Road Trip: A Day on Kelleys Island

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.

Getting There

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.)

KI Ferry Boat from the KI Shore

The Ferry

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.)

View from the Ferry

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.


Our campsite, close to the lake

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

Camp breakfast on point!

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!

Island House for Dinner

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.

Bailing Out

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.)

Last Views

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.

Heading Home

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.

Final Thoughts

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.



Road Trip: Holden Arboretum

Holden Arboretum

For a Saturday Family Adventure, we decided on a trip up to the Holden Arboretum. This park has been on my bucket list since they opened the canopy walk in the last couple years.

What It Is

I explained an arboretum to my kids as an “outside tree museum in a park.”  Which made sense to them.  Holden Arboretum is 3,600 acres of a grounds to explore with 20 miles of trails.  We (obviously) didn’t see the whole thing in one trip.  Holden has a canopy walk and a very tall tower to explore for a small extra fee.

Our Experience

Hourglass Pond

We drove up to Kirtland, Ohio (on the east side of Cleveland) on a beautiful Saturday.  The park is located in the middle of some residential areas with many other metro parks near by.

The arboretum is open from 9:00 – 5:00 daily.  We spent about 3 hours total walking around and exploring before we ran out of steam.

What We Spent

This is on the cheaper side for admissions.  Adults are $10, Children 6 – 17 are $4, under 6 is free.  The Canopy Walk & Tower ticket is $4/$2 additional.  There are a few discount options for active military and AAA members.  There are also a variety of membership options available.  If you think you’ll go up seasonally and have a big family, this would make sense.  (Side note: I do wish places had Single Parent Family membership options.  I don’t have 2 adults.  Family memberships are just never a good deal for me….. grr.)

  • 1 Adult, 2 Kids Admission to the Arboretum – $18
  • Canopy Walk & Tower for each of us – $8
  • AAA Discount – $3
  • Total Spent: $26

What We Did

We decided to head back to the Canopy Walk and Tower first.  Not knowing quite what to expect, we wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to get through these.

Canopy Walk

The Murch Canopy Walk consists of a few different suspended bridges between platforms.  You feel like you are walking among the canopy of the trees.  There is a small amount of movement to the bridges but not too scary at all.  It was quite pretty and you got a good look at the top parts of the trees.  To walk the whole canopy walk takes about 5 – 10 minutes.  I was a little disappointed by the short length of the thing (and you can only go around once), but it was pretty cool overall.

View from tower

The Kalberer Emergent Tower is one super tall tower with 195 steps to the top.  This was stunning and our favorite.  You are waaaaayyyyyy up above the trees and get a good look at the overall landscape and Lake Erie in the distance.  The top of the tower sways quite a bit in the wind which is always thrilling.  There are platforms along the way up to stop and rest if needed.   This attraction took a little longer, probably 15 minutes to walk all the way up casually, enjoy the view a bit, and come back down.

For the rest of our time we explored a couple of the trails.  We spent a good bit of time walking the Woodland Trail with a few side trails to see a boardwalk and a meditation spot.  We looked at the rhododendron section on our way to the canopy walk and tower.  And we checked out some of the “Buckeye Buds Adventure Woods” due to a wrong turn.   We did a super fast walk around part of the butterfly garden – we were getting tired, hungry, and it isn’t butterfly season so this was not our favorite.

Our Tips

There was a small selection of food available; it looked like some group was selling hot dogs, chips, etc. as a fund raiser.  There is a large picnic area near the visitor’s center that would be great for a packed lunch.

Everything here is outdoors.  The visitor’s center doesn’t have much inside.  Be prepared for the weather.

Leashed dogs are permitted on the property, but not on the canopy walk, tower, or in any buildings.

Final Thoughts

This was a great way to walk around for a few hours.  It is a long drive from Columbus and would be a great thing to add in to a weekend trip to Cleveland.  We did stop in Eastlake for an early dinner then to Willowick for some ice cream.  We tried to find a spot to check out the lake but only found one park that had a little overlook area.

We all had a nice time and enjoyed the arboretum overall.  The tower was definitely the highlight for all.


Preservation Parks Summer Letterbox Adventure

The Preservation Parks of Delaware County has launched their annual Summer Letterbox Adventure with some lovely improvements over the last couple years’ programs.

The Summer Program

What is it?

Letterboxing is essentially a treasure hunt.  You follow a set of clues to locate a box hidden along the trail.  When you find it, you collect a stamp in your book and sign the log that you were there.  Unlike Geocaching, there is no trinket to be collected.  Your reward is your success in finding the box and a stamp. (Yay… no crappy toy to later sneak into the trash.)

This program is through the Preservation Parks and the Delaware County Library.  When you sign up, you receive a book with clues for 8 of the Preservation Parks.  As you follow the clues in the book, you will learn about some some aspect of the natural world (a particular animal found in that park, trees, habitats, etc.).

This year they have added the Ice Age Safari program to the book.  As you’re looking for your letterbox, keep an eye out for life size silhouettes of prehistoric animals.  There are 5 of these to find.

If you complete either of the programs, you can retrieve a small prize.  (ahh.. there’s the trinket.)



How to start

To get started, you need to register* and get a book.  The program page has directions for registering.  Once registered, pick up a booklet at the Children’s Desk at the library.   Then you’re set.

While you’re there, explore the library,  sign up for the summer reading program, hang out a bit.  There is another part of a day tackled with the kids.

* My kids went to the library and registered there.  We didn’t know we needed to register ahead of time.  This didn’t seem to be an issue.

The Parks

If you’ve not checked out the Preservation parks, you’re missing out on one of the hidden treasures of Delaware County.  These small parks are perfect for an evening family walk or quick weekend outing.  Most of the trails are rather short and very manageable for families with smaller kids.  The trails are about a mile/mile-and-a-half long, wide, and generally stroller and dog friendly*. Many of the parks have a natural play area to check out; several have full fledged playgrounds.  Most have a nice new restroom facility as well and provide (the best!) poop bags for picking up after Fido.  The parks are open from 8 a.m. – 9 p.m. daily.

* Hogback Ridge is not stroller friendly.  There are many wood steps. Parts of Shale Hollow does not allow dogs in the creek area which is where the letterbox is.

Our Experience 

My kids are a lot older than the intended audience of this program.  They are generally aiming at the preschool/elementary school set and their families.  At nearly-13 and 15 1/2, they pretty quickly and easily find the boxes.  Younger ones may need a bit more help.  However we still have a ton of fun.   The kids are well beyond me needing to do the reading which is nice.

Short descriptions of our visits to the parks are below.  I will update as we go along.

1st Park – Char Mar Ridge

2nd Park – Shale Hollow

3rd Park – Hogback Ridge

Our Tips

  • My dog is picking up a ton of ticks at the parks this year.  Do a thorough check for ticks before getting back in the car.
  • Mosquitoes do get a bit bad with the many creeks and pools of water.  Wear bug spray.
  • We love the evenings at the parks.  They aren’t busy and near sunset is a lovely time to be in the woods.
  • Take along a pen – you can sign the log book that you were there, make notes in your letterbox book, and fill out where you see the prehistoric Ice Age animals.
  • Get one book per kid.  There is nothing worse than fighting over who gets to stamp.  Unless of course it’s who gets to stamp first.

Final Thoughts

You really can’t go wrong trying out this program and checking out the parks.  It’s free, it’s fun, and it’s quick.  You can spread it out through the summer and make it a weekly outing or a “hmm… it’s nice out let’s do something quick” activity.  And if the kids hate it, don’t do any more.  It’s not a huge commitment.


Our Journey

1st Park – Char Mar Ridge

June 6 – We started with Char Mar, going after dinner.  We walked the 1.5 mile trail in under an hour.  This park, in Genoa Township just north of Westerville, has a wildlife blind overlooking part of Hoover Reservoir  which is quite nice (you do have to walk up a ton of stairs to get to it).  It also has a natural play area near the start of the trail which is fun to check out.   Along the trail there are signs that suggest you do different calisthenic exercises as you go along.  The kids get a kick out of stopping and doing 10 jumping jacks or 10 walking lunges along the way.

On this journey we learned a lot about beavers which turned out to be rather fascinating.  While we did not see any actual beavers, we did see a few spots where we think they have made a dam.  And we picked out some tree stumps that had been chewed. And we saw a raccoon enjoying dinner.

2nd Park – Shale Hollow

June 8 – we went to Shale Hallow early evening.  This park is off of US 23, behind Paul’s Marine. And it is a stunner!  This hidden gem has a creek in a shale lined gorge that you can walk in and explore.  Wear water shoes or old tennis shoes and spend some time exploring.  The letterbox path will have you check out the creek and then take a trail to find the actual box.   There is also a natural play area at this park, but “It kind of sucks compared to Char Mar” (per the 12 yr old). And this site has an exhibit building as well, but it was closed when we were there.  Dogs are not permitted on the creek or the Overlook Trail accessible from the park.  They are permitted on Great Horned Owl trail (but that is not where the letterbox is).

On this journey we learned about glacier activity, shale (duh), and concretions.  Concretions (simply a mass of sedimentary rock that formed around some small object) fascinate me.  In this area you can see some nearly perfect spheres in the shale cliffs and creek bed.  Some are more doughnut shaped due to erosion.  Shale also makes fantastic rock skipping rocks.  We had a lot of fun with that.

3rd Park – Hogback Ridge

June 25 – For a Sunday morning family walk, we headed up to Hogback Ridge park.  This park is in the Sunbury area, above Alum Creek State Park.  On this adventure we learned about the layers of the forest.  This park also has an Ice Age find.

The views are a bit less stunning here than Shale Hollow and there are no playground areas, but it is a nice walk.  There is a small nature center building open on weekdays.  The stairs and bridge crossing the ravine are pretty fancy, but make this trail non-stroller friendly.   When you are in the back loop of the trail, take a very short side trail to the wildlife blind overlooking part of Alum Creek.


Ohio Chinese Lantern Festival

DragonSunday, December 4, the kids and I decided to check out the Ohio Chinese Lantern Festival at the Ohio Expo Center & State Fair Grounds (it’s in the Natural Resources area of the State Fair Grounds).  This special event runs through January 2, 2017.

The Crew

The kids (12 & 15) and I went to this event.  I had to drag them along to get them to go, but once there, they seemed to enjoy it. (When we were getting ready for bed, I thanked my 15-year-old son for going to the festival with me.  He replied “It really was pretty cool, other than the rain. — I had fun.”  You don’t get much better than that from a 15-year-old young man! )

What It Is

Ohio Chinese Lantern Festival boasts 39 beautiful lantern displays ranging from a 200 feet long illuminated dragon to glowing tulip-lined walk ways. The lanterns are created by hand using silk fabric, steel frames, and tens of thousands of LED lights. (

There are tables of various things for sale from cheepy little light up stuff to hand crafted paper cutout cards. Its a little bit of a mix of things.

They have performances on the amphitheater stage. This was a small troupe of performers with some fun acts (juggling, acrobatics, dancing) and lasted about 20 minutes.

They have food and drinks available. They had an “American” station that had burgers, brats, fries, etc.  There was a “Chinese” station that had lo mein, fried wontons, rice, etc.  A “Sweets” station with fortune cookies, fried oreos, fried snickers.  And then a variety of drinks from Hot Cocoa to cider to beer to cocktails.

A Pandorama <-- clever!
– A Pandorama <– Clever! (Caption courtesy of the 12 year old)

Our Experience

I’ve had several people ask me “Was it worth it? It seemed expensive”.  To which I have replied a very non-committal  “eeeee…..yeah?!?”.  Depends on how you value this kind of thing.  I absolutely love lights and lighted exhibits.  This was also something new to Columbus and was quite different than other light exhibits at this time of year.  So, for me, yeah.. it was worth it.  Had the weather been a bit better it would have been better.

What I spent:

  • Parking – $5
  • Admission – $15 for me, $10 for each kid under 17 = $35 for us (They have a family 4 pack that is $40 for 2 adults &2 kids, which brings the cost per person down a bit. I’ve yet to find places that give single-parent families much of a break on these things. 🙂 )
  • Hot Cocoa – $3 each – $9 for us each to have one.  (They were a good size cup, so $3 seemed pretty reasonable.)
  • Total: $49

If you have a bunch of “I want.. i want… i want” people in your group, food could get expensive here as could the lure of the little toys and what not.

What we did:

We walked around the lights and really enjoyed them, it was nice variety of shapes and scenes.  It probably took us just about 30 minutes to walk thru and take pictures.  We then had to wait about 30 minutes to see the 6:30 performance. All told, we were there just under 2 hours but a lot of that was spent standing around the food area just waiting.  If the weather was nice, we may have walked back through the lights, but it was a chilly rainy night.

We watched the performances and all really enjoyed that.  We had a lot of “wow.. how’d he do that!?!?” moments.  It’s no Cirque du Soleil, but it was enjoyable.

Our Tips

Everything is outdoors.  Only the food area had a covering, but it is very open.  Dress for the weather!!! We were wet and cold when we left.  The amphitheater seating is all completely open to the elements.  If it’s been raining or snowing, you may want to throw a poncho or plastic bag in your pocket before you go so that you have something dry to sit on.

We spent a lot of time waiting around for the performance.  If you can get there shortly before the 6:30 or 8:00 performance, then walk through the lights after you could better manage the time.  My kids just started to get on each other’s nerves before the show.  I noticed families with little kids having the same issue as they were waiting.dsc_0456

Final Thoughts

For me, this was a fun evening out without too much time commitment or pressure.  It would make a good week night outing if there isn’t much homework. The fair grounds are relatively close and easy to get to.  I really love lights, so it was very enjoyable for me.  Both kids seemed to enjoy everything other than the weather. We call it a win.