Ohio’s Lake Erie Shores & Islands invited us to visit Put-in-Bay, Ohio for a visit. We received some activities free of charge.
Many know the Lake Erie is one of the Great Lakes coasting with Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York and Ontario, Canada. However, did you know that this great lake also has 36 islands – 14 Ohio islands and 22 in other states?
The most known island is by far South Bass Island, also known as Put-in-Bay – the biggest party island in the Midwest. And today you are joining my family as we board Miller Ferry that takes us from Port Clinton, OH to Put-in-Bay.
You can either stay on the island for a few days or save a buck by visiting on the mainland. A ferry ran by Miller Boat Lines will take you to the island and back.
Miller Boat Lines
In 1905 Miller Boat Line connected the mainland to Lake Erie rich with vineyards, orchards and dozens of wineries. Today Miller Boat Line connects Port Clinton, OH with Put-in-Bay and Middle Bass Island.
The first ferry in summer leaves at 6 am, and the last ride of the island is at 9 pm. While Miller Ferry boats offer five free parking lot options, the lots right next to the marina cost $5. Many locals offer to park on their yards and driveways for $2 to $5. It’s hard to miss big signs left and right. Long story short – come here early or bring cash!
Miller Ferry boats run every thirty minutes to an hour, but the number of people looking to visit Put-in-Bay is much higher, so get ready to spend time in line.
Another personal tip: separate adult tickets from children before boarding the ferry. We found ourselves holding 5 children tickets as you plan to board the Ferry back to the mainland. That might’ve happened to us, but don’t worry, we still got home safe.
Golf Carts Rule the Road!
Best way to get around the island is by a golf cart, but once again during tourist season, you want to book your vehicle ahead of time.
We followed the crowd with many people nearly running off the dock toward the golf cart rentals. As we approached E’s Island Golf Carts at Miller Ferry Lime Kiln Dock, we spotted a few golf carts on the lot. The sign on the window said: “No rentals available for the day,” yet people continued inquiring. Waiting to approach the window, we heard this conversation:
– No, we are all out of carts
– But I still see carts on your lot.
– Those have been booked. You need to do it online.
– Can I make a reservation now and get a cart?
– Not for today…
Yeah, I wouldn’t want to have this guy’s job, but as you can imagine during a tourist season, this island is owned by tourists. Airbnb and hotels cost insane amount and the roads a full of golf carts.
Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial
A National landmark not to miss is Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial. If you want to learn one thing from a trip tot he island, you absolutely must come here.
About Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial
Back in 1812 the Battle of Lake Erie took place here with an America squadron, desperate for reinforcements and led by a young man from Rhode Island, Oliver Hazard Perry. He went against the collection of British naval power in that theater of war. Learn more about this battle reading The Battle of Lake Erie. Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial was established to honor those who fought in the Battle of Lake Erie, during the War of 1812.
At the Top of the Memorial
You might be in luck if you happen to visit Put-in-Bay while Brig Niagara Ship is there. We spotted a big tall ship from the top of Perry’s Victory Memorial
“What is it?” My son asked.
“A Brig Niagara Ship,” a man standing behind us answered.
You can’t get any closer to the history – standing on the top of the tower overseeing Lake Erie and Brig Niagara. How absolutely cool is that?
The US Brig Niagara or the Flagship Niagara, is a wooden-hulled snow-brig, a replica of the ship that served as the relief flagship for Oliver Hazard Perry in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. These days Niagara’s home port in Erie, Pennsylvania, but it also travels around and the day our visit to Putin-in-Bay it was docked there.
Free and Cheap Activities at the Put-in-Bay
If you don’t want to spend money, you could drive around – there is plenty to see. The beach view is breathtaking, and on a sunny day, you will think that you are visiting a Florida Key.
Free options . There are other thinks that are relatively low in cost (like the Nature and Wildlife Center is only $2). Plus parks and hiking trails.
FREE Visit the Antique Car Museum at the Perry’s Cave and Family Fun Center. Also there Perry’s Cave, The Butterfly House, The War of l8·Holes Miniature Golf, Climbing Wall, Fort aMAZE’n Giant Maze, Gemstone Mining.
FREE Aquatic Visitors Center. Investigate lake Erie’s complex ecosystem through hands-on science activities, such as peering through microscopes and identifying the lake’s tiniest inhabitants. Also fish on the Aquatic Visitors Center fishing pier, where children under age 16 can fish for FREE!
FREE Lake Erie Islands Historical Museum. Learn islands history, maritime history, and the legacy of the Victorian era including the hotels that are still standing and those that vanished.
FREE Playground at DeRivera Park. The park is surrounded by many favorite local downtown businesses and the playground will keep your kids busy for a while. It includes swing sets as well as dolphins and seals figurines for kids to play on. The swings fit really little kids. Older kids love playing on the full playground with slides, fireman’s pole, and walkways to monkey around on.
FREE Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial. Rising 352 feet above lake Elie, Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial is the most dominant feature of the Lake Erie Islands. The Perry’s Victory Visitor Center is open to the public during operating hours. Black Powder Demonstrations, Ranger and Junior Ranger programs are just some of the activities offered at the center.
CHEAP Kimberly’s Carousel. The iconic Kimberly’s Carousel is a fun family attraction that has been enjoyed by visitors for years.
South Bass Island State Park, Oak Point State Park, Scheeff East Point Preserve, Massie Cliffside Preserve are landmarks offering visitors great views and access to Lake Erie. Visit for a picnic, hike, fish, kayak, bird watching or swim.
FREE South Bass Island Lighthouse. Climb the stairs to take in a great view of Put-in-Bay from the top of the tower, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Jane Coates Wildflower Trail is a great place to watch birds, enjoy wildlife, and walk in the woods.
CHEAP Lake Erie Islands Nature & Wildlife Center. This popular museum Offers an array of interactive nature & wildlife exhibits, and guided tours.
Places to Eat at the Put-in-Bay
The Boardwalk. Several waterside eateries under 1 roof with food ranging from burgers to king crab legs. Our favorite was a Lobster Bisque served a Bread Bowl. When pairs with an incredible 180-degree view of the Bay, we forgot for a while that we were in Ohio.
Goat Soup & Whiskey is known four serving at least four soups every day, plus favorite things like perch tacos and sauerkraut balls.
The Dairy Isle. This parlor is known for its exotic offerings like STORM FLURRY – THE BIG 3. This deliciousness includes Oreo, M&M, Heath, and a dipped cone. Plus there is a large chair next to eat makes a cool photo opp.
The Forge is located in an old blacksmith shop, the Forge is best known for its crepes. Pick from an extensive list of sweet or savory, filled with fruit, chocolate, cheese, chicken, ham and so much more.
Mossbacks. This restaurant offers perch-pierogi – lightly dusted fresh Lake Erie perch served with potato and cheese pierogies, grilled onions and a side of coleslaw.
Last Resort Engine Company is certainly a unique spot. A fire truck bar, it converted from 1980s American Lafrance Pumper truck with a deck built around it. The bar top is a diamond deck, and the original ladders hang from the awning that covers the whole floor. From ladders hang used fire helmets, including one from the NYFD that was worn on 9/11.
Bar Bounce and a Swimming Car
As the day progresses, we’ve noticed people are getting more and more drunk (or should I say happier). There were Island Bar Bounce, Wine Drinking Tour, and Adventure Sightseeing tours all while riding a sixteen-person bicycle.
We even spotted an Amphicars getting off the road into the waters of Lake Erie. There were only 4,000 Amphicars produced from 1961-1965 and despite the small number, it is still amongst the most successful amphibious vehicles of all time.
The Darker Side of Put-in-Bay
What happens on the island after dark might be a secret to some, but according to locals, it becomes an entirely different scene.
Tourists often are ignorant and make some questionable decisions.
Island life for many seems like a perfect time to unwind and get stupid. We chatted with a few locals, and while they are incredibly grateful for the income tourist season brings, there is also this:
Imagine discovering a stranger sleeping on your living room couch. While it sounds like a scene out of an old sitcom, this is what Wayne woke up to when he came downstairs in the morning. A dude partied a bit too hard and decided to spend a night in Wayne’s house rather than finding his own hotel.
Pat’s car got racked by a golf cart, which isn’t a rare occurrence considering how many golf carts are driving around the island. If you can imagine what kind of abuse rental cars get you can only guess how tourists treat the golf carts.
Back to Sunshine
It is easy to spend a lot of money here on an island. Not much happens here in the off-season, so any money to be made is getting made May through September.
Here is what we absolutely loved about Put-in-Bay:
Playing on the beach, fun and free and there is nothing more relaxing than playing on the shore.
Visiting the Memorial. It’s history, man! You have to know it, and it’s best learned up close and personal.
Perry’s Cave – my daughter loved the trip on the ground. It’s a bit short, but it also shares the history of this cave. The cave lies 52 feet below the surface of South Bass Island in Lake Erie. This cave was discovered in 1813 and is 208 feet long filled was with stalactites, stalagmites, and cave pearls.
There is also a rare underground lake is also located in the cave. The waters of the lake were known for its health qualities and were used for drinking and bathing. Today its water is still crystal clear but no longer drinkable. One of the past owners of the cave turned it into a wishing well and by doing water the water undrinkable. Copper from the pennies still gives it an eerie greenish tint.
Sifting stones – grab a bag and filter it through the running water to find gems
Butterfly house – An incredible and super relaxing experience. Opened in 2004, The Butterfly House at Put-in-Bay is a 4000 sq. ft. Aviary. Enjoy soothing music and 50 different types of exotic butterflies from all around the world. There are also secret walkways throughout the garden. You can get close with the butterflies in their natural environment and no limit on how long you can stay there.
Playground. Fun for kids of any age, this playground is close enough to food and ice cream shops, and big enough to spend a while here.
Places We Wished We Visited at the Put-in-Bay
Jane Coates Wildflower Trail is a half-mile loop trail offering views of a variety of wildflowers as well as migratory songbirds.
South Bass Island State Park. Located atop the white cliffs of South Bass Island in Lake Erie, this unique 33-acre park is a scenic landmark. Get ready for incredible views and easy access to Lake Erie. It’s also a budget-friendly way of staying on the islands as long as you plan in advance. Secluded enough to be a quiet retreat, yet close enough to everything.
Oak Point State Park. The 1.5-acre park is the smallest park in Ohio’s state park system, is a companion to South Bass Island State Park. However, this is a great place to watch a sunrise, and it also offers impressive scenic panoramic views.
5 Things to do in Put-in-Bay, Ohio:
- Drive or Fly? Take a Ferry. You could take your car to the island with the Ferry, but it might be difficult to park
- How Long to Stay Here. A day
- Will you need a car to get around? Golf carts are best to get around the island. And they are easy to park!
- Family ActivitiesPerry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial
. Beach, Butterfly House,
- Local food not to be missed. Lobster Bisque, Storm Flurry, perch-pierogi, Crepes.