A woman sits on a rock and looks off toward an historic lighthouse on the coast of Lake Eerie during a golden sunset

8 Fun Things to do on the Lake Erie Shores and Islands

Uncover some of the fun to be had along Lake Erie's Shores and Islands in this list. Quiet strolls along the beach, historic landmarks, and a world class amusement park means there's something for everyone.

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If you’re a Midwesterner searching for a travel destination close to home that will transport you to a world of sun, sand and fun then you need to visit the Lake Erie Shores and Islands. Just over a two hour drive from Columbus and less than four hours from Cincinnati, this area, referred to as “Vacationland” because of its popularity with summer thrill seekers, is easily within reach after a short road trip.

The Region

The list of possible things to do on the Lake Erie Shores and Islands could easily run a mile long. Water sports, wineries, amusement parks, golfing, fishing, and beach lounging are just a few of the activities you’ll find. Here we’ve decided to list a few of our favorite pastimes, focusing on the North Shores region. So, first let’s discuss exactly where this area is and what’s nearby.

Wide shot of a man walking away from the camera down a sandy beach on Lake Eerie during an overcast day

The North Shores region is a peninsula that juts out into Lake Erie, comprised of Port Clinton, Catawba, Lakeside and Marblehead. Visitors who want to access the off-shore destinations of Kelley’s Island and South Bass Island (Put-in-Bay) will need to come here to ride the ferries (more on this below).

A map of the Lake Eerie Shores and Islands area showing Put-In-Bay and Kelleys Island at the top with a peninsula jutting out into Lake Eerie

Not only do the North Shores provide convenient access to the islands, but they’re also a short drive away from other exciting attractions, such as those found in and around Sandusky.

So now that you know where to go, what is there to do? Here’s our list, made up of some common attractions and a few that are off the beaten path:

1. Visit the oldest operating lighthouse on the American Great Lakes 

Marblehead Lighthouse is a living piece of history and comes with a scenic view right along the waterfront. It’s the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the American side of the Great Lakes, built in 1822. The lighthouse is now situated inside Marblehead Lighthouse State Park. The park is an excellent place to relax, spend some time along the water or have a picnic. From the shore, near the replica lifesaving station, you can even look across Sandusky Bay and see Cedar Point Amusement Park.

Marblehead Lighthouse painted white with red accents standing tall among several trees on the coast of Lake Eerie

2. Spend a day, or two, exploring Lakeside Chautauqua

Lakeside is a private, historic community, originally founded by the Methodist Church near the end of the 19th century. The Chautauqua movement brought culture, education and entertainment for communities of families in a summer vacation format and Lakeside is still offering lots of fun and community right along Lake Erie. Inside the one square mile campus are over 900 Victorian cottages, many of which are available for rent, parks, playgrounds, a miniature golf course, pool, shuffleboard and tennis courts, shops, restaurants and a hotel. 


A woman sits smiling with both legs up on a park bench with flowers in the foreground and a row of historic lakeside houses in the backgroundA small white sail boat sitting on the shore with Lake Eerie in the background out of focus

A simple walk through the community will give you a relaxing place to admire 19th and early 20th century architecture, beautiful landscaping right along the water, and views of the islands. Grab an ice cream cone from one of the local shops and visit the pavilion and dock, where there’s plenty of room for fishing and an opportunity to learn or practice sailing.

You’ll need to pay for parking and admission to Lakeside for the day, but once you visit you’ll surely find that there’s plenty to keep you coming back for more than one day. Current prices for the various pass options can be found here.

A tight shot of a white house in Lakeside Ohio with three black rocking chairs sitting empty on a brick patio and flowers and foliage framing everything


3. Go for a stroll along the sand bar at East Harbor State Park

East Harbor State Park is a one-stop shop for outdoor recreation. Here you’ll find a campground, with both electric and non-electric sites, a marina, and a disc golf course among other attractions. If you’d like to just visit for the day then we recommend driving all the way down the main park road until you reach the 1,500 foot long sandy beach. Here is an ideal spot to relax and soak up some sun during your summer vacation and if you’re not into taking a dip you can still walk along the shallow sandbar running parallel to the shore, cool off and enjoy the view.

A woman on a slow stroll through shallow water on a sand bar in Lake Eerie during an overcast day


4. Hang out and enjoy island life at Put-in-Bay

South Bass Island is the home of Put-in-Bay and it’s just a short ferry ride from Catawba via Miller Ferry, the only ferry that takes vehicles to the island, or Jet Express, a passenger only ferry, with docks in Port Clinton. Both services run frequently through the summer. Current prices and information are available here.

An aerial photo by Travis Essinger looking down at Put-In-Bay during a golden sunset with boats filling the harbor

Photo: Travis Essinger


A trip out to South Bass could easily be a weekend getaway of its own, but if you’ve only got a day to spend on the island there are a few things we recommend checking out:

Perry’s Memorial was built to honor the lives of those who fought in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. For $10 visitors can go to the top of the 352 foot column and take in panoramic views of the area.

Mojito Bay is our choice for grabbing a drink on the island. There are plenty of bars and restaurants, but when you combine an outdoor Mojito bar surrounded by sand with rope swings and a Caribbean vibe, you’ve got the perfect formula for pretending you’re in a far off tropical destination. 

Heineman's Winery is another spot for enjoying an adult beverage. An unassuming vineyard serving delicious wine since 1888 that is also home to Crystal Cave, which is technically not a cave, but rather the world’s largest geode - the inside of one giant rock, which contains crystal up to 18 inches in length.

If you’re visiting the last two spots, then find yourself a designated driver and rent a golf cart to cruise the island. They’re the main mode of transportation here and you can pick one up for yourself for about $12/hour or $60-90/day. You’ll get around the island a lot quicker so you can make the most of your time and see more.


5. Spend some time on Kelley’s Island

The equally accessible but more laidback neighbor of South Bass is Kelley’s Island. Ferries to the island can be caught from Marblehead and current rates and schedules are found here. While you’re visiting Kelley’s Island you can rent a kayak or stand up paddle board and see the island from the water.

You can also check out the glacial grooves, 400 foot long natural formations caused by the movement of ancient glaciers across the area.

You can also explore the interior of the island by hiking the North Pond Boardwalk, East Quarry Trails, or the North Shore Loop Trail, which leads to the Alvar State Nature Preserve, a rare habitat for various plants and animals.


6. Get your adrenaline rush at Cedar Point

If you’re a thrill seeker then you’ll want to set aside a day for hopping on the 17 different roller coasters at Cedar Point Amusement Park. Like everything else in this area it’s rich in history, dating back to 1870, and is recognized as the second oldest amusement park in the country. There’s nothing old fashioned about the rides here though, and Cedar Point consistently wins awards, being considered among the best amusement parks in the whole world.

A close up shot by Aaron Burden of an amusement ride at Cedar Point at a steep angle with nothing but blue sky behind it

Photo: Aaron Burden


7. Watch the sunset at Port Clinton Lighthouse

If you’re anything like us then you’re somehow drawn in by the unique architecture and beauty of lighthouses. Marblehead Lighthouse remains the older and much larger structure, but an enjoyable way to spend an evening is to head over to the Port Clinton Lighthouse and watch the sunset over the water. The lighthouse was moved from its original location after being decommissioned in 1952 and, in recent years, was restored and relocated along the waterfront. Now it sits in its perfectly Instagrammable spot waiting for visitors to come and enjoy it.

The reflection of Port Clinton lighthouse on a small pond during a golden sunset on the shore of Lake Eerie

8. Take a relaxing stroll through Lakeside Daisy State Nature Preserve

The Marblehead area is home to a federally threatened plant, the Lakeside Daisy. This beautiful flower produces bright yellow blooms in early May and, being one of the few plants that thrives on the rocky limestone of the region, has the effect of creating a blanket of color in spring. The Lakeside Daisy State Nature Preserve was set aside, minutes away from the Marblehead Lighthouse, in an effort to protect this endangered population. Whether you’re visiting at peak time to see the daisies for yourself or not the nature preserve is a nice, quiet place to take a quick stroll through nature.

A close up shot on a group of bright yellow daisies with black centers


We hope this list is helpful in planning your next trip to the Lake Erie Shores and Islands! As you can see there are plenty of different options, no matter what you’re looking for.

If you’ve been to the area before then maybe this list will inspire you to go a little off the beaten path and discover some of the lesser known attractions. Let us know, have you been to the Shores and Islands? Did we leave anything off the list that you think is a must-see?


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A woman sits smiling with both legs up on a park bench with flowers in the foreground and a row of historic lakeside houses in the background with text overlay that says Eight Fun Things to Do on The Lake Erie Shores and Islands

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A woman stands in crystal clear ankle deep water on a beach.
A man sits in the sun on the rear of a sailboat.
A waterfall surrounded by large boulders and colorful fall foliage
A woman in a red coat walks down a boardwalk toward a picturesque red covered bridge during fall
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A scenic lighthouse on a rocky coastline catches early morning sunlight while birds fly past
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