This report details my latest tip to South Bass Island (Put-in-Bay or PIB) with three other experienced kayakers.
In a nutshell, one couldnt have asked for better weather, better conditions and accommodations. If youre looking for serious wilderness, isolation, quiet camping, I wouldnt suggest PIB, but if youre looking for a fun, fairly safe paddle, that offers camping and a little night-life, this is the trip for you. I always describe this destination as a trip where you get the best of both worlds, you can camp at an excellent state park, take it easy and do normal camping activities, or you can easily get cleaned up and head into downtown PIB for some evening fun and libations! PIB is a very populated and busy summer resort island and it offers many amenities, restaurants, lazy island living, raucous night-life and enough paddlable shoreline that even the best kayaker can get their fill of water time.
With all the rain and wet weather weve had in the northern part of Ohio (spring 2004) and for late June, we couldnt have asked for a nicer break in the weather. Temps were in the mid 70s and the evening offered cool almost 50s conditions for sleeping.
My goal was to leave Port Clinton, OH and meet my buddies at a small beach just east of the Miller Ferry launch. After a 6-mile paddle up the Catawba Island shoreline and around Catawba point, I met up with my party at 9:30 a.m. The crossing was a rough paddle and Id have to guess that the norm was 5 ft very confused seas. To show how quickly Lake Erie can change, when we ducked out past Mouse Island for the crossing to PIB the wind had died down and our swells turned into easy 2-4 chop. Beautiful blue skies and a straight shot due north was our welcome matt to a perfect trip. The crossing point from the mainland to the island is usually dotted with many boats crossing between islands and fishermen getting to their destinations, but on this day the most traffic we experienced was from the Miller Ferry shuttling visitors to the island.
After reaching the PIB lighthouse and posing for a few photos, we snaked a mile up the shoreline to the South Bass Island State Park. Our party had already made reservations at www.ohiodnr.com and we were set with a prime camping site, close to the rocky beach. After a rough landing and a quick stretch of the legs, our party unloaded the boats and started to make camp. Being an easy overnighter, packing was light and it didnt take long to drop tents and wring out our gear. Some socializing and relaxing ensued until it was determined to grab some more time on the water. All agreed that we came to paddle and not sit on the beach all day!
The northern side of PIB is trimmed by a steep, rocky shoreline topped with summer homes and cottages. The limestone cliffs and large chunks of broken island make fun play spots for experienced kayakers. Playing in the lake surge and rock gardens could be dangerous for inexperienced boaters and the trip is just as scenic a couple dozen yards offshore. A point of interest is the lake cottage on this part of the island that used to be the wheelhouse of a lake freighter. Cruising along this part of the island you can easily see Green, Rattlesnake, North Bass and Middle Bass Islands. As we turned the corner into the famous bay of PIB we floated outside Gibraltar Island in the harbor. Looking forward to another crossing, we crossed over to Middle Bass Island and cruised up to the old Lonz Winery and around the southern shore of Middle Bass. After a short trip up the coast of Middle Bass our party decided to head back to our home island and continue our circumnavigation of PIB. Rounding the Northeastern tip of the island, we pulled out at a small public beach at the base of the Perry International Peace Monument. This easy, sandy pullout was a perfect rest stop after about 12 miles of lake paddling. Another stretch of the legs found us in the heart of the downtown island business district. A quick bite of lunch provided enough energy to complete our trip to base camp.
The southeastern edge of the island isnt as interesting as the northern side, no steep cliffs or breaking surf. There are cottages dotting the entire shoreline and the most interesting feature is the PIB lighthouse on the southern most tip of the island. From the lighthouse, we pretty much retraced the final leg of our crossing from that morning and we cruised into the beach at the state park. We completed a full circumnavigation of South Bass Island. If you include my morning paddle before I met up with my party, I put in about 19 miles of lake paddling and the rest of our group did about 13 miles.
It didnt take long to hit the hot showers and slip into some warm, dry clothes at base camp. It was only a matter to time before our reserves we calling for some good food and a couple of suds. We decided to hoof it into downtown PIB and enjoy a couple of lobster sandwiches and a cold pitcher of brew at the Boardwalk restaurant before taking in some of the nightlife. Feeling the effects of a full day of padding and a full-belly of food, we strolled back to the campsite before midnight for a well deserved night of sleep. Cool temperatures and a constant breeze from the lake made for easy sleeping and it didnt take long before it was lights out.
Good food, hard sleep and fresh air left us well rested and ready for a return crossing to the mainland. Our party started to rise at 7:30 a.m. and gather our things for breakfast. Being that we were not hard-core camping we caught an island taxi into downtown for a hearty breakfast at Frostys Bar. No trip to PIB is complete without indulging in either a late night pizza or breakfast at Frostys. Good coffee and thick pancakes provided the fuel for our return trip. After breakfast we made our way back to the campsite and prepared to leave for home. At high noon our party posed for a quick photo-op and readied to depart. We slipped into out boats and squirted from the rocky beach right into the lake. Winds were coming out of the northwest and it made the trip home easier as we surfed part of the way back to the mainland. Without much effort we could easily maintain our easy pace of 3-4 mph. The temperature was still cool, but sunny and the sky was clear, but called for scattered t-showers later in the day. After reaching my departure point at Mouse Island I said my goodbyes and peeled off for the 6 mile jaunt back to Port Clinton an the rest of our group headed the half mile to their take out. It was a rough ride back to my take out, because the wind had picked up and almost 30 miles of paddling were starting to take their toll. Getting tired of bracing against the wind and waves, I finally relented and dropped the rudder to help me finish the stretch to home.
There cant possibly be a nicer overnight / weekend kayak trip on Lake Erie. For the lighter hearted, visitors can take their kayaks over on the Miller Ferry and paddle the island without making the 4-mile, open water crossing. PIB is also a great central location to take trips around Green Island or hop over to Middle Bass Island. Camping is by reservation and you have to reserve two nights minimum.
Camping conditions at the State Park are excellent. Park is very clean, tent camping locations all have excellent views of the lake. The showers are hot and the restrooms are clean and well maintained.
There is a fee for camping. Reserve your site at www.ohiodnr.com. There is a two night minimum
In Ohio from the east or west you can take the Turnpike or Rout 2 to reach Port Clinton or Catawba Island. Sand Road will take you around Catawba Point and past the Miller Ferry and to the small rocky put-in beach.
Any navigational charts of the western basin of Lake Erie will include the Erie Islands.