Paddling Around Lake Erie’s Islands
The Lake Erie Islands are a paddler’s paradise. The shallow waters of western Lake Erie warm quickly, and the clean, clear water and rocky cliffs make for dramatic scenery. The islands are rich in both natural and cultural history. Evidence of the glaciers that formed the Great Lakes can be found in the glacial grooves and numerous fossils. It’s not uncommon to see herons, egrets, osprey and bald eagles, especially around the less populated Middle Bass and North Bass islands.
The islands also were the scene of the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813, in which Oliver Hazard Perry captured the British fleet. The event — and the subsequent peace with British Canada — is commemorated by the towering Perry’s Victory Monument, which rises 350 feet above Put-in-Bay.
Experienced paddlers may choose to make the 2.5-mile crossing from Catawba Island (which is connected to the mainland by a causeway) to South Bass Island. Once there, paddle along the western coast, where 40-foot limestone cliffs make for an impressive backdrop. Be sure to check weather forecasts before you go. Lake Erie can go from mild to wild in as little as 15 minutes, and westerly winds can create chaotic waves along the steep and cliffy shoreline.
To avoid the crowds, take the Miller Ferry to Middle Bass Island. From the ferry terminal on Middle Bass, you can paddle south across the narrow, half-mile channel to Put-in-Bay. The channel gets very busy with powerboat traffic during the day, so it’s recommended to cross early or in groups with other paddlers. From there, it’s just a short paddle to Gibraltar Island, a tiny island in the middle of the bay boasting the most impressive rock formations in the archipelago. The Bay also offers views of Perry’s Victory Monument.
Another option from Middle Bass is to paddle north to North Bass Island, which also goes by the more romantic name, Isle St. George. The island is home to only a few residents, and most of the land was purchased by the State of Ohio several years ago with the goal of restoring the island to its natural state. There is a long sandy beach on the eastern shore, which is a good place to stop and break for lunch. You can hike along old vineyard roads to the center of town where there is a historic North Bass Island Chapel, built in 1895. On the western side of North Bass is Manila Bay and Fox Marsh, a 40-acre wetland, and one of the best places to view wildlife.
Kelleys Island, the largest of the Lake Erie Islands, is also accessible by ferry. There is a nice sand beach at Kelleys Island State Park, which offers direct access to North Bay, a good place for beginners to try paddling. Long Point, at the northeast tip of the island, features a unique set of limestone shelves known as alvar, which offer habitat for coastal plants, lichens and more than a few water snakes.
Gear and Tours
Paddlers with their own kayak can transport it to the islands on the ferry, either via a car-top carrier or by hand. The Miller Ferry charges kayakers an additional $5 to bring boats on board. Kayakers also can rent a stable recreational kayak from Kayak the Bay at Put-in-Bay. Sit-on-top kayaks can be rented from Kelleys Island Rental.
Those looking for a guided sea kayaking experience of the Islands can arrange one with 41° North Kayak Adventures, which offers professionally guided tours, complete with an organic lunch served lakeside. Advance reservations are required.
East Sandusky Bay Water Trail
A water trail on the East Sandusky Bay offers an opportunity for scenic flat-water paddling in a coastal wetland. Paddlers can begin at the Big Island Preserve and Landing and paddle all or part of the 15-mile loop trail. Bring binoculars as the calm waters of the bay are rife with migrating birds and home to nesting bald eagles. In the northwest corner of the Bay, Cedar Point amusement park commands a major presence.
Regardless of where you choose to explore, remember to check the weather forecast, leave a float plan with family and friends, and always wear a properly fitted life jacket. Join an American Canoe Association-approved kayak class to improve your skills and safety on the water.
For a water adventure closer to shore, catch next Friday’s blog about kayaking down the Vermilion and Rocky Rivers, which empty into Lake Erie, as well as exploring the downtown Cleveland Harbor and Fairport Harbor Lakefront Park.
For more outdoor inspiration, Find It Here at Ohio.org.