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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.

Related posts:

  1. Warren County, Ohio — A Mom’s Family Vacation Paradise
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  3. Tall Ships Challenge Coming to the Great Lakes in 2010
  4. Mission Point Resort Offers Mackinac Island’s Most Affordable Fall Packages
  5. The River Pirates of Cave-In-Rock

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