Welcome to Lake Erie’s Emerald Isle, or Kelleys Island, a village 4 miles north of Marblehead and 12 miles from Sandusky on the Ohio mainland. Kelleys Island vacation rentals will get you within walking distance to the uncrowded natural paradise where you can swim and snorkel at the beach, tie up a boat at the marina, and fish from the pier. Getting around the island is a stress-free experience. Pile into a golf cart, rent bikes or scooters, or tie up your sneakers and set out on foot. If you visit in August, you can enjoy the annual week-long Homecoming Festival with the locals. Here are the top 12 things to do in Kelleys Island with kids.

1. Visit the Inscription Rock Petroglyphs

This large limestone boulder reflects some of the histories of its Native American predecessors who lived on the island sometime between 1200 and 1600. The Ohio Historical Society has uncovered the remains of at least two villages near this rock, which is now protected under a gazebo.

2. Glacial Grooves State Memorial

Grab a golf cart, and tell the kids to hang on as you explore the grooves left in the soft limestone by glaciers at Glacial Grooves State Memorial. The tour takes about 30 minutes, and there are lots of storyboards that tell the region’s story along the way. There are stairs, rugged natural terrain, and a bridge to cross, so this may not be the best choice for really small children, but your older kids will have a blast.

3. Kelleys Island State Park

Rub the kids down with sunscreen, then head over to the beach at Kelleys Island State Park for some sandcastle building and digging. The waters are calm, and there’s a nice breeze to cool you off on hot days while you picnic under an umbrella. Kids adore exploring the easy-to-navigate trail that leads to the rock-lined pier, and they really enjoy viewing the many colored snails they encounter along the way.

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4. Caddy Shack Square

You won’t have to ask the kids twice to join you on the 18-hole mini golf course at Caddy Shack Square. Once you finish the game, encourage some more friendly competition at the arcade, then treat your kids to some of the island’s best pizza and subs. Enjoy having lunch on the outdoor patio then be sure to order up a yummy ice cream cone, for which Caddy Shack Square is renowned, after your meal.

5. Kelleys Island Historical Museum

Kelleys Island Historical Museum is a small, unassuming building is chock full of bits of history. Visitors enjoy the beautiful displays and video presentation about the old homes that still exist on the island. The friendly lady who greets you wrote six books about the treasures of Kelleys Island, and she is delighted to answer questions. Be sure to stop by the Old Stone German Reform church next door, where you can almost feel the spirits of the pioneers who first settled in the area.

6. North Pond State Nature Preserve

Head out on foot, bike, or golf cart to explore North Pond State Nature Preserve, a pristine 30-acre territory. The kids can skip rocks, play on the beach, and search for frogs, fish, and snakes. You’ll also be able to see Canada across the natural wetland. The trails and boardwalk are well-maintained and feature signs along the way to help kids identify the animals that greet visitors, including dozens of mallard ducks and blue herons.

7. Island Mining Company

Head to Island Mining Company and have the kids stop at the Gem Mining Station after they pick up their ‘rich bags of dirt’ to put through the sluice as they mine for colorful gems. They can also play a few games of putt-putt golf, and pick up an excavation kit to experiment with at home.

8. Scheele Preserve

Hike with the kids along the clearly marked trail in Scheele Preserve, a natural area of meadows and woods. Enjoy a quiet afternoon communing with nature, but expect excited exclamations of awe as the kids reach the end of the trail and find a stunningly beautiful lake view. Beyond the lake, you’ll find an unspoiled beach to frolic on.


9. Horseshoe Lake’s East Quarry Trails

Rent some bikes or lace up sturdy shoes and head out on the 5-mile network of trails that wind around this abandoned limestone quarry in the island’s interior. Lead the way through woodlands past the flooded end of the quarry, known as Horseshoe Lake, where there’s abundant aquatic life. If the kids search carefully, they may find some undiscovered fossils.

10. Charles Herndon Galleries

Your jaw will likely drop when you see Mr. Herndon’s sculptures in his 10-acre garden. Some of the materials he uses are native to the island, but he also works in mediums like wood, metal, stone, and glass.

11. Marblehead Lighthouse

Ferries are great fun for kids, so pack a picnic and hitch a ride from Kelleys Island over to the Marblehead Lighthouse. This navigational aid was built in 1821 and is the oldest operating lighthouse on the Great Lakes. Race the kids up 77 stairs for a spectacular view of Lake Erie and the surrounding islands. Picnic at one of the tables, then follow a trail to a fishing hole, or head over to the museum, which once served as the lighthouse keeper’s home.

12. Diving and Snorkeling

Put on snorkels and flippers, step on the shoreline of Lake Erie, and prepare to explore its depths for shipwrecks, which are preserved in the cool fresh lake water. If ships are not your thing, don’t sweat it. The limestone ledges around the island offer up a variety of fascinating areas to explore.

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