Port Clinton, Ohio is a surprisingly diverse small town that offers everything from wine tasting to island hopping. Known as the “Walleye Capital of the World,” it is located along the south shore of Lake Erie, approximately 45 miles east of the city of Toledo. Located in Ottawa County, the town of Port Clinton and the Lake Erie Islands are part of Ohio’s scenic “North Coast,” which encompasses approximately 75 miles of shoreline along the southwestern edge of Lake Erie. This region not only offers all kinds of recreational opportunities such as swimming, boating, fishing and golf, but also boasts natural wildlife areas, wineries, natural wonders such as underground crystal caves and limestone glacial grooves and historical landmarks. Restaurants in Port Clinton and on the Lake Erie islands serve everything from fresh lake perch and walleye, lobster bisque and crab legs to burgers, pizza and hot dogs. There are also many lodging options available in both Port Clinton and Put-in-Bay – bed & breakfasts, lakeside cottages, hotels, motels and vacation rental properties. Amusement park aficionados can visit nearby Cedar Point, one of Ohio’s most popular parks, located in the town of Sandusky, just 25 miles east of Port Clinton. Lake Erie is the 11th largest lake in the world and is the shallowest of the Great Lakes. The shallow depth and southern location of Lake Erie makes it also the most biologically productive of the Great Lakes, thus it boasts the claim as being one of the best walleye and smallmouth bass sport fisheries on the planet. The Lake Erie Islands encompass more than two dozen islands that are sprinkled throughout the Lake Erie basin, but only three are publicly accessible – South Bass Island (more well-known as “Put-in-Bay,”) Middle Bass Island and Kellys Island.
Port Clinton has a historic, old-fashioned downtown lined with gift shops, art galleries and restaurants. You can enjoy an ice cream cone at the local five and dime, eat at one of many fine restaurants in town, or walk to the docks to watch the boats coming and going. Fishing is a very popular sport here and there are over 16,000 docks in the town of Port Clinton – a remarkable number for such a small town. Even in the dead of winter, you’ll see many people out ice fishing on the lake, rivers and streams. City Beach in Port Clinton is located near the downtown area, adjacent to a very nice park along State Route 163 (Perry Street.) East Harbor State Park is another popular (larger) Lake Erie beach, located in nearby Marblehead. This beach has seven miles of sandy shoreline, picnic shelters, hiking trails, fishing access, a full-service marina and the largest campground in the Ohio State Parks System. Port Clinton hosts several special events throughout the year – including the unique “New Year’s Eve Midnight Madness Walleye Drop” in downtown Port Clinton. Yes – you got it, just like the ball on Times Square, a 20-foot, 600-pound ceramic walleye fish is dropped from the sky at the stroke of midnight to welcome in the New Year! Other Port Clinton events include an annual “Walleye Fest,” usually held in May, which offers free admission and entertainment for the whole family. For kids, there’s a small fry contest and fishing derby at the Walleye Fest, along with rides, a parade, great food, the crowning of the Walleye Princess and Walleye Queen and much more. The Marblehead Lighthouse is another unique attraction; located on nearby Marblehead Peninsula, just a few miles outside Port Clinton. It is the oldest active lighthouse on the Great Lakes and the site of a state park, as well. Built in 1821, the lighthouse has guided mariners through dangerous waters along the southern shore of Lake Erie for centuries. The grounds surrounding the lighthouse offer great views of Lake Erie, Sandusky Bay, Kellys Island and South Bass Island. Tours of the lighthouse are given on weekday afternoons from 1:00 p.m. to 4:45 p.m., during the summer season until September 3rd, and on the second Saturday of each month, June through October. There is also a museum located in the Keeper’s House.
“Put-in-Bay” is a historically rich island that is home to a winery and Perry’s Monument, which is a 357-foot tall, cylindrical tower that is the largest freestanding monument in the country. Also known as South Bass Island, Put-in-Bay lies in the western basin of Lake Erie, and getting to the island is half the fun. You can either take the Jet Express Passenger Ferry from Port Clinton, which is a high-speed hydrojet catamaran, or leave from the Miller Boat Line Auto and Passenger Ferry, which departs from Catawba Point. Put-in-Bay Island offers a variety of activities such as shopping, bicycling and boating, sightseeing on board a trolley and fine dining. During the day, the island has a relaxing family atmosphere, but come nightfall, Put-in-Bay is well known as a “party island” among the younger set. During the summer season, most of the bars and taverns on Put-in-Bay provide live entertainment, seven nights a week.
Middle Bass Island State Park is the newest addition to the state’s park system and offers a 21-site primitive campground that accommodates tents only. Kellys Island is also easily accessible from Port Clinton. This island measures four square miles and is the largest freshwater American island in Lake Erie, and is only a few miles from the Canadian border. There are many things to do on Kellys Island -sailing charters, touring world famous glacial grooves, swimming, hiking and biking on state park and nature preserve trails, picnicking, kayaking – even scuba diving (there are several shipwrecks in the waters off Kellys Island.)
Another very popular activity in Port Clinton and on both Put-in-Bay Island and Kellys Island is birdwatching. The Lake Erie region is home to hundreds of species of birds and the area boasts some of the best birdwatching in the country. In spring and fall, Kellys Island is used as a “stepping-stone” for migrating birds that cross Lake Erie. With a diverse island habitat, a variety of birds can be seen here throughout the year. Kellys Island is even host to two annual birding festivals – “Nest With the Birds” and “Feathers and Foliage.”