Dewy grass brands my jeans with the mark of early morning as I tromp along a leafy path on Kelleys Island’s East Quarry Trail. An orangey-red flash tugs at the corner of my eye and I turn to see what looks like a fox darting off through the underbrush. Ahead of me, the trail questions my perseverance: Wet grass is slowly turning into muddy marshland. The choice is simple. I turn around, walk back to my golf cart and cruise around the corner to another path I spied the day before. Soon I’m right where I want to be, bird watching and hiking around the edge of Horseshoe Lake. No one else is in sight. On this, the largest of the Lake Erie island group (4 miles square), every road and path calls the same siren song of exploration. And most deliver. Down a long, dusty road behind the airport lies Charles Herndon’s gallery and sculpture garden, full of nudes carved from stone. The winery blooms from a post-card-perfect farmscape on an empty stretch of road. Grab your walking shoes and get going.
Know Before You Go: Like South Bass, golf carts are the best way to get around here. This island is so laid back, the rental company closest to the Jet Express dock is owned by The Casino, a nearby bar. Carts are $14 per hour for a four-seater, $20 per hour for a six-seater.(419) 746-2773
Early risers don’t have to wait for a B&B breakfast.Beeline for Erie Island Coffee Co.,
which opens at 6 a.m. You can even get a 96-ounce Thermos box of coffee for your fishing trip. Caddyshack Square, (419) 746-2150; erieislandcoffee.com2.
After a long day of exploring, let Claudia Jaskulski
massage away your aches and pains. She specializes in aromatherapy and accupressure therapy, and operates out of an adorable third-floor room at Water’s Edge
. Just ask owner Beth Hermes about open time slots. Jaskulski also has an office in Danbury: Call (419) 341-6889.
• Can’t-Miss Events
•IslandFest 2008, July 25-27:
There’ll be dancing, live entertainment, a craft fair and a parade. (419) 746-2360Outdoor Film Festival, Aug. 8-10:
Bring the family this weekend for evening movies under the stars. The lineup includes E.T., Casablanca and Shrek. Free. kifilmfest.comKayak Poker Paddle, Sept. 13:
Paddlers will hit five beaches to pick up playing cards and try to make the best hand. The event begins at 8 a.m. and costs $8. (419) 746-2258
• Where To Stay •
Our Favorite: A Water’s Edge Retreat.
My first encounter with owners Beth and Tim Hermes is a cacophony of excitement, rapid-fire banter and general familial spirit. I’m bundled inside and deposited in the waterfront Marguerite room, named, as they all are, after a member of Beth’s large family. A few minutes later she slips a map under my door, with a Post-it: She’s called the Kelley’s Island Wine Co. (her dinner recommendation) to find out the night’s specials. The Hermeses built this bed and breakfast 15 years ago and have created a place that resonates with genteel relaxation. Breakfast is likely to be eggs Benedict two ways, and Beth is likely to be setting up a station of wine and cheese come evening. Weekend packages for couples even include a sail on the couples’ 35-foot boat. 827 E. Lakeshore Drive, 1-800-884-5143; watersedgeretreat.com
Other Great Options: The Campbell Cottage
(932 W. Lakeshore Drive, 1-877-746-2740) is, unofficially,the westernmost lodging on the island — perfect for watching the sun set over Perry’s Monument. The Inn on Kelleys Island
(317 W. Lakeshore Drive, 1-866-878-2135) is owned by Pat Hayes, the president of the Kelleys Island Audubon Club. It’s a great starting point for bird enthusiasts — your host is one of the biggest experts on the island.
• Where to Eat •
Our Favorite: The Kelley’s Island Wine Co.
The dinner list was small but inviting: two specials (fish or steak) along with a speciality pizza, on this night a pie featuring five varieties of mushroom, including locally grown morels. The restaurant is known for great pizza, but what I really loved was the inexpensive wine sampler, six one-ounce pours for $5.25. 418 Woodford Rd., (419) 746-2678; kelleysislandwine.comOther Great Options:
The former owners of the ritzy Island House now run the Caddy Shack
, so look for improved offerings there. Kelleys Island Brewery
, about a half mile outside of town, features a pet-friendly grassy space by the patio and beer brewed in-house. And, owing to its humble beginnings as the Dairy Isle, the restaurant still serves the homemade rootbeer floats and handmade milkshakes that put it on the map. 504 W. Lakeshore Drive, (419) 746-2314; kelleysislandbrewpub.com
• Explore Elsewhere •North Bass Island.
It’s the least-developed island in this Lake Erie chain, with 14 year-round residents and a one-room schoolhouse. Sandusky-based Firelands Winery operates a 40-acre vineyard on the island, but the Ohio Department of Natural Resources governs the majority of North Bass. Right now there is no camping or ferry service. You can take a water taxi from Middle Bass Island courtesy of Great Escape Charters. Or, wait until Aug. 7, when the Lake Erie Islands Historical Society hosts a tour of the island. (419) 285-2804.Go fishing
. Three area charters offer “walk-on” trips: Sassy Sal Charters (419-732-7755 or sassysalcharters.com
, $34 to $37 per person) in Port Clinton; Shore-Nuf Charters (419-734-9999 or shore-nuf.com, $34 to $37 per person) in Port Clinton; and Tibbels Charter Service (419-734-1143 or tibbelsfishing.com, $37 per person) in Marblehead. To charter your own boat, check out shoresandislands.com for a list of companies.
Hot to Trot, How are you going to explore Kelleys?
For the ultimate in athletic exploration, run the island
. Follow the exterior edge: Start downtown and head west on Lakeshore Drive. Loop around on Titus Road up to Division Street. Head south on Division, then east on Ward to Monagan Road. Go south, but detour at Brian Lane and take a breather while you check out the sculpture garden at Charles Herndon Galleries
. Back on Monagan, go east on Woodford Rd., south on Harbor Lane and west on Lakeshore, which will deposit you back downtown 9.2 miles and lots of sweat equity later. Have a drink at The Casino.
You’ve earned it. Olympian
Pick up a couple of kayaks
at Kelleys Island Kayak Rental
inside the state park: singles are $25 for two hours, doubles are $35 for two hours. (419) 285-2274 Guide Dog
Rent a bike and
cruise the island under your own pedal power: The Caddy Shack
rents adult-size bikes for $4 per hour, $24 per day. (419) 746-2808Trail Blazer
A few minutes down the East Quarry Trail
and you’ll forget you’re on a tiny island in Ohio: Horseshoe Lake
lies amid a network of paths that are none-too-clearly marked on the maps at the trailhead. Speed Walker
The North Pond Boardwalk
is prime real estate for the migratory bird population. Pat Hayes, the 12-year president of the Kelleys Island Audubon Club
, favors the bird-watching tower, which overlooks a 28-acre marsh. Call Hayes at (419) 746-2258 for info on local birding events, tours and banding evenings (people of all ages can take part in netting and banding owls and birds so their migration patterns can be tracked).Naturalist
The North Shore Loop Trail
, next door to the Glacial Grooves, is about 1 mile long. It winds through woodlands and along the lake, and features enticing homemade paths
leading off the main trail (unnamed paths, like the one at left, are everywhere on the island).WandererLong Point Preserve
, on the northeastern finger, is one of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s
land holdings — and it’s Jim Bissell’s favorite spot on Kelleys. As the director of conservation for CMNH, Bissell loves Long Point for its views of Middle Bass and Pelee Island, as well as the natural beauty of the limestone cliffs. If you’d like to explore the preserves, he asks that you call before you go (1-800-317-9155, ext. 3219), especially if you’re part of a large group.Daisy Sniffer
The Glacial Grooves
are easy to visit. Park your cart in the parking lot and head up one flight of stairs. A super-short trail loops around the grooves.Nap Time
Book a sail. Serenity Charters
(419) 746-2346 offers half-day, full-day and sunset cruises with food and beverages included. Aquarius Charters
(419) 746-2706 also conducts cruises.