Biking the Lake Erie Islands

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Fall had arrived literally overnight in Ohio, and I found myself shivering beneath my fleece and brand new bike shorts as as we boarded the ferry. It was chilly at the lake, and a cold wind promised some large waves for our ride over to Put-in-Bay and then Kelleys Island.

Sure enough, free car (and bike) washes for everyone!

Taking the Miller Ferry over to Put-in-Bay

I've never been a huge cyclist. In fact, until earlier this year, all I had ever owned were hand-me-down bikes and a mountain bike purchased at Walmart sometime in my early teens.

But when you date someone who knows enough about bikes to have built his own, you learn to adapt — and to stop buying Walmart bikes.

So there I was, in my new padded bike shorts, helmet slung over my wrist, sitting on the Miller Ferry's upper deck, watching my Trek bike get bathed in Lake Erie water as we headed over to the islands for a weekend of bike riding. (Don't worry, though — no bikes were harmed in the making of this adventure.)

Biking the Lake Erie Islands

Much as I have only become a cyclist recently (and even then, only recreationally), I've also only become aware of all the Lake Erie Islands have to offer in the past year or so.

And, as it turns out, the islands are not only great for a weekend getaway, but are also great for cyclists.

Why are the islands perfect for an overnight biking trip, you ask? I'll give you three reasons:

1. The islands are very bike-friendly. There are some bike lanes, but even where there aren't any you don't have anything to worry about. Bikes and golf carts are the preferred method of transport here. Oh, and did I mention that the islands are small and pretty flat? Great for any level of rider.

2. It's cheaper to take a bike over on the ferry than a car. You can take your bike on any of the ferries that head out onto Lake Erie, and bringing a bike with you will only set you back $2-$3 extra per person.

3. No need to worry about parking. Since bikes are so plentiful on the islands, you can pretty much always find a bike rack. Sure beats trying to find a place to park!

Kelleys Island

Elliot and I headed over on a Saturday morning, stayed overnight at Put-in-Bay, and left Sunday evening. We live only about 1.5 hours away from the main jumping off point for the islands, so this made for a perfect weekend getaway.

Here's a look at what we (and our bikes) got up to:

Kelleys Island

We took a morning Miller Ferry from Catawba Island to Put-in-Bay in order to check into our hotel, but then immediately hopped a 12:15 Jet Express ferry over to Kelleys Island.

Golf carts on Kelleys Island

Lunch at The Pump

Food was first up on our agenda, so we headed straight to the Village Pump when we got off the ferry. Kelleys Island is super chill, so we just left our bikes sitting outside as we enjoyed perch sandwiches. Lucky for us, the weather cleared up as we ate, and the sun was shining by the time we hit the road that circles the island.

Glacial Grooves

We rode along the coast, eyeing up all the private beaches and pretty patios that the island's part-time residents get to enjoy during the summer months. We rode roughly in the direction of Kelleys Island State Park in order to see the glacial grooves — deep gouges in the limestone that were made thousands of years ago by a giant slab of ice. These grooves are some of the most easily accessible ones in the world, so we made sure to stop and check them out.

Glacial Grooves on Kelleys Island

Glacial Grooves on Kelleys Island

Hang at the Beach

From the grooves, it was on to the public beach in the state park. Even though many of the coastal beaches on the island are private, this one is open to everyone. It was definitely too cold to swim, but that didn't mean we couldn't enjoy the scenery.

Beach in Kelleys Island State Park

Beach at Kelleys Island State Park

Ogle the houses

We finished our loop of the island by ogling some of the big houses overlooking the lake (the whole loop took us just over 2 hours since we stopped quite a few times).

House on Kelleys Island

South Bass Island

We took a late afternoon Jet Express back to South Bass Island, home to the Key West-inspired town of Put-in-Bay. It was here in 1813 that the Battle of Lake Erie took place — a significant battle in which Commodore Oliver Perry held off a British fleet of ships. The battle was re-enacted last year for the 200th anniversary, and is commemorated by the Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial. Today, the town is popular with holiday makers who want to party on island time.

Perry's Victory and international Peace Monument in Put-in-Bay

Since Elliot and I have done the touristy things in Put-in-Bay before (like going up to the top of the monument, visiting Perry's Cave, and frequenting some of the island's famous bars), we decided to stick to our theme for the weekend and focus on things we could do under our own steam.

North Point

We did almost a full circle of the island, which included a stop at North Point, where you can usually find graffiti-type paintings on big concrete blocks. (My favorite this time? Edgar Allen Bro.)

North Point

The Boardwalk

A great place for both people- and boat-watching, we took a break near the Boardwalk to pick out our favorite boat names. (The also serve a mean lobster chowder inside.)

Put-in-Bay

Put-in-Bay noms

Speaking of food, we spent quite a bit of time replenishing our energy supplies with some delicious island dishes. In Put-in-Bay, we had perch tacos at The Goat, crepes at The Old Forge, and ridiculously large and delicious “Chad burgers” at The Keyes, which were topped with bacon AND pulled pork.

Lake Erie Islands food

 

We could have easily spent another day on the islands (there's a ferry that goes over to Middle Bass Island, too, and we didn't even get around to renting kayaks or anything like that), but after two full days of cycling and sightseeing and eating, we were pretty beat. (Also, despite the new padded bike shorts, my butt was pretty sore.)

I have a feeling this might become an annual trip for us, though. It's the perfect active weekend getaway for two Ohioans like us!

——

Would you ever consider a trip like this, with bikes as your main form of transport?

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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21 Comments on “Biking the Lake Erie Islands

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  1. Those grooves look really cool. I would love to do this (if I could bike to save myself!)

      They WERE really cool! Definitely worth the stop.

    I used to be a huge cyclist – I used a bike as my main mode of transportation for 8 years! – but since moving to LA, I almost never ride my bike anymore. Your vacation looks like a lot of fun!

    – Ava

    beck daily

      Aww, that’s too bad that you aren’t able to ride your bike as much in LA! I don’t ride super often, but my boyfriend commutes to work on his when the weather is nice.

    I love cycling, wish I could just cycle all around a country one day (maybe I will need to do it on a small one like Luxemburg) there’s simply no better way to get around. Cool video! those waves look smashing!

      Haha the waves were HUGE! And actually a lot of people cycle across the US, and even across Europe! You could totally do it. 🙂

    I’m sure biking must have fun! Erie Islands look so beautiful and even the weather looks balmy and nice. Cool outdoor expedition!

      It was a little chilly, but it actually turned out to be great riding weather!

    Nice post.
    As a bicycle tourer, I will keep these islands on my head when I’ll travel around the area.
    (I guess you realise now how important is a good seat, rather than good bike shorts!)

      Haha yes! (My seat is quite nice, though – I’m just not used to sitting on it for more than maybe an hour at a time!)

      Definitely keep this part of Ohio in mind, though. It’s really special!

    What an awesome looking place! I really like cycling 🙂 but I’m no pro, I just enjoy pedaaling at my own pace (on a second hand bicycle I acquired for free, which it turns out used to belong to my brother years ago!) we cycled around Mljet in Croatia this summer & it was awesome

      I’m definitely no pro! The boy is more serious about it than I am, but I do enjoy a ride on a nice day every now and then! (And I LOVE bike tours when I’m traveling!)

    Would I consider it? Honey I don’t just consider it… Getting around the world on my bike is one of my top dreams. I am so jealous of your adventures! And awesome photos, by the way!

    Do tell me, though: have you been to any good guided bike tours? Can you recommend?

    Thank you so much for sharing this!

      I’ve done some bike tours, but only short ones – nothing multi-day or anything like that! I like to do bike tours in new cities (I’ve done them in Toronto, Hanoi, Amsterdam, Belgrade, and more)!

    Cool! Found your page looking for info on biking there. We are gonna be there next weekend, thanks for the nice write up!

      Awesome! Here’s hoping you have some nice weather! 🙂

    Just stumbled on your post when looking up if the islands are bike-friendly. I live in downtown Sandusky, blocks away from the ferry, so I’ve been contimplating hoping on the Jer Express with my bike and doing a day trip around south bass alone. I was thinking about doing this Monday since it’s the height of the tourist season. I’ve only been out there for work so I’m pretty excited to go out there to just enjoy myself, bike, swim, hammock, read. Maybe grab a drink at one of the bars and some lobster chowder at the boardwalk. Thanks for the post and the little bit of confidence to get me over there!

      The islands are super bike-friendly, and especially South Bass! Put-in-Bay is basically just all bikes and golf carts. 🙂 Perfect for a day trip, especially if you’re already in Sandusky!

    Nicely written, Amanda! I loved all the pictures and especially the one with the sign of the different countries. I’ve found the sign to my country which is so cool. Anyways your article is awesome, keep the good work. Cheers!

    Thanks for this info! We’re heading to the islands for our 30th anniversary this month, and we’re taking our bikes. Can’t wait to explore!

      Have a great time! That will be really fun.

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