Kelleys Island State Park offers great Lake Erie views, easy access to the shoreline, and a scenic overnight accommodations. Boating, fishing, and wildlife watching are just a few of the park’s favorite activities on its 677 acres. The campground offers camping along the cliffs overlooking the lake. Nearby, several state nature preserves offer excellent hiking and birdwatching opportunities.
No other state park offers visitors a better look at Ohio’s glacial past than Kelleys Island. Evidence of the glaciers, in the form of a large tract of glacial grooves, is available to view, just a short walk from the campground.
A double-lane boat launch ramp and courtesy dock provide access to Lake Erie is located on the island's north shore. Kayak rentals are available at the sand beach from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Camping, Yurts and Camper Cabins
The lakeside Kelleys Island State Park Campground offers Full-Hookup, Electric and Non-electric sites. Pets are permitted on designated sites. Two furnished Yurts and two Camper Cabins provide additional overnight options. Winter camping available. Reserve online or by calling (866) 644-6727.
Lake Erie is known as the "Walleye Capital of the World."
A stone pier and shoreline fishing are offered on the island's north shore. A fish cleaning house with a bone grinder is located in the campground is free to register campers, and to non-registered guests for a small fee.
Limited hunting, including bow hunting of deer, is permitted in designated areas of the park. Check with the park office for details.
The park's five picnic areas provide scenic views for gathering with friends and family. Each offers picnic tables and grills. The shelterhouse at the campground is available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
A 100-foot public swimming beach on Lake Erie is located within easy walking distance from the campground.
- Swimming is permitted in designated areas during daylight hours only.
- Swim at your own risk.
- Pets are not permitted on the swimming beach.
- BeachGuard — Water quality advisories, Memorial Day to Labor Day, from Ohio Dept. of Health
- North Pond Nature Preserve - 1 mile - easy; features boardwalk with observation deck
- North Shore/Alvar Loop Trail - 3 miles - multi-use trail offers moderate hiking and intermediate mountain biking; hilly and rocky
- East Quarry Trail - 5 miles - multi-use trail offers novice and intermediate mountain biking; moderately level with rocky terrain
Under the proper winter conditions, park guests can enjoy cross-country skiing and ice fishing.
More to Do
- Glacial Grooves State Memorial is located near the beach
- Fall Monarch butterfly migration
- North Shore Alvar State Nature Preserve
- North Pond State Nature Preserve
- 18 acres of Pollinator Project on state property
- Kelleys Island Historic Museum
- Kelleys Island Chamber of Commerce
History & Natural Features
Evidence that ancient civilizations inhabited this area include several prehistoric mounds and earthworks on the island. Mysterious petroglyphs carved into a massive limestone boulder known as Inscription Rock are believed to date back to the 1600s or earlier. Prior to the 19th century, the Lake Erie Island region was inhabited by Ottawa and Huron (Wyandot) Indian tribes and visited occasionally by European explorers.
In the early 1800s, Kelleys Island was known as Cunningham’s Island, after an early settler who lived and traded with the Indians. Cunningham left the island as tensions escalated in the War of 1812. After the war, a small timber operation was established on the sparsely populated island to provide fuel for Lake Erie’s first steamer, “Walk on the Water”. In 1833, businessman Datus Kelley, along with his brother Irad, began systematically purchasing parcels until they owned the entire island. The Kelley brothers developed infrastructure for shipping along with timber operations, limestone quarries, and orchards and vineyards. In 1840, with a population of 68, the community was renamed Kelleys Island. The diverse workforce of immigrants from a number of European countries gave the island a reputation as a melting pot where various cultures and customs were tolerated.
Wine production was introduced in 1842, and by the early 1900s, dozens of wineries were active on the island, with the largest, the Kelleys Island Wine Company, producing 500,000 gallons of wine per year. In 1891, various independent quarry operations producing high quality building stone as well as flux stone, were consolidated as the Kelleys Island Lime and Stone Company. The merger resulted in a continuous quarry pit stretching more than a mile across the island. Most of the quarry operations ceased by 1940. Commercial fisheries were active from the mid 1800s until the mid 1950s.
Kelleys Island State Park was cobbled together from properties acquired by the state of Ohio, including lakefront property and the beach purchased from the village of Kelleys Island, the north pond and adjacent land, and the historic East Quarry, formerly mined by the Kelleys Island Lime & Transport Co. The glacial grooves near the north shore were set aside as a State Memorial in 1932. Kelleys Island became a state park in 1956.
Kelleys Island, in the western basin of Lake Erie, was formed by past episodes of glaciation when massive ice sheets from Canada advanced into Ohio. Glaciers gouged and scoured the bedrock, deepening and widening existing river valleys and leaving deep depressions which filled with meltwater as the climate warmed and the glaciers retreated, forming the Great Lakes. Evidence of the glaciers can still be seen in the grooves and striations in the island’s limestone bedrock. A large tract of grooves, 15 feet deep and 35 feet wide, has been exposed by an historic quarrying operation, and is believed to be the largest example of glacial striations in the world.The direction the grooves point indicate the direction of travel of the glaciers as they advanced and receded, showing that they traveled from the northeast, from Ontario, Canada.
The features that would become the Lake Erie islands were once submerged by glacial meltwaters. They eventually became exposed when the meltwaters dropped after the last ice sheet receded past the area of present-day Buffalo, New York, releasing a torrent of water down the Niagara River. At that time, the islands became hills standing above a marshy plain, and land animals or humans may have been able to get to them without swimming. The outlet of the Niagara River was at that time 100 feet lower than today due to the massive weight of the mile-thick ice that had recently depressed the land surface. Slow rebound of the outlet allowed the lake to gradually refill the basin, creating the Lake Erie we recognize today (along with Niagara Falls), and flooding the western basin of the lake, leaving the hills as islands.
Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes, ranging from 25 feet deep in the western basin, to a depth of 120 feet in the eastern basin. As a result of its lopsided, shallow basin Lake Erie is known for its sudden, violent storms with high waves. Its warm temperatures produce greater numbers and varieties of fish than any other Great Lake, including walleye, yellow perch, smallmouth bass and white bass.
Kelleys Island State Park encompasses two state nature preserves, the North Shore Alvar, and the North Pond, which harbor unique natural features. Where Kelleys Island’s limestone foundation is exposed to Lake Erie and battered by waves and wind, a rare alvar ecosystem has formed. The low cliffs, limestone shelves and thin, dry soil on the shoreline are inhospitable to trees, but ideal for the growth of prairie grasses and lichen, and rare plants including balsam squaw weed, Pringle’s aster and northern bog violet. Inland from the alvar, the North Pond, a 30-acre emergent marsh and swamp forest that drains directly into Lake Erie, is one of the few high quality, natural marsh communities remaining on the Great Lakes.
The North Pond offers excellent birding, with hundreds of species of migrating songbirds, and dozens of waterfowl species resting here before winging across the lake. There are great opportunities for seeing bald eagles in the area. The shoreline provides precious habitat for the unique Lake Erie water snake. The eastern fox snake is common and harmless, but often mistaken for a rattlesnake because of its bold coloration and tendency to shake its tail when alarmed. Other resident reptiles and amphibians, include the Blanding’s turtle, red-eared slider, midland painted turtle and common map turtle, and the mudpuppy, northern redback, smallmouth and marbled salamanders.
Red cedar trees are abundant on the island, particularly in the abandoned limestone quarries. The endangered lakeside daisy has been transplanted here to establish a successful population outside its only known Ohio habitat, an active quarry on Marblehead Peninsula. Other rare plants on the island include the rock elm and the northern bog violet.
Privately operated ferries offer frequent daily service for cars, RVs, bicyclists and pedestrians from the mainland at Marblehead and Sandusky. Golf carts and bicycles are available for rent from private vendors. The Lake Erie Shores and Island Welcome Center is an excellent source for travel options and ideas, go to the Lake Erie Shores & Islands website or call (800) 255-3743.