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Great Family Island Vacation Getaways on the Great Lakes

When people think of taking vacations to an island, they're usually thinking of Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Bermuda or some other sun drenched tropical setting. While all those places are fun, families in the Midwest can experience their own unique island vacation closer to home and less expensively. The Great Lakes are just a hop and a skip away and there are some great island destinations within easy drive.

Today, we're starting our list of Great Lakes Island Family Getaways. We'll be publishing more Getaways over the coming weeks, so be sure to come back each week to see what's new!

Kelleys Island, Ohio - Exploring Glacial Grooves

Kelleys Island - East Shore

Kelleys Island - East Shore

Get your groove on at Kelleys Island, home of the Glacial Grooves State Memorial! Kelleys Island is sparsely populated island in Lake Erie, just off the Marblehead Peninsula, near Sandusky, Ohio. The island is home to a small village of the same name, a limestone quarry, Kelleys Island State Park and Glacial Grooves State Memorial. It's a fairly large island, consisting of twenty-eight hundred acres and an eighteen-mile shoreline.

How to get there

The easiest way to get to the island is by ferry or private boat. Visitors can catch an auto/passenger ferry from Marblehead, which departs hourly. The ferry operates year-round, weather permitting. Costs range from $15 for cars, $8 for motorcycles and $4 for bicycles, one way. You can also park your vehicle and just travel by foot if you'd like. Check out the Kelleys Island Ferry website, or call (419) 798-9763 for more information.

What to do

Kelleys Island Glacial Grooves

Kelleys Island Glacial Grooves

One of the island's main attractions is Glacial Grooves State Memorial. The Grooves, located on the north side of the island,  were scoured into solid limestone bedrock about 18,000 years ago by the great ice sheet which covered part of North America. Many grooves on the island were quarried away during the last century. All that remains now is a trough 400-feet long, 35-feet wide, and up to 10-feet deep. The Devonian limestone containing the grooves contains marine fossils that are 350 to 400 million years old.

The Grooves are amazingly beautiful and must be seen to be believed. They are protected by fencing but a walkway and stairs still give visitors a good view. The Memorial is open all year and is free.

If you're the adventurous outdoors type, you will enjoy kayaking around the island. With approximately 18 miles of shoreline, kayakers can put in at the sandy beach at Kelleys Island State Park and circumnavigate the island. You can rent sea kayaks at Kelleys Island State Park. Kids are allowed in the kayaks, but if they're 16 and under, they've got to be accompanied by an adult. For more information on renting a kayak or paddle boat check out the Kelleys Island Kayak Rental site.

The island also attracts snorkeling and scuba diving enthusiasts. Lake Erie contains approximately 1700 shipwrecks and 50 of them are in the waters surrounding Kelleys Island.The cool fresh lake water has preserved shipwrecks that would have disappeared long ago in a salt water environment. Ohio Sea Grant has created a Shipwreck Guide three wrecks: the F. H. Prince, the W.R. Hanna, and the Adventure. You can order the Shipwreck Guide from Ohio Sea Grant.

Kelleys Island is also known for its walleye fishing. Visitors can charter a fishing boat through Captain Park's Fishing Charters or just fish from shore. In addition to walleye, there is also catfish, yellow perch, smallmouth and white bass.

If you want to keep your feet firmly on ground, Kelleys Island has six miles of scenic trails that visitors can hike or bicycle. The East Quarry Trail cuts a grid-like pattern through the maze of brush and woods surrounding an old stone quarry and its water-filled east end, Horseshoe Pond. A good time to hike this trail is in the morning when deer and birds are more active. The North Shore Loop Trail parallels a moss-covered rocky limestone shelf area recently classified as an alvar ecosystem because of its unusual plant. There is also the boardwalk at North Pond, a natural estuary south of the state park campground.

Where to stay

Given the natural environment, camping on Kelleys Island is pretty popular. The family campground at Kelleys Island State Park has 45 non-electric and 84 electric sites, showers, flush toilets, and a dump station. During the summer season, two Rent-A-Camp units for groups and two Yurts, complete with an efficiency kitchen, bath with shower and furnished living area, are also available. Pets are welcome at designated sites. Other campground amenities are showers, flush toilets and a dump station. The campground also has a 100-foot swimming beach, volleyball court and playground for the kids. You can download a PDF campsite map. For camping, rent-a-camp and yurt reservations, call (419) 746-2546 or reserve them online.

If camping is a little too back-to-nature for you, there are some excellent bed and breakfasts visitors can stay in. Most allow kids, but some have age restrictions. For something suitable to smaller children, try The Fly Inn
Bed & Breakfast. It's a modern style home with a great in-ground pool, outside fire pit and grill and kitchen area. Call (419) 746-2525 or email owner Angella Palladino for reservations at

If you've got older children, you might consider the 1887 Victorian Cameron House. The Cameron House has fifteen rooms, original stained glass windows and four fireplaces. Children must be 11 years or older to stay. Owners Edward & Caroline Jorski can be reached at (419) 746-2520 or via email at

If you're looking for something that combines both of those two places, you should try The Inn at Kelleys Island. Its a beautiful historic home that sits on the shore with its own private beach! Try the Pilot House room which has two double beds, a TV, and views of Lake Erie through the windows. Owners Pat and Lori Hayes
can be reached at (866) 878-2135 and by email at

You can get a complete list of Kelleys Island Bed and Breakfasts from the Kelleys Island Chamber of Commerce Lodgings page.

Where to eat

Dining is pretty limited on the island, both in terms of numbers of places to eat, and when they're open. Some eateries are only open seasonally. Bag the Moon Saloon is a family-oriented restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, but its only open daily from June through August. In the spring and fall, its only open on weekends. You could also try Captain's Corner, which serves lunch and dinner June through September. Built in 1850, It's the oldest retail establishment still standing on the island.

Be sure to pay a visit to Kelleys Island Brewery too! They serve hand-crafted beer, but go with their hand-crafted rootbeer for the kids. They're open May through November and they do breakfast, lunch and dinner. Be sure to call ahead in the Spring and Fall for their hours, as they vary. (419) 746-2314 or (419) 746-2820.

photo credits: Kelleys Island - East Shore by valeehill, CC BY-ND 2.0 || Kelleys Island Glacial Grooves by Piper R92, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

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