Whether you’re looking for a relaxing lake views, kayaking or hiking trails, Kelleys Island makes a perfect getaway! Here are our picks for the top 10 things to do on Kelleys Island in Lake Erie.
Kelleys Island in western Lake Erie is a picturesque spot for a getaway, especially if you’re looking to enjoy outdoor activities and relaxing lakefront views!
With its dense forests, public beaches, and interesting historical sites, this small island packs quite a number of attractions into just a few miles.
The island is home to a village and a state park by the same name.
The island is also located near other vacation destinations like Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island and Cedar Point, Ohio. From the north side of the island you can spot Canada’s Pelee Island.
This post will walk you through how to get to Kelleys Island, plus our favorite things to do on the island.
How to Get to Kelleys Island
We took the Kelleys Island Ferry.
The ferry runs most of the year, and allows you to bring your car to the island.
If you’re on a budget, note that you pay for both your vehicle and all passengers (the passengers are not included in the vehicle ticket price).
The ferry schedule changes seasonally, and they’ll cancel if the weather is bad. Check their Facebook page for updates.
Jet Express runs seasonally in the spring and summer and might be a more affordable option if you’re on a tight budget. This option is for passengers only, so you can’t bring your car onto this ferry.
Other options include private boats and sea planes.
1) Camp in a Yurt
Have you always wanted to stay in a yurt? This is your chance!
In 2021, we stayed with friends at one of Kelley Island State Park’s two yurts and it was so cool.
Staying in a yurt is more like glamping than camping. These yurts have electricity, a full (small) kitchen, a bathroom with a shower, and a gas grill.
From the yurt deck you can see the pier and one of the sandy beaches.
2) Visit Kelley Island’s Glacial Grooves
The 400-foot-long glacial grooves are a popular natural attraction for tourists.
As glaciers moved and flowed during the last ice age thousands of years ago, they pulled rocks and other debris along with them, carving these deep grooves in the limestone.
The grooves began to be excavated just a few decades ago, revealing fossils an an undulating terrain that visitors find so fascinating today.
The grooves are on the north edge of the island. They’re easy to explore by means of a walkway around the rim.
3) Explore the Ruins on Kelleys Island
Kelleys Island has multiple abandoned building sites, including the beehive oven and dining hall (pictured below) near the pier.
This construction dates from the late 1800’s when immigrant quarry workers lived on the island and made use of a communal oven.
An outside oven like this eliminated the risk of fires in the workers’ homes. Its dome-shaped “beehive” roof (now collapsed) would hold the heat inside for efficient cooking of food.
You can also spot ruins on the North Shore Loop Trail (more on that below).
And you can see the ruins of a couple of 19th century wineries, from back in the day when the Midwest produced massive amounts of wine! Who knew?! However, the winery ruins are on private property, so just take in the view from the road, and don’t trespass!
Want to learn more about the history and buildings of Kelleys Island? Check out the two-part self-guided walking tour. It starts from the ferry dock and takes you down the lakeshore road and into the downtown area.
You might want to bring a set of earphones so you can play the slideshow videos that go along with the walking tour.
4) Kayak the Kelleys Island Water Trail
Follow the Kelleys Island Water Trail all the way around the island! This water trail is best for experienced kayakers who are comfortable on choppy waters.
5) Walk the Kelleys Island Pier
For a leisurely, scenic stroll, head towards the pier.
The pier is next to the sandy beach where you can rent kayaks or stick your toes in the water.
6) Walk the North Shore Loop Trail
Like all the trails on Kelleys Island, the North Shore Loop Trail is flat and easy. The trailhead is right next to the glacial grooves described above.
The trail takes you past building ruins and has lots of gorgeous views of the lake.
Among the ruins is a giant 19th century loading dock where island limestone was brought from the quarry to ships waiting to transport it away.
The North Shore Loop Trail is part of the North Shore Alvar State Nature Preserve.
An alvar is a fairly rare type of habitat. With its limestone bedrock and thin soil, it may not seem very welcoming, but it actually hosts a variety of unusual wildflowers, mosses, and other plants!
7) Hike the East Quarry Trails
The East Quarry dates from the 1930’s. As you’ll have guessed after spending just a little time on the island, it was all about limestone back in the day.
The quarry is now the site of about five miles of hiking trails. Part of it is flooded, forming Horseshoe Lake. You’ll get good views of this lake as you hike.
Today, people like to use the lake area for fishing, wildlife photography, and fossil hunting.
The trails are open for both walkers and cyclists.
8) Walk the Boardwalk at North Pond to Barrier Beach
You can explore North Pond State Nature Preserve by means of a one-mile boardwalk.
North Pond is an embayment pond, which means it is connected to Lake Erie, and rises and falls along with the lake.
Long ago, Lake Erie’s water level was higher, and Kelleys Island was actually two islands. As you walk, keep an eye out for evidence of the former shoreline.
You’ll end the walk at the beautiful beach pictured below.
9) Visit the Scheele Preserve
The Scheele Preserve is one of several island properties owned by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
The museum takes an active interest in saving the unique habitats, plants and animals that can be found on Kelleys Island.
An owl-banding project takes place here each year. In fact, if you visit in the fall, you might be able to see owls and songbirds up close and personal as volunteers work with them.
There’s a half-mile easy path through the Scheele Preserve, which ends at another beautiful beach.
10) Visit Inscription Rock
On the southern edge of the island, you can check out some ancient petroglyphs on Inscription Rock.
Though no one can explain definitively the story behind the petroglyphs, they’re an intriguing glimpse into the Native American history of this island.
The original carvings have suffered a lot from exposure to the elements, so the rock is now protected by a roof. And a replica stone helps tourists to envision how it would have looked before erosion.
Do you have your own favorite discoveries from a visit to Kelleys Island? Let us know in the comments!