Balanced atop the white cliffs of South Bass Island, the park offers visitors a tranquil setting to enjoy nature and expansive views of Lake Erie. Located a few miles from one of Ohio's top tourist destinations — Put-In-Bay — visitors can enjoy camping, swimming, picnicking, and fishing. Overnight options in the park include a campground, cabents, and camper cabin.
- A public launch ramp near the picnic area provides access to Lake Erie.
- Boat rentals are available in the park — power boats, kayaks, and personal watercraft.
- Nearby Oak Point State Park, located near Perry's Monument, offers rental docks.
South Bass Island State Park Campground offers Electric and Full-service sites from May 1 through mid-October. Reservations are required. Other overnight options include two Cabents, a Camper Cabin and Group Camping Area.
A fishing pier for shoreline fishing is located near the park entrance.
- A valid Ohio fishing license is required (16 and older).
A picnic area with tables and grills is located inside the park entrance. A playground is available. Water and restrooms are nearby.
A small stone beach provides access for swimming in Lake Erie. Swimming is permitted in designated areas at your own risk. Please exercise caution while swimming at the beach.
- BeachGuard — Water quality advisories, Memorial Day to Labor Day, from Ohio Dept. of Health
More to Do
- Small area of glacial grooves is located near the group camping area.
- Visit Put-In-Bay tourism office to learn more about island attractions.
Privately operated ferries offer frequent daily service for cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians from the mainland at Catawba, Put-In-Bay, and Sandusky. Golf carts and bicycles are available for rent from private vendors. The Lake Erie Shores and Islands Welcome Center is an excellent source for travel options and ideas, go to the Lake Erie Shores & Islands website or call (800) 255-3743.
History & Natural Features
Prior to the late 1700s, the Lake Erie Island region had been occupied by Ottawa and Huron (Wyandot) Native American tribes. After the Revolutionary War, the land was granted to the former colonies and land development companies. However, the native Americans had not given up their own claims to these lands, resulting in ongoing conflicts with settlers. The British also remained in the area, harassing American ships, and encouraging the Indian resistance.
In 1807, John Pierpont Edwards of the Connecticut Land Company was granted ownership of the Bass islands. Edwards deeded the islands to his son, John Stark Edwards, settled on South Bass Island in 1811, and successfully cleared 100 acres and raised a crop of wheat within the first year. In June 1812, the U.S. declared war against Great Britain. Later that summer, the British recaptured their Revolutionary War stronghold, Fort Detroit, and ramped up the conflict. The Lake Erie Islands were evacuated.
A young naval officer, Oliver Hazard Perry, established a Lake Erie fleet to reassert American dominance on the lake. In September of 1813, Perry maneuvered his ships to the well protected cove at South Bass Island’s Put-In-Bay. Perry is reputed to have discovered Perry’s Cave as he prepared for the upcoming battle. Despite setbacks and his inferior fleet, Oliver Hazard Perry defeated the British commander Robert Barclay in a harrowing battle on September 10, 1813. Perry declared, "We have met the enemy and they are ours." The victory gave the Americans control of Lake Erie and led to the ultimate defeat of the British in the War of 1812.
John Stark Edwards died in 1813. His brother, Alfred, assumed control of the island and cut many of the island’s trees for timber in the 1830s and '40s. South Bass and the other islands remained sparsely settled until 1854, when Jose DeRivera purchased five of the islands. At first he turned Put-In-Bay into a sheep ranch with a herd of 2,000, but eventually he converted the island into a fruit farm. Despite the extreme northern location, the islands have the longest frost-free period in Ohio due to the stabilizing effect of the lake. By 1880, grapes and wine were the South Bass Island’s sole agricultural products, and became known as the "Wine Islands." Several island wineries still exist today.
Put-in-Bay became a tourist destination by the 1870s, and a number of small hotels were established near the bay. In 1889, promoter J.K. Tillotson began construction of a grand summer resort, the Hotel Victory, on the other side of the island near Stone’s Cove (the site of today’s state park). When it opened in June 1892, Victory Hotel was the largest hotel in the world. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by fire in 1919. The foundation of the swimming pool is all that remains. The former hotel land had remained mostly undeveloped when the state of Ohio purchased the property at Stone’s Cove in 1938, and constructed a new public dock. This property, along with Oak Point, was added to the state park system in 1951.
South Bass Island, in the western basin of Lake Erie, was formed during the glacial period when massive ice sheets from Canada advanced into Ohio. Glaciers gouged and scoured the bedrock, and their tremendous weight left 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 island’s bedrock, as small scratches in the rock surface known as glacial striations, and in deeper glacial grooves. A small set of glacial grooves is visible in exposed bedrock near the group camp at South Bass Island, while a large tract of impressive grooves is preserved on Kelleys Island.
Overall, Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes, ranging from 25 feet deep in the western basin, to 61 feet deep in the central basin and an average depth of 120 feet in the eastern basin. As a result of its unequal, 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, white bass, and channel catfish. Annual catches nearly equal the combined catch of all other Great Lakes.
South Bass Island is dotted with collapsed caverns, which formed from the unique combination of the island’s layered dolomite bedrock, and the ever present lake water. Perry’s Cave is one of the few that has remained with its roof intact, and is one of the largest, at 200 feet long and 165 feet wide. The cave is more than 50 feet below the land surface. A rare underground lake deep within the cave rises and falls with the lake level.
The Lake Erie islands and shoreline provide 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. The island is host to a variety of other reptiles and amphibians, including the red-eared slider, midland painted turtle, and common map turtle, and the mudpuppy and northern redback salamander.
Migrating songbirds and monarch butterflies rest here before winging across the lake. Hundreds of different bird species have been identified, making this one of the best birdwatching areas in the country. Dozens of species of migratory waterfowl also take refuge here. The bald eagle has made a dramatic comeback on Lake Erie, with several nesting pairs in the area.
The island’s shallow alkaline soils provide an ideal substrate for red cedar trees. Spring wildflowers include common species such as large-flowered trillium, bloodroot, trout lily, spring beauty, and Solomon’s seal, as well as the rare northern bog violet.