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Lake Erie Islands in Ohio

Trip Overview

Kelly's Island, Lake Erie

I had always wanted to paddle Kellys Island, near Port Clinton / Marblehead, OH. Having wandered upon a web listing for a paddling event on September 13, 2003. Turns out that the Kellys Island Kayak Club and the Kellys State Park, in conjunction with the Great Lakes Coast week, host an Annual Poker Paddle. Just like a yacht club poker run, all paddlers involved would stop at five beaches/ locations around the island, register their boat numbers and pick a card from a deck. Upon the completion of the trip, the paddlers with the best hands would win a prize.

I started the day by catching the 9 am island ferry out of Marblehead for the 20-minute ride out to Kellys Island. There were many kayakers in-line waiting for the ferry and I was a little worried that I wouldnt make the 10 am start time for the paddle. Here is the link to the Kellys Island Ferry Company:

It was a beautiful, sunny, clear day with a little wind, but ideal for kayaking. It is my understanding that some kayakers paddle out from East Harbor State Park and camp Friday on Kellys. Many of our 49 paddlers on this trip were from the Bradstreet Kayak club out of Cleveland, OH. Here is their club link: It is about a 5-6 mile crossing from the mainland. The state park on Kellys also offers excellent camping and facilities.

Upon disembarking from the Ferry it is a short 300 yard drive down E. Lakeshore Drive to downtown Kellys island, were you take a right on Division Street to the State Park. We launched from the beach at the State Park. Unloading was easy and it was a short carry to the water. Paddle organizers had each person register and pay their $5 donation. Boat numbers were checked for safety purposes at each checkpoint. Organizers planed to send two waves of paddlers out to sea. They gave everyone a brief tutorial on the operation and safety rules for the outing and a park ranger also welcomed everyone and reconfirmed safety procedures.

We paddled out from the park clock-wise around the island. There was a long peninsula we had to outline before we headed around the south end of the island. Conditions were moderate on this protected part of the island. Rounding the first turn, wave conditions were much worse with the southern wind kicking waves up to 4-5 feet. The final stretch to the first checkpoint was interesting, because of the conditions and the varying skill levels of the paddlers. The conditions were perfect for surfing into the beach and it was evident that not everyone had surfing skills. Needless to say we had some wet paddlers. The first checkpoints as well as the other checkpoints were marked with colorful flags. An interesting thing about this location was the completely white beach, made up entirely of crunched Zebra Mussel shells. After a quick sip of water and picking a card from the deck, it was time to head out again.

After the first checkpoint, the crowd started to thin out a bit, the better paddlers taking the lead and the recreational paddlers pulling up in second place. This event wasnt billed as a race and everyone involved participated as recreational paddlers. I caught up with a gentleman from Wapakoneta, OH. He had been a former ranger on the island and this was his first visit back since moving to a post on Great Lake St. Marys in Celina, OH. We kept pace with the leaders, talked and it was an interesting opportunity to learn some local history from someone who had lived on the island for the better part of ten years.

Checkpoint #2 was near Downtown Kellys island near the ferry dock, public and private docks and the famous Casino Bar and Restaurant. A quick check-in, snack and a little chitchat with the checkpoint hosts readied us for the next stretch of water.

Checkpoint #3 was only a mile down shore in front of The Inn bed and breakfast. We didnt even get out at this checkpoint, we paddled close enough to shore to pick a card and mosey on our way.

Rounding the north side of the island to checkpoint #4 we encountered several of the endangered Lake Erie water snakes. These snakes can really move through the water and the ones we saw had to be at least 4 feet long. Checkpoint #5 was on the northern side of the island on a remote beach near the conveyor belt for the Island stone quarry. The checkpoint attendees had a fire going and it was nice to stretch the legs and warm by the fire on this windy day.

The last stretch of the trip was probably the prettiest. Between checkpoint #4 and the take out at the State Park, the shoreline is protected. No development is allowed. There are high limestone shelfs and nothing but foliage. We cruised up to the surf near the rocks and puttered around for a few minutes.

We took out at the same place we launched. My partner and I finished as the 5th and 6th paddlers on the day and it took us a leisurely 2.5 hours to paddle the 12 miles around the island. We heard that if you paddle every nook and cranny it would be a 17-mile paddle.

It didnt take us long to pull out and load up our boats. Not being in a hurry, as paddlers would finish, everyone would help load up and carry equipment. Organizers had hot dogs and chips ready for everyone at 1 pm and we continued to relax and wait for the rest of our group to finish. Once the last paddler rounded the final bend, organizers started collecting the best poker hands and double-checking to see if everyone had finished the trip. I ended up having the 13th best poker hand and got to choose from a multitude of prizes donated by island stores and other contributors. Top prize was a personal GPS!

The gentleman that I paddled with said that Kelly's is also an excellent launching point for the 5-6 mile paddle out to Middle Island. Middle Island is basically a bird sanctuary and he recomended going in the spring or fall because of the insects and the bird smell. He also said that there are some old buildigs to explore.

All in all it was a beautiful day to spend on the water and to meet a bunch of paddlers from all over Ohio. I cant wait to go back next year!


I did this trip as a day trip, but the Kelly's Island State park offers excellent camping accomodations.


There are fee's to camp and the poker paddle cost $5. The trip over on the ferry was pretty steep, I paid $20 for the round trip for my truck and boat.


East and West in Ohio you can access Route 163 off of Route 2. 163 goes right through Marbelhead, OH. Check a map.


There are photos on the Bradstreet Kayakers page. Link

  • Duration: 2-3 Day Trip
  • Sport/Activity: Kayaking
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Water Type: Flat/Sheltered Water
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip