Looking for that million-miles-away-from-it-all feeling that only an island setting can provide? Prefer to get there in the comfort of your roomy RV instead of a tight airplane seat? You absolutely can do that when visiting Northeastern Ohio’s scenic Lake Erie Islands! The Buckeye State has islands? You might be surprised, but actually more than a dozen small islands (not all inhabited) lay between mainland Ohio and its northern neighbor Canada.
Although no coconuts sway in the breezes here, you won’t miss the typical tropical setting that “island” usually brings to mind. The most popular and populated, close-in South Bass and Kelleys Islands, are as carefree and charming as any saltwater island retreat—minus the geckos and palm fronds. Each island has its own personality—South Bass is more lively, Kelleys more laid back—and large retailers and hotel chains are absent from both. Instead, you’ll find friendly folk and the small-town pleasures of ice cream stands, local festivals, nice campgrounds, and family-owned businesses surrounded by beautiful scenery.
Walleye, Warblers & Wine
If you’re an angler, don’t forget the rod and tackle box. Greater numbers and varieties of fish are caught here than in any other Great Lake, so you’re sure not to have to tell tall fish tales! This region is known as the “Walleye Capital of the World” but smallmouth bass, white bass, and catfish are also plentiful. If you’ve never tasted fresh Lake Erie perch, you’re in for a very tasty treat!
Birding is a particularly popular pastime, too, so bring binoculars. Especially during annual migrations (May and September), over 200 species of songbirds and birds of prey can be spotted across the diverse island habitats. And not just common crows, cranes and cormorants either—Audubon Club members track everything with wings, from Bald eagles to Eastern Bluebirds, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Blackburnian Warblers, and Yellow-billed Cuckoos.
Thanks to the tempering effect of the relatively shallow, warm water, the Lake Erie islands remain frost-free longer than any other part of the state. This condition makes it ideal for growing many types of fruit, including grapes. In fact, the cultivation of grapes has always been profitable for island residents (except during Prohibition) and continues today. Concord, Catawba, Delaware, and Niagara are native-grown grapes you’ll find in local libations produced by small family-owned wineries. You might even hear South Bass and Kelleys referred to as the “Wine Islands.”
Now that your interest is piqued in the Lake Erie Islands… check back for parts 2 and 3 and find out what to see and do on South Bass Island.
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In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com