Looking for a unique island RV getaway? Kelleys Island State Park is a 676-acre state park that is located on most of the northern third of Kelleys Island in Lake Erie. Renowned for its unique geological, ecological, and archaeological features, the island was formed by glaciation when massive ice sheets from Canada made their way down into Ohio. You can still see evidence of the glaciers in the grooves in the island’s limestone bedrock throughout the park. Before the 19th century, the region in and around Lake Erie was inhabited by Ottawa and Huron Indian tribes while also being visited by European explorers. In 1840, the community was renamed Kelleys Island and it was a hub for wineries, quarries, and fisheries until the land was acquired by the state of Ohio. Kelleys Island later officially became a state park in 1956.
The most popular recreational activities revolve around Lake Erie. There are some incredible boating, fishing and swimming possibilities during the summertime, and during the winter, park guests enjoy ice skating, cross-country skiing, and ice fishing. The area also offers some excellent birding opportunities due to the many species of migrating songbirds and waterfowl species that rest on the island before flying across the lake.
RV campers can call the well-maintained campground home during their visit with 48 electric, 41 non-electric, and 36 full-hookup sites. Camping is available all year round, and peak season runs from April to the end of October.
Getting to Kelleys Island State Park is a bit out of the ordinary from the usual state park trip, as there are no roads that give you direct access to the park. Instead, there are private ferries that can transport you and your RV from the mainland in downtown Lakeside Marblehead, which is about an hour from both Toledo and Cleveland.
There are a few different options to get to the island, but there is only one car ferry -- so that will be your only choice if you are coming in an RV. The running schedule of the ferry depends on what the current season is, but during the wintertime, if there is bad ice on the lake the ferry will be shut down until the springtime. Because of this, make sure that if you plan on coming in winter that you double-check with the ferry operators. You need to be sure there is a service going to and from the island as there is no other way to take your campervan there.
Before you catch the ferry over to Kelleys Island State Park, you can stock up on any last-minute shopping in Lakeside Marblehead with groceries and other supplies being readily available. There should be no problem with your journey to Lakeside Marblehead since the roads are mostly flat and there are no obstacles such as trees overhanging or skinny lanes.
There is ample parking available at Kelleys Island State Park.
The large campground at Kelleys Island State Park is home to a total of five loops that provide 125 RV sites. There are more electric sites than non-electric, with a total of 84 sites that have a 50-amp connection. Out of those 84 sites, 36 also have water and sewer connections, making them full hookup sites. The park is well equipped with useful amenities such as toilets, showers, a dump station, picnic areas, a swimming beach, and a playground.
If you want a site that has lake views, the sites on the eastern side of the campground will suit you. Pets are allowed in one specific loop only, so make sure you book one of those sites if you have a pet. Phone reception should be available for all networks in the campground, and you may also pick up some television stations. Reservations can be made up to six months in advance, and camping is open all year round. If there is ice on the lake the ferry will not be operating, so camping in your RV at the park during winter really depends on weather conditions.
If you're just visiting Kelleys Island for the day, you can always find a place to park your campervan on the mainland. There are numerous private RV parks around the town of Lakeside Marblehead that offer a wide variety of top-notch amenities.
East Harbor State Park is also just minutes away and offers over 500 RV-friendly sites. The park remains open year-round and is a great alternative option for RVers if the ferry isn't running during the winter months.
If you don't feel like lugging the Airstream across the lake, you can always stay in one of the park yurts for a night or two instead. Two yurts are available year-round and offer modern conveniences like full kitchens, baths, and communal living spaces. Guests will also find a small television inside and a large wooden deck outside.
Birds aren't the only wildlife you'll see during your RV vacation to Kelleys Island State Park. There are lots of reptiles and amphibians too, including the unique Lake Erie watersnake and the more common eastern box snake. Don't worry, as these two snakes are harmless. You might also catch sight of the Blanding's turtle, midland painted turtle, or a number of different types of salamanders.
There are also a few rare plant species that call the park home as well, including the endangered lakeside daisy and northern bog violet.
Known as the "Walleye Capital of the World," Lake Erie is a great spot to fish no matter the season. You have a few different fishing options in the park. In the north of the island, there is a stone pier that you can fish from along with shoreline fishing. If you really want to have a big fishing experience, there are private fishing charters that operate in the lake that depart from Marblehead. If you do land a nice catch, there is a fish cleaning house located in the RV campground that is free to registered campers. A valid Ohio fishing license is required when fishing in Kelleys Island State Park.
Kelleys Island State Park is home to some of the best natural areas in the region, which makes it a great place to hike. There are a few different trail options in the park, but the most popular is the North Shore Loop Trail. This is an easy hiking and biking trail that is only a mile long, but it leads to the rare Alvar habitat located along the northern shore of the island. The impressive Glacial Grooves are also only a two-minute walk from the start of the North Shore Loop Trail and is definitely worth checking out.
Some of the best birding in the state can be found at Kelleys Island, so don't forget to pack your binoculars along in the travel trailer when you visit the park. Two nature preserves can be found inside this island park: the North Pond and the North Shore Alvar. The North Pond is renowned for its birding opportunities, with hundreds of species of songbirds migrating through the area on their way across Lake Erie. There are also dozens of species of waterfowl, and if you're lucky, you may spot one of the bald eagles that nest in the preserve.
Located just across from the park, the Glacial Grooves are unlike any geological feature in the world. The grooves were created by slow-moving glaciers hundreds of thousands of years ago -- the same glaciers that created the Great Lakes! The grooves are now a National Natural Landmark, and people from around the globe travel to Kelleys Island to see this phenomenon. You can park the motorhome in the nearby parking lot and then meander a series of steps and footbridges to get a closer look.
One of the best parts about visiting a state park located by a beach, lake, or on an island is the swimming opportunities that are available during the warmer months. At Kelleys Island State Park, there is a 100-foot public swimming beach that gives you the opportunity to frolic in the waters of Lake Erie. The beach is located an easy walking distance from the campground and it is open during daylight hours. If you have pets with you, you'll need to keep them at your campsite, as they are not allowed on the beach. Restrooms and changing rooms are also available nearby.
Since the waters of Lake Erie surround the park, boating is also an extremely popular recreational activity. If you brought your own boat along behind the Sprinter, there is a double-lane launch ramp that is located on the island's north shore. If you don't have a boat, the sandy beach at Kelleys Island State Park is also the spot where you can rent watercraft to explore the waters of Lake Erie. Renting a kayak or paddle-board and seeing the park from the unique perspective of the lake is very popular and you can do it daily from Memorial Day through to Labor Day.
Vehicle access to the park is somewhat limited, especially if you're maneuvering a big rig, so exploring via golf cart is commonplace at Kelleys Island State Park. The roads of the park are great for driving around on a golf cart, and it can be a fun way to see more of the island then if you just explored on foot. There are numerous places that you can rent golf carts from that are located near the ferry terminal in Marblehead. If you want to rent a cart, make sure you do it before going over to the island.