Family Road Trip to Lake Erie

“A lake is a landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.”- Henry David Thoreau

2021 was going to be the year of Ohio road trips for us, and our first adventure for the spring was going to be driving up to Lake Erie Shores and Islands. In 2020 my dad had a severe heart attack in the middle of COVID, and I knew that my trip to the lake would be a celebration of life. Our family had looked deep inside ourselves this past year to measure the depth of our nature. We learned something; life is short, so live a life you will remember. Our renewed passion for embracing life to the fullest begins with a multigenerational road trip.

Full Disclosure: To help offset the costs of running Gleason Family Adventure, you’ll find affiliate links throughout the site. If you choose to purchase through one of these links, there’s no additional cost to you, but I’ll earn a small commission. You can read the entire legal disclosure on the full disclosure page. Lake Erie Shores and Islands hosted us.

Things to Do on a Road Trip to Lake Erie

Lake Erie has so many great things to do, places to see, and nature stops to explore. It made planning this trip easy! You never know about the weather when you pick dates for a trip, and we had a tiny bit of rain on and off while we were there. However, there are plenty of things to do indoors and outdoors, from Maumee Bay State Park to Lorain.

Merry Go Round Museum

Because of rain, our trip started in the Sandusky Museum district. Our first stop was at the Merry Go Round museum. While this is a small museum, it offers a large display of merry-go-round history, hand-carved wooden horses, and other unusual items. As we walked inside, another family was getting ready to take a ride on the restored merry-go-round. This is a perk that comes with the purchase of the ticket. Without hesitation, our family headed straight in and got on too! 

I don’t care how old you are; nostalgia will get you every time you get onto a ride you enjoyed as a child. Truthfully, I think I could smell cotton candy and hear the sounds of the carnival barkers call me to play their games as I chose my horse. Everyone else had gotten on their horse, but here I was…one of the oldest riders being indecisive. Who knew choosing a horse would be so hard? As we whizzed around on the ride, my eyes were taking in everything this museum would offer when we disembarked. I won’t spoil this one for you by telling you all about it; you need to go for yourself and experience this quintessential stop. 

Pro-Tip: Check the hours before you go because they do change with the seasons. Merry Go Round Museum hours

Maritime Museum of Sandusky

With rain peppering us, we headed into the Maritime Museum. Part of planning is checking hours, and I had assumed this museum would be open till 5:00 PM. I was wrong. My family gave me the evil eyes as we prepared to do a whirlwind tour of the building. Lake Erie’s rich maritime history is enthralling, and this stop encapsulated all we needed to know about the lake. Once you know about the story the lake holds, you never really look at it the same.

Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM

We had dinner plans at Dockside Cafe, one of Sandusky’s outdoor dining eateries. As I previously mentioned, Mother Nature was not playing nice, so with umbrellas in hand, we made our way to the cafe. For a moment, the rain let up enough for us to order and grab some beautiful sunset views, a look at Cedar Point from across the water, and to get our order in. The wait for food here is not long; however, as we waited, the sky opened up again. Half the family made a mad dash to the car, and the other half waited for the food. While we could not enjoy the outdoor eating space, to-go food that tasted this good was happily devoured in the car.

One of the main reasons for our multigenerational road trip to the lake was to celebrate life. Our next days’ adventure was the cornerstone of this road trip. I had planned a full-day trip out onto Lake Erie to walleye fish. My dad took me to Canada to fish for walleye as a little girl, and I wanted to create memories for my kids with their grandpa doing the same thing. This is no small feat. Finding the right Captain for my green crew was not going to be easy, but with a bit of help from my friend Jill, we found Captain Peg, the owner of Blue Sky Charters

Fishing for Walleye on Lake Erie

Port Clinton is the Walleye Capital of the World, and this was the perfect place for our adventure out onto the Lake to catch walleye. I failed to mention earlier that I was taking teenagers out onto a boat to the middle of the lake… the keyword here is teenagers. This means no wi-fi and no access to land to escape me  (Insert maniacal laugh here). You can read the full story about that here: Our day out with Captain Peg. 

My dad was so excited to get out on the lake with our family, and I might have shed a tear or two as we headed out to fish. The sunrise on Lake Erie is cathartic, and every moment I spent with my family today was precious. Life is short, and memories are a gift.

Captain Peg was the perfect person to take out the family. She was patient with the kids, taught them everything she knew, joked around with my dad (they compared knee replacement scars!), and gave me a new appreciation for walleye fishing. Thank you, Captain Peg!

Pro-Tip: Be prepared for a 6:00 AM departure time for a walleye fishing excursion

A full day charted out is a long day, and we all were exhausted but excited as we pulled up to the docks. We hugged Captain Peg, gathered our gear, and headed into town for dinner.

As we all sat around at Dianna’s Deli & Restaurant chattering about everything we had done that day, our smiles could not have been bigger. I sat back, watched the family talk to my dad about fishing and enjoying life. I sat back, smiled, and congratulated myself for being able to pull this family time off.

Before heading to bed we went to the Port Clinton Lighthouse and walked the docks to take in the beautiful sunset!

We were glad that our hotel was close to the docks and main street. As we fell into bed at Our Guest Inn & Suites we quickly went to dreamland.

Where else to stay in Port Clinton, Ohio?

Fairfield Inn with Lake Erie Views

Lakeside Condo with Pool

Prefer to Camp? Rent an RV from Neff Bros RV and they will set it up for you! You can read about our trip with them to South Bass Island.

Things to Do on Kelleys Island

After falling into bed and getting a whole night’s sleep, we awoke ready to explore some more of the fabulous places around Lake Erie. 

Our family has been coming to Lake Erie for years, but we had never been to Kelleys Island, which is shameful.  I had no idea what to expect; however, I knew it would be the perfect day. You have to board a ferry to get to the island, and we had tickets on Kelleys Island Ferry Boat Line located in Marblehead. There are a couple of ways to explore on the island; you can rent or take your bike, drive your car over, or walk on board and rent a golf cart at the Seaway Marina. The weather was looking great for the day, so we chose to zoom around the island in a golf cart and left the car behind.

Since we only had one day here, we had to make the most of it. I had planned out some stops that I knew I did not want to miss, so off we went. One of the most unique and historical things on Kelleys Island is the glacial grooves. Just looking at the rock and the scars left behind by ice and water from years gone by is pretty awe-inspiring. Nearby the grooves are Kelleys Island State Park and Campground. Can you say #bucketlisted We can’t wait to take the Heartland Sundance 294 BH up there and get some lake views and relaxing vibes. 

Hidden gem alert: North Shore Loop Trail, part of North Shore Alvar State Preserve, is quite possibly one of the most beautiful hikes in Ohio. It was breathtaking. As we walked through the beauty, we saw so many of Ohio’s birds, stunning views of Lake Erie, and we even found some fossils along the trail. 

After all the exploring, we were hungry and stopped at the Village Pump. This iconic restaurant in the middle of town was just the right place to get some local catch and cool off in the air conditioning. They are known for a drink called the Brandy Alexander that looked refreshing, but since it was in the middle of the day, we passed on trying it out. Have you ever tried it? 

Sadly our day was quickly coming to an end, and we needed to catch the ferry, but before returning our golf cart to Seaway Marnia, we stopped at Inscription Rock and the Kelleys Island Historical Museum. Both stops were worth the visit, and they helped me understand more about the history of Kelleys Island. When I am at museums, I realize how little I know!

It was time to head out, and once we were aboard the ferry cruising back to the mainland, my eyes scanned the receding shoreline of Kelleys Island.  We had missed many other excellent stops, gorgeous hikes, delicious-looking ice cream, and local wineries. My mind was already planning our next trip here to one of the best islands on the lake.

Stay on Kellys Island!

The Old Nest Vacation home with stunning lake views

Grateful is the word that sums up this Lake Erie road trip. We celebrated life and created some pretty epic memories. Trust me when I say road trips and vacations are the ultimate memory makers. All the things you see, the moments you experience, and reconnections with your loved ones are priceless. What are you waiting for? Pack up the car and head to the lake today. 

Happy Road Trips!


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