Since the Victorian era, South Bass Island has been a famous resort destination. It remains more bustling than Kelleys Island, so if you’re seeking solitude, skip the weekends and instead visit during the week. No matter when you go, though, half the fun is simply arriving. Sailing to South Bass Island on the 100-year-old Miller Boat Line from Catawba Point on the Ohio mainland is particularly pretty. Get set to enjoy a scenic twenty-minute ferry ride where cool breezes blow and sea gulls swirl and dip between endless shades of blue sky and water. RVs as well as foot passengers are welcome.
The locals call South Bass Island “Put-In-Bay” which is really the name of the village. Put-In-Bay got its name from the original inhabitants, the Ottawa and Huron Indians, who “put in at the bay” during their many canoe journeys across Lake Erie. If you’re camping, South Bass Island State Park on the west side will be your home base. Leave the rig there and rent a bicycle or golf cart to get around the island—everyone does. Walking, bicycling, and carts are way more fun than larger vehicles for exploring the two-by-four-mile island.
South Bass is rich in naval history. Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, the third tallest memorial in the United States, towers above the downtown harbor. Don’t miss the bird’s eye view from high atop the 352-foot column! The memorial commemorates Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s victory over the British in the Battle of Lake Erie—the same battle that made famous his saying, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.” Commodore Perry’s inferior fleet defeated the British and gave the Americans control of Lake Erie, which ultimately led to the defeat of the British during the War of 1812. Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial also celebrates lasting peace between the USA and Canada, which you’ll learn more about inside the Visitor Center.
Heineman Winery & Crystal Cave, about a mile from Put-In-Bay, has been going strong since 1888 and is now run by third and fourth generation Heinemans. You can tour their facility (wine and juice tasting included in the ticket price) and learn how their varieties are made and aged. Crystal Cave, the world’s largest geode, is located underneath the winery. Cool cave tours are especially delightful on a hot summer day because the underground temperature stays quite chilly. The walls of the cave are covered in strontium sulfate, a blue-ish mineral called celestite. Some of these crystals grow to be 18 inches long!
Although compact, the island’s downtown is a lively mix of small shops, restaurants, a marina, and DeRivera Park. The park is perfect for picnicking and also where most of the island’s special events are held. Also downtown is the rare 1917 all-wood Kimberly Carousel—named after the owner’s daughter—that will take you for a magical ride! You can also board the Tour Train here for an hour-long, narrated trip to the island’s highlights (you can hop off at designated stops to explore and then re-board later).
Also sprinkled around the charismatic island, is an Aquatic Visitors Center (kids learn to fish for free), a 9-hole golf course, and Stonehenge Estate, filled with antiques and island memorabilia from the 1800s. A bit on the touristy side, Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center is just that—many attractions in one place, including a Butterfly Museum, miniature golf course, and the cave first discovered by Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry.
Check back for part 3 and find out about the “groovy” attraction on Kelleys Island…
Visitor Information and Activities Phone: 419-351-5166
Put-In-Bay Chamber of Commerce Phone: 419-285-2832
Miller Boat Line Phone: 1-800-500-2421
Miller Ferries depart Catawba Point for Put-in-Bay. Directions to Miller Ferry Dock at Catawba (about 70 miles west of Cleveland or 40 miles east of Toledo): follow signs on Rte. 2 to the Catawba Is/Rte.53N Exit. Continue straight north for about 7 miles to the Miller Ferry Dock area.
The campground on South Bass Island features 125 non-electric sites and 11 full service sites with electric, water and sewer hook-ups, flush toilets, showers, a dump station, a picnic shelter, picnic areas, launch ramp, and fishing pier. Pets permitted in designated sites.
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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