17 FUN Things to do on Kelleys Island (Day Trip Guide)

view of Lake Erie from North Pond Nature Reserve on Kelleys Island in Ohio

Looking for the best things to do on Kelleys Island in Ohio? We got you! This cool island on Lake Erie is a gem of the Great Lakes (and Ohio!). From its natural beauty, historic ties back to the Ice Age, and fun activities, this is a popular day trip from Cleveland and the Lake Erie coastline in Ohio!

Despite only having an area of 4 square miles, you’ll be surprised at the variety of things to do on Kelleys Island!

And for a fun fact, I used to come to 4-H camp here every summer as a kid! So visiting Kelleys Island felt really nostalgic for me and it was fun to show Scott around as coming to camp here every summer was a very cherished childhood memory!

While Kelleys Island doesn’t shut down in winter (150 people live here year-round) this is primarily a seasonal destination with the most popular time to visit Kelleys Island being during the summer months. The warm weather brings the island to life, making it the ideal time to enjoy the wide range of outdoor activities and cultural and historical sites. Plus, it’s a fabulous place to enjoy beautiful views of Lake Erie from a beach or cruising around the island on a golf cart.

This charming island was once a hub for the booming limestone industry, which has left behind fascinating quarries and historic buildings to explore. There are also great swimming beaches, fun local eateries, and more!

Whether you’re planning a Kelleys Island day trip or an extended stay (there are plenty of cool options for staying here too), you’ll find something to pique your interest. In this guide, we’ll share all the details you’ll need to know, from how to get there to our favorite stops on the island. Find out what makes Kelleys Island a must-visit destination during the summer and all year round!

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Getting to Kelleys Island & Around the Island

view of Cedar Point off of Sandusky in Ohio from the Jet Express ferry
sunset view of Cedar Port returning on the ferry from Kelleys Island

When you’re planning a Kelleys Island day trip, there are some options to consider as to how to get around. We’ll look at how to get there and then your choices for moving around the island.

Kelleys Island Ferry & Jet Express

sunset view from the Jet Express returning from Kelleys Island on Lake Erie in Ohio

The quickest and most popular way to get there is by taking the Jet Express, which departs from both Sandusky and Port Clinton. This is the best option if you’re on foot. With trips being only 25 minutes from both locations, this is the fastest option for a scenic ride across Lake Erie.

If you have a car you want to take to the island, you can opt for the Kelleys Island Ferry that departs from Marblehead. This is a convenient choice for those who want the freedom to explore the island at their own pace. However, the parking fee at the ferry is pretty hefty, so we don’t recommend this ferry if you’re leaving your car behind.

How to Get Around Kelleys Island

driving around Kelleys Island in Ohio by golf cart

Once you arrive on Kelleys Island, you can either get around in a golf cart or your own car. Renting a golf cart is the most popular choice and provides a fun and convenient way to move around. This is our preferred way to explore all the amazing things to do on Kelleys Island!

Another option is to bring your own bicycle too!

The island is relatively flat, making it perfect for a golf cart or bike ride. You can find golf cart rental options within walking distance of the ferry.

We went with Missy Magoo’s who had great rates at $14/hour for a 4-seater. It’s a great way to make the most of your visit and ensure you can easily access all the things to do at Kelleys Island.

If you don’t have your own bike, bicycle rentals are also an option to get around Kelleys Island. With all the scenic routes and bike trails, this is a popular choice for cyclists. Whether you’re taking on the great outdoors or exploring the island’s many attractions, biking is an excellent way to soak in the island’s charm!

What to do on Kelleys Island

Kelleys Mansion

view of Kelleys Mansion on Kelleys Island on Lake Erie in Ohio

One of the most popular things to do on Kelleys Island is see the beautiful old homes that you’ll find all around the island. The Kelley brothers purchased the island in the early 1800s, and by 1867, the Kelleys Mansion was their family home.

You can see the impressive 3-story structure at 211 East Lakeshore Drive, at the corner of Addison Road. Though it fell into disrepair over the years, the beautiful mansion was restored with care by the owner in the early 2000s.

And while Kelleys Mansion is a private residence, the owner offers tours for a small donation that goes towards the upkeep of the house.

If you want to see more historical homes on Kelleys Island, you could also take a self-guided walking tour of East Lakeshore Drive to see over a dozen more.

Inscription Rock

The pavillion where you can find Inscription Rock at Kelleys Island in Ohio

Across from Kelleys Mansion, you’ll see a covered platform, featuring one of the oldest historical landmarks on the island. This is Inscription Rock, and it’s an essential stop for any Kelleys Island day trip.

As early as 1200 CE, Kelleys Island was believed to be home to Algonquian and Iroquois Indians, including the Erie tribe. When the island was settled in the 1800s, several petroglyphs were discovered on granite and limestone slabs around the island. Today, Inscription Rock is the only one that remains.

close up of Inscription Rock on Kelleys Island in Ohio

The massive limestone slab sits on the banks of Lake Erie, offering beautiful views and a bit of a spiritual experience when you visit. You can read the educational marker and see the almost ancient rock for yourself!

Explore the North Pond State Nature Preserve

Boardwalk along North Pond Nature Reserve on Kelleys Island in Ohio

Located on the northern side of the island, is North Pond State Nature Preserve, a 51-acre wetland preserve. If you’re looking for things to do at Kelleys Island outdoors, this is a top choice!

There’s a wooden boardwalk path here, and you can walk to the sandy beach that’s part of the preserve. A lot of people also come here for bird watching, and you’ll see plenty of local wildlife.

Visit the Glacial Grooves Ecological Preserve

The glacial grooves from the Ice Age on Kelleys Island in Ohio

Now for one of the most fascinating stops on your Kelleys Island day trip and one of my favorite things to do on Kelleys Island when I came here as a kid at camp! Did you know that you can visit a natural landmark that dates back to the Ice Age on Kelleys Island?!

The Glacial Grooves Ecological Preserve is where you can see the largest accessible glacial groove site in the world. Thousands of years ago, slow-moving glaciers shaped the Great Lakes and all of the land structures in the region.

Uncovered in the 1970s, the preserve is now accessible by taking stairways and walking paths. This is one of those sites I remember you could walk on as a kid! It’s nice to see that they have the pathways so you’re not stepping on and damaging the glacial grooves (the 90s were a different time!).

glacial grooves ecological park on Kelleys Island in Ohio

The grooves are over 400 feet long and 35 feet wide, and you can climb to different viewpoints to check them out from different perspectives. There are also educational markers you can read. And it’s free to visit, how cool is that?!

Kelleys Island State Park

the beach on lake erie at kelleys island state park in ohio

For outdoor enthusiasts interested in things to do at Kelleys Island, this next one should be at the top of your list! Kelleys Island State Park on the northwestern part of the island encompasses the Glacial Grooves, North Pond State Nature Preserve, 2 beaches, and more.

This is where most people go camping on Kelleys Island, with a variety of set-ups offered. There’s everything, from non-electric to full hook-ups and even cabin and yurt rentals! You can also check out a few different hiking trails, historical sites, and art installations.

You can go hunting at certain times of the year. Boating is popular during the warmer months, and kayak rentals are available at the swim beach from Memorial Day to Labor Day. In the winter, snowshoeing and ice fishing bring visitors to the park.

Check out Charles Herndon Galleries & Sculpture Park

the barn and pathway at Charles Herndon Galleries & Sculpture Park on Kelleys Island in Ohio

Art lovers will want to check out Charles Herndon Galleries. A highly accomplished artist, scholar, and Ohio native, Herndon owns 2 galleries, 2 studios, and the 10-acre sculpture garden you’ll find on the island’s eastern shore.

We think visiting the Herndon Galleries & Sculpture Garden is one of the best things to do on Kelleys Island. The artist grew up spending summers on the island and views it as a sort of muse. When you visit, you can see his sculptures, paintings, and photography.

The sculpture garden shows different phases of the artist’s work. For his sculptures, he uses local stone and wood, as well as cement, clay, and metal.

Megan cheesin' at Charles Herndon Galleries & Sculpture Park on Kelleys Island in Ohio

Make sure you find your way to the beach too, there are artworks all around the property and even a special one over here!

You might even see Herndon (and his dog and chickens!) on the property or working in his studio. Inside the gallery, there are smaller sculptures, as well as a variety of paintings and photographs by Herndon.

Walk the North Shore Loop Trail

waterfront views along the North Shore Loop Trail on Kelleys Island in Ohio

For hikers looking for a satisfying excursion during a Kelleys Island day trip, there’s the North Shore Loop Trail inside Kelleys Island State Park. This loop trail is only 1.2 miles in length and will take you about half an hour if you do it straight. But what’s so fun about this trail are all the things to do explore along the way!

From the trailhead at Division Street, you’ll head out and immediately come upon the Old Stone Crusher. This is a beautiful ruin from the heyday of the Kelleys Island Lime and Transport Company. The site was where limestone was brought in from the nearby quarry and broken down to be transported.

After this, you’ll follow the well-worn path to a stretch long the coastline, high above the rocky beach below. The views of Lake Erie here are breathtaking, and there are a few places where you can scramble down to the beach.

Hit the Beach

people enjoying the beach at Kelleys Island in summer on Lake Erie in Ohio

While Kelley’s Island doesn’t have many spots that are great for swimming, you’ll find a few! If you really want to swim, I suggest checking out Rocky Beach at Seaway Marina, Scheele Preserve, and State Park Beach.

Rocky Beach is close to the marina, so if you dock your boat or come in on the ferry, it’s a few steps away! The beach is full of pebbles, but it’s a nice beach that’s popular with families. There’s also a grassy area here for kids and pets.

You can hike the trail at Scheele Preserve on the northeastern side of Kelley’s Island and reward yourself with a dip at the white, sandy beach at the end! And State Park Beach on the northwestern shore is popular during the summer. Come here for washroom rooms, shade, kayak rentals, and more.

Visit The Scheele Preserve

Become one with nature when you visit the Scheele Preserve, owned by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. This small preserve offers a wonderful experience for nature lovers looking for things to do on Kelleys Island.

This small tract of land on the northeast shore boasts a surprising amount of wildlife as you explore the half-mile trail from Monagan Road to the shoreline. In fact, the preserve is known to be a habitat for Swallowtail butterflies and is listed in the official Ohio Lake Erie Birding Trail Book.

On the Scheele Preserve trail, you’ll pass through meadows, woodland, and grassland. At the end of the out-and-back nature trail, there’s an isolated white-sand beach where you can dip your toes before turning back.

Wine Tasting

Kelleys Island Wine Company on Kelleys Island in Ohio

Like much of the Great Lake’s region, the lake’s climate offers the perfect conditions for grape growing! You’ll mainly find 3 varieties, Isabella, Catawba, and Niagara.

If you fancy yourself a wine connoisseur and you’re looking for things to do at Kelleys Island, this is a popular option. Be prepared that these wineries do not have great wine (sorry, but it’s true), but they make for fun stops on the island!

For a good meal, Kelleys Island Wine Company on Woodford Road is a nice choice. The atmosphere here is warm and inviting, kind of like a family farm. Monarch Winery on Division Street has a greenhouse you can hang out, and their wine slushies are also pretty good if you have a sweet tooth on a hot day.

Mini Golf!

Megan mini golfing on Kelleys Island in Ohio

For some nostalgic fun during your Kelleys Island day trip, why not play some mini golf and enjoy some good food? Caddy Shack is a great local joint on Division Street, a short stroll from the ferry terminal.

Out front, you’ll find a classic 18-hole course in the grass under the trees. You can easily make a stop for a drink or bite to eat, then grab a putter!

Have a Drink at the Village Pump

exterior of the Village Pump on Kelleys Island on Lake Erie in Ohio

For quintessential things to do on Kelleys Island (and places to stop), you’ll want to have a round of drinks at The Village Pump!

Located on West Lakeshore Drive is the Village Pump (right next to where the ferry landing for Jet Express is). This is a local institution that’s open seasonally from March through December.

The Village Pump is an essential stop if you truly want to experience authentic island life. The restaurant and bar is in a historic 230-year-old building and the bar has been owned by Gary and Jackie Finger since the 1980s. Both husband and wife have family on the island going back three generations.

Stop in, sit at the bar, and enjoy a bite to eat in this no frills establishment. Their Brandy Alexander is a popular choice, and they offer a variety of specialty drinks as well. For some local seafood, try their perch or walleye baskets.

Go Kayaking

All summer long there are opportunities to kayak on Kelleys Island. You can bring your own, rent one, or find guided kayaking tours that provide all your equipment. If you bring your own, you can launch at any of the public beaches and spend the day seeing the island from the water!

One of the best things to do at Kelleys Island between Memorial Day and Labor Day is head to Kelleys Island State Park.

At the beach here, you’ll find local vendors offering single and double kayaks for rent by the hour (as well as stand-up paddleboards). Or if you prefer a guided experience, Kelleys Island Adventours offers a 2-hour Sunset Tour out of State Park Beach.

Visit the Old Quarry Ruins

The Old Quarry Ruins on Kelleys Island on Lake Erie in Ohio

For history buffs, you’ll find plenty of unique things to do at Kelleys Island, with all the local ruins. In the 1800s, the Kelley brothers quickly realized it was valuable for its natural resources, especially the limestone that makes up the island!

Inside Kelleys Island State Park, and especially along the North Shore Loop Trail, you can walk through the quarry and stone crusher, both of which were in use from 1886 well into the 1960s.

It’s fascinating to see the weathered structures, and you’ll even see some of the pots used to boil the limestone to make lime powder.

The ruins feel like they are being reclaimed by nature with all the vegetation growing around it, which looked pretty cool and people were having a kick out of climbing the trees and exploring the ruins.

Wander Around Kelleys Island State Park – East Quarry

Kelleys Island State Park East Quarry view in Ohio

If you enjoy more trails to walk along, another one of the best things to do on Kelleys Island is visit Kelleys Island State Park East Quarry site.

This is the actual site of the quarry where limestone was mined and extracted from. You’ll find the actual quarry as well as a labyrinth of trails to wander around. If you’re into bird watching, this is an excellent place to do it!

Kelleys Island State Park East Quarry trail
exposed trail along the East Quarry

This trail is more exposed (shown above), so if it’s a hot and sunny day you might want to do this in the morning or later in the afternoon. Or just bring a hat and sunscreen.

Apparently, this trail is known to have cool fossils and trilobites on it, we didn’t see any on our visit but I did see online that they are found pretty often here.

Go to West Bay Bar

exterior of West Bay Bar on Kelleys Island in Ohio

End your Kelley’s Island day trip at a fun bar & grill with great views of the lake. Located at West Bay Inn on the far west side of the island, they’re popular for their amazing sunset views.

You can bring your boat and take advantage of their Dock-and-Dine Deal or find a spot inside or out to enjoy the ambiance and the scenery. They’re open from 11 AM to 9:30 PM year-round.

During the warmer months, there are lawn games, volleyball, live music, and dancing. West Bay Bar is also known for their Lake Erie Walleye basket and their flatbread pizzas. And if you come in the evening, they shoot off the sunset cannon every night!

Check Out the Cute Lighthouse at Camp Patmos

Camp Patmos Lighthouse on Kelleys Island along Lake Erie in Ohio

While you’re taking in the local sites cruising around on your golf cart rental or bicycle, head to Camp Patmos along the furthest stretch of Monagan Road. I might be biased, but this quick stop is one of my favorite things to do on Kelleys Island because it’s connected to my family!

Along the road at this church summer camp, you’ll see a small lighthouse on the shore. It’s just a small lighthouse, but my Great Uncle Frank built it! The camp has been around since the 1950s, as has the lighthouse.

Where to Stay on Kelleys Island

beach on Kelleys Island and Lake Erie in Ohio

If you decide to do more than a day trip to Kelleys Island then you’re in for a treat as there are some cool stays on the island to choose from, mostly vacation rentals as there are very few hotels on the island.

For hotels, Kelleys Island Venture Resort is one of the few options the island offers. This resort has an outdoor pool open in the summer, stately guest rooms, and outdoor spaces with lake views. Keep in mind there are resort fees at this property.

The Old Nest Vacation Waterfront Home is a charming rental that’s great for a group as it has 5 rooms and can sleep up to 10 guests. Features include the huge porch with lakefront views!

Old Stone Place is another vacation rental great for families, this old stone house has 3 bedrooms and can sleep up to 12 guests. This property has a great outdoor area for hanging out fireside and a large yard.

1860 Original Kelleys Island Cottage is another great rental that lets you stay in a home tied to the history of the island as it was one of the original homes on the island. The cottage has 5 bedrooms and can sleep up to 12 guests (including a guest house), patio, backyard, and even bicycles to get around the island.

How do you spend a day on Kelleys Island?

On Kelleys Island, you can spend the day exploring natural wonders like glacial grooves and pristine beaches, enjoying outdoor activities such as hiking and kayaking, visiting historical sites, and savoring local cuisine at waterfront restaurants.

What is Kelleys Island famous for?

Kelleys Island is renowned for its natural beauty, including glacial grooves, scenic beaches, and outdoor recreational opportunities, making it a popular destination for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.

Can you swim at Kelleys Island?

Yes, swimming is a popular activity at Kelleys Island, with several beaches offering opportunities for visitors to enjoy the clear waters of Lake Erie during the warmer months.

How long is the Kelleys Island ferry ride?

The Kelleys Island ferry ride typically takes about 20-25 minutes, providing a scenic journey across Lake Erie from the mainland to the island’s shores.

When is the best time to visit Kelleys Island?

The best time to visit Kelleys Island is during the summer months, from June to August, when the weather is warm, and outdoor activities like swimming, hiking, and biking are most enjoyable.

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