Bring your bikes to Kelleys Island.
The largest of Ohio’s Lake Erie islands, Kelleys offers 30 miles of winding, open roads to cruise. So you can check out the glacial grooves, state park and hiking trails at your leisure.
Don’t do what I did: make your kids scooter 3.6 miles from the Kelleys Island Ferry dock to the glacial grooves, so they’re tired, hungry, hot and annoyed by the time they reach the big rocks.
It’s a lovely walk to the grooves from downtown, past the school, shops and charming white and limestone farmhouses. But not for a 5- and 7-year-old.
If you have only one day for a Lake Erie island trip, pick South Bass. Put-in-Bay offers oodles of activities for vacationing kids. Kelleys is quieter.
Kelleys was settled by Connecticut brothers Datus and Irad Kelley in the 1830s, who bought the island, parcel by parcel, and helped develop its main industries of limestone mining and wine making.
Now, much of the island remains rural, with nature preserves and two youth camps. The population of about 300 swells to 1,500 in the summer, plus visitors. The K-12 school — where one student graduated this year — also offers weeks of kids programs in the summer.
If you’re going for a quick family trip, here’s a few ideas for fun on the island.
How to get there
Kelleys Island Ferry: The only ferry that takes cars to Kelleys leaves from Marblehead, near the longest working lighthouse on the Great Lakes, every half hour. The ferry charges $10 for parking, $20 for an adult roundtrip ticket and $12.50 for children 5 and older.
Jet Express: The Jet leaves from Sandusky or Port Clinton and drops off passengers in Kelleys’ downtown, rather than a few blocks away like the Kelleys Island ferry.
Where to go
Glacial grooves: The immense grooves are 400 feet long, 35 feet wide and up to 10 feet deep, carved out by glaciers that receded about 10,000 years ago.
I tried to explain the significance of the rocks and the science of geology to my kids. My 7-year-old’s response: “A study of rocks? That’s just stupid.”
At least the grooves are near an ice cream stand.
North Shore Loop Trail: The trail offers hiking. Also nearby is the North Shore Alvar State Nature Preserve, a hot spot for birding.
Kelleys Island State Park: The park includes a campground with cabins and spots for tents, plus a beach, where you can swim rent kayaks. The beach is nothing special, but its sand and gentle water make it more kid-friendly than Put-in-Bay’s rocks and waves.
Caddy Shack: Play 18 holes of mini golf in a fun, well-kept course. You can even send your kids to the course while you get a drink at the Sand Trap bar. Both my kids got holes in one. $5 per person.
Where to eat
Kelleys Island Brewery: Go on an island-wide group scavenger hunt, starting at the brewery, for $5. Or just hang out on the fenced-in patio and let the kids play cornhole and dance to live music in the grass.
Kelleys Island Wine Co.: Beautiful grounds, with lots of room for kids to play. Plus, pizza. Yum.
The Casino: Site of the Island House hotel’s dance pavilion a century and a half ago, the Casino offers fried seafood and pub grub, right on the water. The $7.99 kids’ menu comes with ice cream, too.
Where to stay
Kelleys is not so much a resort kind of place. Here are some cottages you can rent.