By PARIS WOLFE
Get your island vibe in Lake Erie this summer. The western basin has four main Islands: South Bass, Middle Bass, North Bass and Kelleys Islands. South Bass is, perhaps, known by its tourist town – Put-in-Bay. Pick one (or more), slide into your flip flops, slather on sunscreen, and arrive island-side by ferry, private boat, or small plane.
On Kelleys, South and Middle Bass islands rent bicycles or golf carts to power your way to attractions. North Bass is fairly primitive, requiring private boat or plane for access, and permits for camping.
Stay for the day or longer. Lodging is mostly small properties and bed and breakfast operations. Boaters can reserve space at marinas on various islands and use associated bathhouses and other amenities. If the lake is calling, fishing folk can charter fishing boats to catch perch or walleye.
Home to much of Ohio’s wine-making industry before prohibition, each island has a different energy and varied attractions. Grapes are still grown on several, with wineries on South Bass and Kelleys Islands. Middle Bass was once home to Lonz Winery, but the historic structure is no longer producing wine.
Bars, restaurants, and retail – which open when weather warms around late May through September – are part of the attraction at Put-in-Bay and on Kelleys Island. Waterfront activities and parks put nature lovers in their element.
Following is a short sample of what’s possible. For more information visit www.shoresandislands.com.
Home to the village of Put-in-Bay (population 128), South Bass is the busiest of the islands. It attracts 1.5 million people annually to its 1,588 acres, mostly during warm summer months though ice fishing is a thing in winter.
Start your visit by pedaling or puttering to Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, a 325-foot Doric column on the eastern edge of the island. Built in 1936, it honors those who fought in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812 and it celebrates the long-lasting peace among the United States, Canada, and Britain. It is named for U.S. Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry.
Get that altitude adjusted with Put-in-Bay Parasail (www.putinbayparasail.com). You’ll get 600 feet of line for an adrenaline-pumping 300 feet of flight height.
Then, put on the brakes with a pause at Heineman Winery, founded in 1888 and run by fifth-generation family members. While there, crowd into the Crystal Cave and marvel at the sparkly formations in the world’s largest geode.
If you prefer beer or distilled spirits, Put-in-Bay Brewery & Distillery is the island’s only brewery and distillery. Open for 25 years, it serves food and beer and sells Island Rum and Island Vodka.
The iconic and historic Lonz Winery property was acquired by the state of Ohio in the 2000s and reopened in 2017 as part of Middle Bass Island State Park. The 124-acre state park is now home to the restored building shell, open-air plaza,and wine exhibits inside the preserved cellars. This is one of many places to explore while visiting the 805-acre island.
Hazards Microbrewery and Restaurant is next to the Middle Bass Marina. In festive island style it offers free pool and hot tub use for customers. The appeal here includes a tiki bar from Bali with Caribbean-style landscaping, and teak furniture.
Home to 313 permanent residents, Kelleys Island is the largest of Ohio’s Lake Erie islands. The atmosphere is different from the Bass islands. You’ll want to rent a golf cart or bicycle and visit natural areas including beach and forest.
Traveling the 2,800-acre island you’ll find the Glacial Grooves, the largest, easily accessible grooves in the world. Glacial ice left grooves 400 feet long, 35 feet wide and up to 10 feet deep scored into the limestone bedrock. The stone contains marine fossils dated 350 to 400 million years ago.
If you prefer a guided tour, consider two-hour kayak, hike/bike or golf cart adventures organized by Kelleys Island AdvenTours (kelleysislandadventours.com). You can see highlights, sunsets and/or learn history during these treks.
Wind down the day at Kelley Island Wine Company. Started in 1982, the winemaker Kirt Zettler makes wines from local grapes. Food is also available at the winery.