50 Island Excursions

From touring the world’s largest geode to sipping mojitos with your feet in the sand, the Lake Erie islands offer good times all summer long. 
Take the kids fishing. A century ago, a fish hatchery was built on Put-in-Bay, its ornate brick building standing watch over Fishery Bay from the shore. The hatchery closed in 1988, but it’s now part of the Aquatic Visitors Center run by Ohio State’s Ohio Sea Grant program and state Division of Wildlife. The visitors center offers tours, information and free fishing for kids under 16. 614-292-8949, ohioseagrant.osu.edu 

Get a buzz. Pelee Island’s new Stone House 1891 has a lofty goal — to make Canada proud of what Pelee has to offer by using local ingredients in everything from the wood-fired pizzas to its own brand of craft ale and lager. There’s already plenty of buzz about the house Honey Cream Ale, which uses honey from the beekeeper down the road. 519-724-1100, stonehouse1891.com

Dine on the greens. A cold beer and a burger are only a text away when you’re playing a round of golf on Grand Island in New York. The staff at the new Bogey’s Restaurant gets the ball rolling in the kitchen, then zips your order out in a customized food golf cart. The restaurant itself is up to par, too. When the weather is nice, the walls come down, providing panoramic views of the action on the course. 716-953-3563, facebook.com/bogeysatbeaverisland

See the circus in a whole new way. When the Kelly Miller Circus comes back to Kelleys Island for its 14th season (Aug. 6-7), there won’t be any exotic animals. Instead, the acts will focus on amazing human endeavors from fire breathing to aerial stunts. 580-326-9229, kellymillercircus.com

Go country. Last year, thousands of people gathered on Put-in-Bay for the inaugural Bash on the Bay, headlined by country music star Toby Keith. This year, the featured act for the second annual bash (Aug. 30) are the Rascal Flatts, along with performances by Chris Lane and the Cory Farley Band. bashonthebay.com

Get a high five. Most people visit The Village Pump on Kelleys Island to get a taste of the famous brandy alexander, but don’t leave until you get a high five from Gary. It’s a rite of passage. 419-746-2281, villagepumpkioh.com
[art by lwb: https://flic.kr/p/oNsv1i]

Pedal around Pelee. Pelee Island is a bike-friendly destination in more ways than one. You can explore the island with your own bicycle, rent one across from the ferry dock at Comfortech (519-724-2828, peleebikerental.com) or even rent a water trike from Pelee Island Charters (519-428-6680, peleeislandcharters.com), which gets you around the island in a whole different way.

Wing it. Kick off the weekend on Kelleys Island at Caddy Shack Square with Bret Maiers‘ grilled wings and a cold craft beer on the Buckeye Bar patio. The grill gets going at 4 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. 419-746-2518, caddyshacksquare.com

Explore the island with a guide. Explore Pelee offers guided tours by bike or van to give you a more in-depth look at Canada’s southernmost inhabited landmass. The new bike-and-brew tour concludes with a tasting flight of four Ontario craft beers at Stone House 1891. 519-325-8687, explorepelee.com

Take the kids mini-golfing. The new Sand Trap Tiki Hut brings some beach atmosphere to Caddy Shack Square and its newly redesigned 18-hole putt-putt course. Let the kids play a round of mini golf while you indulge in golf-themed drinks. Afterward, the whole family can refuel on Italian sausages and hot dogs. 419-746-2664, caddyshacksquare.com

Sip the islands’ signature wine. Sweet pink Catawba wine is perfect for sipping on a hot summer day. You’ll find it at Heineman’s Winery on Put-in-Bay. While you’re there, check out Crystal Cave, which is the largest geode in the world. 419-285-2811, heinemanswinery.com

Take in the first light at the lighthouse. The lonely ruins of the Pelee Island lighthouse are tucked away in the northeast corner of the island. While it can be visited anytime, early risers should head there in the morning when the sunrise envelopes the lighthouse in a warm glow. From the trailhead, it takes about 10 minutes to walk to the lighthouse.

Play in the park. Located in the heart of Put-in-Bay, DeRivera Park offers the best playground around, plus picnic tables, restrooms and an ideal spot for taking a break in the shade and people-watching. 

Go to the brink. At the top of Niagara Falls, the thunderous Niagara River divides in two, wrapping around Goat Island before tumbling 175 feet into the famous gorge. Walking and biking trails skirt the edge of the woods covering the island, giving visitors access to spectacular waterfront views from all angles. Most of the “oohs“ and “ahhs“ happen at Terrapin Point, the observation point closest to Horseshoe Falls on the New York side, but there’s also a footbridge to Luna Island and close-up access to the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. If being awestruck by natural beauty on the edge of Niagara Falls isn’t enough, Cave of the Winds has a series of wooden walkways that lead to the base of Bridal Veil Falls, where the rushing water produces hurricane-force winds. It’ll blow you away. 716-278-1796, niagarafallsstatepark.com

Make your way to Mohawk Island. More than a mile off Canada’s south coast, Mohawk Island provides peaceful nesting grounds for birds such as gulls, terns and cormorants. The Canadian government, which designated the island a National Wildlife Area, limits access between April 1 and July 31. Outside of that period, visitors can come ashore to explore the tiny island, watch birds, picnic on the beach, fish and get a closer look at the historic stone lighthouse, which was built in 1848 to guide ships into the Welland Canal. Weather permitting, Grand River Kayak offers a three-hour guided paddling trip to the remote outpost by kayak. 888-529-2515, grandriverkayak.ca

Rest and reflect. Christine Palichuk has always loved the old, crumbling mission hall on Pelee Island, but it had seen better days so she made a plan to recreate the building in a new spot. The dilapidated building was dismantled and pieces of the structure were used in artwork sold to help fund the project. The new mission hall, called The Sanctuary, is located at the corner of Ruggle’s Run and Henderson, and beckons passersby with its open walls and simple décor. It’s a place to take shelter from the rain, rest after a long bike ride or just to be alone. Don’t miss the door embedded in the ceiling. themissionhallproject.weebly.com

Tap into urban surf culture. On Aug. 11, stand-up paddleboard, kayak and surf-ski racers will converge on Michigan’s Belle Island for the annual Once Around Bell Isle, a 7-mile race through the international waters of the Detroit River. While the competition is recommended for those with experience, newbies can watch the race, enjoy live entertainment, drink, eat and even try out SUPs. oabidetroit.com

Tour Perry’s Cave. During the War of 1812, Oliver Hazard Perry drew fresh water from the streams in caves under Put-in-Bay. A century later, so did the Victory Hotel, the opulent resort on South Bass Island that was consumed by fire in 1919. Today, the cave is available for tours (you might want to bring a jacket; it remains around 50 degrees in the cave) as part of Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center, which also includes a car museum (with a parade every Sunday afternoon during the summer), miniature golf and a rock-climbing wall. 419-285-2283, perryscave.com

Build a sandcastle. Families with find a perfect patch of sand at Kelleys Island State Park, where gentle waves wash up on the horseshoe-shaped beach. The setting is ideal for all the kids’ construction projects. 419-746-2546, parks.ohiodnr.gov/kelleysisland
[art by LWB: https://www.flickr.com/photos/farflung/albums/72157672233160981]

Don’t forget about fall. Autumn is an ideal time to visit the islands, especially when there’s an event. On Put-in-Bay, you’ll find the Island Wine Festival (Oct. 6), Oktoberfest (Oct. 13-14) and Halloween at the Bay (Oct. 27). On Kelleys Island, check out the Fall Feathers & Foliage Bird Festival (Sept. 22), Harvest Fest (Sept. 29) and Oktoberfest (Oct. 6).

Let the kids take a spin. Located in the heart of downtown Put-in-Bay, Kimberly’s Carousel lets you take a ride on a chicken, pig, rooster, cow or the island favorite — Pete the Perch. Tickets can be purchased inside The Carriage House for $1.50. 419-285-2212

Tune into Middle Bass. For the second year in a row, the Lake Erie Conservancy will host the Middle Bass Island Music Festival (July 14) at the former Lonz Winery, recently restored and now in use as a state campground and picnic area. The family-friendly event features five area acts and concessions. Proceeds benefit the conservancy, which encourages conservation and preservation of lands around Lake Erie. facebook.com/mbifest

Experience Pelee Island Unplugged. For two summer days and nights (Aug. 4-5) music fills the air of East Park Campground instead of the sound of crickets and frogs. The Pelee Island Music Festival offers packages that include campsite reservations for pitching a tent. theislandunplugged.org

See vintage sports cars. In the 1950s, a small but loyal band of racers gathered on Put-in-Bay for a road race. Since 2009, the island’s held an annual reunion. This year’s event (Sept. 24-27) will feature dozens of 1950s-era European sports cars like the ones that raced in the 1950s. And yes, there will be a race (albeit on a smaller scale). pibroadrace.com

Enjoy Island Week. Learn more about the environmental significance of Lake Erie during the third annual Island Green Week (Aug. 4-11) on Put-in-Bay, Kelleys, Middle Bass and Gibraltar islands. Activities include a tour of the former Lonz Winery on Middle Bass Island, a kayaking poker run, tours of Ohio State’s facilities on Gibraltar Island, a star-gazing cruise and a pig roast. lakeerieislandsconservancy.org

Dock and dine ’til dark. Watch the boats come in and out all day at the West Bay Inn on Kelleys Island, then stick around for the sunset. 419-746-2597, westbayinn.com

Tour the Doller Estate. Valentine Doller came to Put-in-Bay in the 1850s to work for Joseph DeRivera, the island’s owner. Before long, Doller himself had become one of the island’s richest and most prominent citizens, even buying up significant portions of the island after DeRivera fell into bankruptcy. In the 1880s, Doller built a large, ornate Italianate home — which is rumored to be haunted. The Doller estate is now home to the Island Life Museum, offering regular tours, and is part of Put-in-Bay Winery. 419-285-3343, putinbaywinery.com

Make yourself at home. When you settle in at Kelleys Island Venture Resort, the apartment-style suites and outdoor living spaces are designed to feel like home away from home, but better. Go for a swim, take a spin around the island on the supplied bikes, cook out on the grill, eat on the picnic tables overlooking Lake Erie and just relax knowing someone else is going to do all the housekeeping. 419-746-2900, kiventureresort.com

Get kayaking. Because of their size, the Lake Erie Islands are easy to get around without a car, either by foot, bike or one of the golf carts available for rental on the islands. But they’re also easily accessible by kayaking, and, to that end, the Put-in-Bay Township Park District, the National Park Service and Ohio Sea Grant are offering a Lake Erie Islands Water Trails guide, offering tips and ideas for places to stop while kayaking North, South and Middle Bass islands, Kelleys Island and the Marblehead peninsula. Brochures are available at a variety of locations on the islands and mainland, or can be found online. go.osu.edu/lewatertrails

Join the Jeeps. Owning a Jeep — made not far from the Lake Erie islands in Toledo — makes you part of a fellowship and lifestyle that outsiders don’t understand. For a glimpse of it, Put-in-Bay is hosting the third annual Jeep Invasion (July 27-29). Events include a Jeep show and a campout, and the Jeeps will join the weekly parade at Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center. 419-285-2832, visitputinbay.com

Watch performance art among the fossils. An abandoned limestone quarry on Pelee Island provides ideal acoustics for Stone & Sky, a series of open-air performances held at 6 p.m. every Sunday night from July 1 to Aug. 19. When there’s bad weather, the show will go on at the Pelee Island Winery. stoneandsky.org

Catch baseball from the 1800s. The weekend after Labor Day is Put-in-Bay’s annual Historic Weekend (Sept. 7-9), commemorating the American naval victory over the British during the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812. Among the events scheduled that weekend are an 1860s-style baseball game (Sept. 9) between the Put-in-Bay Mossbacks and the Muffins from the Ohio Historical Society’s Ohio Village in Columbus. The game, at the baseball field on Concord Avenue, features 1860s rules, uniforms and equipment. 419-285-2832, visitputinbay.com

Spend the Night with The Wandering Dog
Canada’s southernmost inn has gone through many changes since it came to life on Pelee Island as a lodge for members of a private fishing club in the 1800s. And after nearly a decade as The Wandering Pheasant, new owners Kevin and Cathy Miller have transformed the property yet again, into The Wandering Dog Inn. Besides the new name, there’s a fresh coat of paint, new furnishings and luxurious sheets to slide between.
“We focused on comfort,” says Cathy. “Other than that, we are trying to keep intact what we love about the island — its simplicity — and reflect it here.”
Simple living means no WIFI anywhere on the island. That frees up guests to kick back and enjoy the sights and sounds of the natural surroundings, especially those staying in the suites, which come with screened-in porches and hammocks. 
If you do get bored, you could always offer to take Fred, the wandering dog, for a walk at East Beach. Or just wander on your own. 519-724-2270, thewanderingdoginn.com

Take an Eco Tour of Kelleys
Dawn Soldner has owned a vacation home on Kelleys Island for two decades, but decided to make it her full-time residence three year ago. In the process, she traded city life as a nurse and teacher for a pre-retirement career leading eco-tours of the island by kayak, bicycle, golf cart or on foot. 
“I love living here and I want to help people feel what I feel,” she says. “You take two steps back and relax and enjoy nature.”
Each tour shows off the natural and historic treasures of the island, which is home to rare flora and fauna, hidden ruins and secluded beaches that are way off the beaten path. “You’re not going to see the inside of a bar,” says Soldner. “You’re going to see real-life birds, fox, deer and all the amazing plants we have.”
During the tour, most people find a new favorite place to go back and explore further. Soldner personally loves Scheele Preserve’s hiking trail, which isn’t long, but boasts great variants in habitat. “Plus, the sandy beach is a beautiful surprise every time.” 419-708-4228, islandadventours.com

Get Your Feet Wet on Middle Bass Island
As expected, walleye is a popular item at J.F. Walleye’s on Middle Bass Island. But there’s more to the menu than Lake Erie fish. “We don’t claim to be a five-star restaurant, and we don’t want to be,” says owner Chris Zeitler, noting that the menu includes pizza and burgers. “We want to deliver good food at a fair price with good ambience.”
That ambience includes bistro tables with umbrellas, bonfires at night, a waterfall and a fountain — and, of course, views of Lake Erie — while sipping one of the restaurant’s rum-based drinks, including the Malibu bucket, featuring five different rums with fruit juices. 419-285-2739, Jfwalleyes.net

5 Great Ice Cream Shops

Something about getting your licks at Papa T’s Deckside on Kelleys Island brings out your inner child. It could be the nostalgic soft-serve swirls or hand-dipped Toft’s ice cream on a cone. But more than likely, it’s the super-sized blue Adirondack chair that sits alongside the silver ice cream truck. You’ll feel 4 years old all over again when you hoist yourself into the chair for the requisite photo opp. 
330-414-2199, facebook.com/kipapat

In the shadow of the Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, the Dairy Isle offers a family-friendly moment of relaxation, including Adirondack chairs for lounging, a sandbox for kids and a water station for pets. The restaurant serves standard fast food, as well as ice cream (in homemade waffle cones), whips in a variety of flavors, coffee floats and smoothies. 419-285-3506, dairyislepib.com

Matt Boschin was just a teenager when he launched Captain Bob’s Ice Cream on Boblo Island in 2014, but he filled a much-needed niche for island residents, who are separated from Ontario by a 4-minute ferry ride across the Amherstburg Channel. Try the tiramisu parfait or the signature chocolate chip cookie bowl sundae. Don’t bother stepping on the vintage Boblo Island Amusement Park scale out front. 519-890-4557, boblo.ca

Ice cream may not be on most people’s list of breakfast foods, but Pelee Island Coneheads is prepared to dish up a scoop when it opens at 7 a.m. to serve the early morning coffee-and-bagel crowd. The little yellow hut near the Pelee ferry dock offers several flavors of hard ice cream, including Tiger Tail, which is virtually unknown outside of Canada. It’s an orange-flavored ice cream swirled with stripes of black licorice. 519-724-1121

Like many businesses on the Lake Erie Islands, the Candy Bar on Put-in-Bay sells ice cream made by Sandusky-based Toft’s Dairy. But the Candy Bar also has at least a dozen kinds of fudge, packaged candy and other sweets, with everything from standard fare like truffles, turtles and buckeyes to chocolate-dipped pretzels, cookies and bacon. “We try to dip just about anything possible,” says co-owner Amanda Goaziou. 419-285-2920

5 Great Places to Get a Drink

Dockers Waterfront Restaurant and Bar serves up spectacular sunsets along with alfresco dining at Portside Marina on the south end of Kelleys Island. Pair a cold beverage with one of the seafood specialties, but keep in mind that the best martini is the one you can eat. The signature lobster martini comes with three tails with garlic, butter and lemon in the glass. Stick around after dark to catch the nightly firework display from Cedar Point Amusement Park. 419-746-2100, portsidemarinaki.com

A trip to Pelee Island isn’t complete without a stop at the Pelee Island Winery Pavilion for an interactive wine tour and tasting. The winery is the largest in Canada with 550 acres. After the tour, visitors can pair their favorite bottle of wine with a variety of snacks and barbecue items and enjoy them while looking out over Lake Erie from the vineyard’s wine garden. Live music fills the air on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. 519-733-6551, peleeisland.com 

In 2004, Ed Gudenas, owner of St. Hazard’s Resort on Middle Bass Island, sought something to make his resort stand out. He found it half a world away with a tiki bar set from Bali. St. Hazard’s is known for its rum drinks and makes its own beer — a blonde ale — but also serves food, adding Mexican cuisine to the menu this year. “We try to cater to every age group, even on weekends,” Gudenas says. “We want to be family-friendly.” sthazards.com; 419-285-6121

Since 1996, Put-in-Bay Brewing Co. has been turning out a variety of craft beers. But after the brewery’s owners Carl and Chris Krueger went on vacation to Florida, they fell in love with another libation — the mojito. Today, Mojito Bay, now in its eighth season on Put-in-Bay, offers 30 varieties of the classic rum-based drink. Take a seat on the swings used for bar stools and feel the sand in your toes. “We want people to feel like they’re in the Caribbean,” Chris Krueger says. mojitobaypib.com

At KI Cantina on Kelleys Island, the margaritas are made with freshly prepared fruit purees and 100 percent blue agave tequila. Try the strawberry mint or watermelon mimosa margaritas to go along with your choice of taco. KI Cantina is right next door to Kelleys Island Wine Co., where you’ll find pizzas, flatbreads and small plates, as well as special events and live music all summer. 419-746-2688, kicantina.com

5 Great Memorials

Most of Ohio’s enlisted soldiers fought for the Union during the American Civil War, so that’s why it may come as a surprise to find a statue of a Confederate soldier looking out over Sandusky Bay. Erected in 1910 on Ohio’s Johnson’s Island, the monument stands at one end of the Confederate Stockade Cemetery to memorialize the nearly 300 men who died while being held as prisoners of war on the island from 1861 to 1865. 

A monument to the inventor Nikola Tesla overlooks the American side of Niagara Falls from Goat Island. Known as the father of high-voltage electricity, Tesla was part of a team of scientists who established the world’s first hydroelectric power plant at Niagara Falls. The power station went into operation on Aug. 25, 1895, using generators based on Telsa’s alternating current, which delivered more power to the people than Thomas Edison’s direct current.

Facing Amherstburg, Ontario, on the east side of Boblo Island, the Sailors Monument was designed and installed in 1909 by employees of the Detroit, Belle Isle and Windsor Ferry Co., which famously carried passengers to its island amusement park in the Detroit River starting in 1898. Dedicated to maritime interests in the Great Lakes, the monument is topped by a large anchor recovered from “The City of Cleveland,” a wooden steam barge that sank in Lake Huron in 1901.

For more than a century, the Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial has been standing watch over Put-in-Bay. The 352-foot-tall monument — taller than the Statue of Liberty in New York — reopened in May after a $2.4 million renovation. It commemorates Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s victory over the British in the Battle of Lake Erie in 1812, while also recognizing the decades of peace that have existed since between the United States and Canada, including the longest unsecured border in the world. nps.gov/pevi, 419-285-2184

Perry’s Victory isn’t the only monument to the Battle of Lake Erie. It’s not even the oldest. In 1863, after buying Gibraltar Island, financier Jay Cooke built a monument honoring Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s victory. It’s located halfway between Perry’s Lookout and the mansion he’d build a year later known as Cooke’s Castle. Today, Gibraltar Island is the site of The Ohio State University’s Stone Lab, which offers various open houses, workshops and field trips giving people access to the island. stonelab.osu.edu, 614-292-8949