Family Vacations to Sandusky and the Lake Erie Islands, Ohio

Cedar Point Park
Cedar Point Park (courtesy, Cedar Point)

Like any great team, Sandusky and the Lake Erie islands bring out the best in each other. The most popular islands—Kelleys and South Bass—offer beaches and boating; Sandusky, on the mainland, adds the sparkle of Cedar Point Amusement Park, home to the world's largest collection of roller coasters.

Of the 16 heart-pumping roller coasters, Top Thrill Dragster, the second-tallest in the world at 420 feet high, rockets you around at speeds of up to 120 mph. Other favorites: Magnum XL-200, which soars up to 205 feet and races along at up to 72 mph, and Mean Streak, a 161-foot-tall wooden wonder with dips and drops calculated to make you shriek; and Skyhawk, an extreme variation of a backyard swing, which debuted in May 2006. Each of its giant arms catapults 20 riders up to 125 feet in the air at 60 mph, making it the largest ride of its kind in the world. For little ones (and those with less churn-worthy constitutions), there's Camp Snoopy, whose highlights include the Woodstock Express, a 38-foot-tall family coaster, as well as appearances by Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and other Peanuts' favorites. You can splash at the adjacent Soak City, an outdoor water park, or at Castaway Bay, an indoor water park attached to a hotel operated by the park.

From Sandusky, take the ferry to Kelleys or South Bass islands in Lake Erie. With young children, or if you like a laid-back locale, choose less-developed Kelleys, located ten miles north of Sandusky. Even though the year-round population swells with the warm-weather season, the island remains green—and quiet—with roaming deer and rabbits. Stroll nature trails through berry patches, bike back roads, and fish for walleye perch. A tram ride goes to Inscription Rock, whose petroglyphs were created 300 to 400 years ago by Native Americans of the Erie tribe, as well as to Glacial Grooves State Memorial, reputed to be the world's largest visible glacier trail. In the 400-foot-long trough of black limestone, 20 to 35 feet wide, you can clearly see the grooves carved by rocks dragged by Ice Age glaciers. A good place to get wet is Sandy Beach, whose smooth bottom and calm waters make for good swimming. Note, though, that "beach" really means small patches of brown gravel.

For those who want action, T-shirt shops, and bars, head to South Bass Island, three miles from the mainland, whose bustling hub, Put-in-Bay, draws hordes of teens, boaters, and day trippers. South Bass Island State Park's Stone Beach is a good place to take a plunge into the lake. At the Butterfly Museum, walk amid hundreds of these beautifully colored flying critters, or for a scenic lake view over toward Canada, take the elevator to the top of the Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial. During the War of 1812, Commodore Perry and his troops sought shelter in an island cave before successfully battling the British. It was after this victory that Perry sent his famous message, "We have met the enemy and they are ours."

Tip: Two things to remember when visiting the Lake Erie islands: Leave your car on the mainland and realize that island hopping means living by the ferry schedule, so be sure you understand your options.

Recommended Side Trips: Akron, Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo's resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 3 Oct 2007 | Last Updated: 9 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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