Put-In-Bay is one of the Midwest's weirdly unique places. It is actually an island on Lake Erie, just off the coast of Sandusky, Ohio. The area is home to Cedar Point, the largest amusement park in Ohio, a popular summer destination for families. If you are visiting the area, the island of Put-In-Bay has interesting historical significance to explore on a day trip. The name of the island is said to come from its use by sailors in the late 1700's to wait out storms on Lake Erie, hence "Put-In-Bay".
NATIONAL PARK MONUMENT - PERRY'S VICTORY & INTERNATIONAL PEACE MEMORIAL
The highlight of the island is, "Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial." According the National Park Service website, "the Memorial, a Doric column, rising 352 feet over Lake Erie is situated 5 miles from the longest undefended border in the world." It is the nation's 3rd tallest National Monument and world's most massive Doric column, commemorating the long standing peace between Great Britain, Canada and the United States. American sailors were stationed on Put-In-Bay during the War of 1812, and won the Battle of Lake Erie against the British. At its base, lie the remains of three British officers and three United States officers. Carved in the stone rotunda are the names of those who were lost in the battle. The monument is the only international monument in the National Park Service and the world's most massive Doric column.
DETOUR IN AVON, OHIO
We began our stay with a detour, an hour away in Avon, Ohio outside of Cleveland. The Residence Inn there is new, with a modern kitchen, very spacious rooms, and a good sized indoor pool. The town of Avon was hosting an Art Fair at a mixed shopping development, and we were able to take advantage of our trip to see local artisanal crafts and have a lovely dinner. I would highly recommend the city of Avon if you want to avoid the crowds of Sandusky and are interested in a more laid-back weekend trip that does not include the amusement park. Sandusky hosts many hotels and some have indoor water parks, so if you are looking for those types of activities stay closer to Put-In-Bay.
On the morning drive, we took a local road from Avon to the ferry port. There are two options to get the Lake Erie islands in this area. One is Miller Ferry, the main commuter ferry, which is less expensive, costing $7 per adult and $1.50 per child over 6 years old for a one way ticket. The Miller ferry runs every 30 minutes in the summer until 9pm. This ferry allows you to take your car at certain times, but you won't need it. Most people rent a Golf-cart to get around the island, and our kids loved this idea. The downside of the Miller ferry is that it leaves you on the less "touristy" south side of the island, but since the island is small this is a small inconvenience.
We wanted a faster boat, so we opted for the more expensive option of the Jet-Express to make for a more exciting ride. The Jet Express leaves from both Sandusky and Port Clinton. If you are visiting the amusement park at Cedar Point, there is also an option directly from the park. If you have time, you also buy a ticket that includes the neighboring Kelly's Island. The cost of an adult round-trip fare from Port Clinton to Put-in-Bay is $33 for adults and $6 for kids.
The boat ride to Put-In-Bay was relaxing and lasted about 30 minutes. The weather was perfect, and the girls really enjoyed taking in the views from the top deck. Our two year old made it clear the boat ride was her favorite part of the day. Once docking, we immediately found a spot to rent a golf cart. There are ample options around the island that are very easy to spot. We paid a bit more to get a cart rental right next to the boat dock.
From there, we drove to Perry's monument, and took in some of the historical information posted outside. You can climb up the stairs of the monument normally, but it was closed for renovations. There is a also a National Park museum which features a film outside the memorial. We then drove past the memorial on the coastline. We found a cool spot to take pictures by the water, and the view was beautiful. We then made our way to our second adventure, Perry's Cave.
EXPLORING THE CAVES
The island is home to a few limestone caves formed during the last Ice-Age. Heineman's Winery is home to Crystal Cave. According to their website, "Crystal Cave is the world's largest geode. . . covered in strontium sulfate, a blueish mineral called celestite." During our next trip, we would like to see this cave, because it is supposed to have beautiful formations.
Our family opted to explore Perry's Cave this visit, which also hosts a family-fun center. Perry's cave has historical significance in that it provided a well of much needed water source for soldiers during the Battle of Lake Erie. Native Americans directed Perry to this cave, thereby changing the history of the War. The cave itself is smaller than I imagined, but the kids enjoyed the tour guide's approachable narrative. He explained that the water in the cave had turned green due to coins being tossed in wishing well. Unfortunately, some of the formations have been lost due to exploitation of its crystals for profit in past generations. We then explored the Gem Stone mining station outside. We decided to buy a sack of dirt and minerals, and they were able to rinse out the dirt in a draining station to reveal their finds. The girls then made their way to the Fort maze, which was a fun labyrinth for them to escape.
We drove out to find World of Chocolate nearby and did some window shopping of the various sweets. We hopped on our golf cart and headed back near the dock and let the kids play in the park near the boat dock. This park has a beautiful view of the water. Our day ended having lunch near the main strip of the town.
Overall, we had a very relaxing day with plenty of new experiences. If we return to the island next year, we would like to visit the Aquatic Visitors Center on Lake Erie’s South Bass Island near Put-in-Bay. This center is funded by the Ohio Sea Grant and hosts many events for children, explaining the significance of the preservation of Lake Erie. Kids can also borrow fishing gear and fish for free. Another thing we would like to do is visit Gilbratar Island, home to Stone Laboratory and the lookout island for Perry's troops. A visit to this island from Put-In-Bay takes some advance planning.
According to the The Ohio State University Sea Grant website,
"Gibraltar Island tours are available from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. Wednesdays June 21 – August 9, 2017. Groups tour the island, including Perry’s Lookout, the glacial grooves and Cooke Castle before learning more about Stone Lab research. Tours can accommodate up to 70 people on a first-come, first-served basis. Meet at the Boardwalk Restaurant dock, 341 Bayview Ave. Put-in-Bay, Ohio at 10:45 a.m. to attend a tour. $10 per person, $5 for children ages 6-12. The water taxi to Gibraltar Island is $6 round-trip, payable to the boat driver."
We also have added on our to-do list the The Lake Erie Historical Society's museum which gives some history of the island.