The largest American island in Lake Erie is reachable by ferry from the city of Sandusky and the Marblehead Peninsula on Ohio’s mainland (and directly from South Bass Island if you go there first). Kelleys is a quaint nautical gem in many ways. For starters, 800 acres of Ohio State Park ensure endless camping, hiking, nature-watching (Monarch butterflies, birds, coyotes, and white-tailed deer to name a few), and even fossil hunting. Of course, with wide sandy beaches along much of the island’s shoreline, sunning and swimming are just right, too. And with over ten sunken schooners and steamships just offshore, the waters around Kelleys Island are especially appealing to divers.
Once again, bicycles and golf carts are best for navigating Kelleys’ winding two-lane paved roads. All four square miles of island charm are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, so the varied architecture might be what you notice first—from Italianate, Queen Anne, and Gothic Revival to late Victorian styles. The oldest house (located on Division Road) is a flat England saltbox style and was built in 1835. The Kelleys Island Historical Association offers excellent maps and details for history buffs wanting to learn more about the island’s past and the famous faces, including Grover Cleveland and William Howard Taft, who are said to have been frequent visitors back in their day.
The north side of the island (adjacent to Kelleys Island State Park campground and public beach) is home to an especially “groovy” natural attraction—impressive glacial grooves that were scoured into the limestone bedrock over 18,000 years ago by an advancing glacier. These prehistoric grooves—430 feet long, 15 feet deep, and 35 feet wide—are the largest and finest examples of glacial gashes left in the world.
On the south shore, stop at Inscription Rock to see prehistoric pictographs of animals and human figures that archaeologists estimate were created between AD 1200 and 1600. Before its discovery in 1833, the 32-foot x 21-foot flat-topped limestone slab had been badly eroded by time and weather. Its markings are now protected by a roof and viewing platform.
Filled with unique attractions and natural scenic splendor, it’s easy to see why small South Bass and Kelleys Islands are favorite destinations for winding down to a slower pace. Swing in a hammock at your campsite, watch stunning sunsets, swim, boat, fish, hike, and bike. There’s never a question of what to do, it’s more like what to do next, but don’t be in a hurry. Do it all on island time—just like “gulls and buoys” have been doing for well over a century!
Kelleys Island Chamber of Commerce Phone: 419-746-2360
Kelleys Island Ferry Boat Line departs from Marblehead
510 West Main St. (across from the Police Dept. and Fire Station)
Directions to Marblehead, Ohio: Exit Rt. 2 at 269 North, take 269 N. to Route 163, turn Right (East) onto 163, take 163 E into Marblehead.
The campground on Kelleys Island contains 43 non-electric and 82 electric sites, showers, flush toilets, dump station, volleyball court and playground. The camp office loans games and sports equipment to registered campers. Naturalist programs held in the summer. Pets permitted in designated sites.
Photo Credits: All Kelleys Island photos provided by Michael D. Williams, photojournalist for Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources.
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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