. I went to both of those on a previous trip with a girl friend. They are both good, though not anything super special, if you are into that kind of thing.
We all felt like we got a good taste and overview of the island on our adventure. The weather was a bit of a bummer for us, but we all had fun.