South Bass Island State Park, Ohio

South Bass Island State Park is on the northwest side of South Bass Island on the Ohio side of Lake Erie, in the western basin. This 33-acre state park has camping, fishing, boating, swimming, and picnicking. Getting here involves a boat or a plane, but the scenery, the sun, the view and the island are worth the journey, which is part of the fun.

This South Bass Island adventure started at Jolly Rogers Seafood House in Port Clinton, along East Perry Street (163). Heading northeast, the road jogs left to 31 (E. Sand Street). Crossing Route 30, E. Sand becomes NW Catawba Road (also 30). NW Catawba runs to the shore and turns left on Water Street. A turn left turn onto the pier Water Street became 53. The ticket booth for Miller Ferry is there.

On Monday afternoon, June 26th, 2017, at 3 pm, the ferry captain began directing vehicles onto the drive-on, drive-off vessel that is known as the MV Wm. Market. (People who want to leave their cars behind may do so in the free parking lot to the south of the ticket booth. A large, well-stocked sundry store is also here.) Round-trip for four adults and one pick-up truck to SBI was $88.00. What a deal!

Less than twenty minutes later, the ferry arrived at Lime Kiln Dock on the southern side of South Bass. (This ferry also runs to Middle Bass Island, which has a new marina that MBI state park campers can use.) In season, the ferry runs from 6:30 am to 9:30 pm. The PIB season runs late March through early November. The closer it gets to 4th of July, the more crowded the ferry gets.

Lime Kiln Dock is on S. Passage Road, and the SBI state park is just a few minutes away via a right turn on Langram Road, past the Nature Center, and then a left turn on Meechen, and then a left on Catawba. The state park is down the hill by this sign. Saunders Cottages and Golf Course is also here.

This is site no. 16 at the SBI State Park. It has a long concrete pad for our pick-up truck, plus an outlet for normal and high voltage. The fire-ring hadn’t been cleaned but otherwise the site was fine.  This campground used to be the site of the Hotel Victory, which burned down in 1919, but the pool is still here. There are 135 campground spots, plus four rustic cabins and one rustic cottage.

This is the shower house, which has good pressure and hot water, plus family bathrooms. There is also a water pump and pop machine. Since this is mayfly season, they are everywhere. Park workers come and spray them off with high-pressure hoses. Also, workers clean the bathrooms at 4 or 4:30 in the morning. The bathrooms always seemed to be in good condition.

The Glacial Grooves at SBI State Park are located by the Group campground near sites no. 45 and 47. The Grooves located here, ten feet by ten feet, were formed about 30,000 years ago as the glaciers from the Ice Age pulled back up north. Rocks embedded in the glaciers scraped the limestone, causing the Grooves. There are also Grooves on Kelleys Island and Middle Bass Island.

These cliffside camping sites are tent-only, and have the best view of Lake Erie in SBI State Park. Vehicles are parked down the little hill, and the fish-cleaning house is nearby. Fifty-eight sites are for tents only, 51 sites have electric, ten are full service, and nine sites are non-electric. There are two accessible campsites near the Grooves, close to a showerhouse. The beach is visible from here.

Wise beach-goers will check in on the quality of the water, due to algal blooms. Not all algal blooms are harmful, but as the summer weeks progress, the eastern Lake Erie basin of which this area is part, may experience harmful algal blooms, or HAB’s.

Stone Beach, the boat dock, and the fishing dock are located in Stone Cove, shown here. In the distance are Saunders Cottages.

The four-hour dock limit applies to boats tie-ing off here, but not to the fishermen & women, the shorebirds nor the water snakes. Walk out from Stone Beach onto the dock, and turn right for a great view of Lake Erie and a glimpse of Green Island. Green Island has been owned by the US Government since 1851, due to the mining of celestine/strontium, a blue-colored mineral used in fireworks. Be careful, though, because the front dock is always slick and water snakes slither across.

This worm and eleven others like it were purchased today from the Saunders Cottages store, which is right next to the dock here. Every creature that could move was looking for a bite, including ducks, water snakes, and shorebirds, plus many two-legged creatures. A couple of worms just plain disappeared into the deep, including this one. When choppy water overtook the dock, it was time to head back, walleye or not.

Put-in-Bay Watercraft Rentals sits right at the end of the dock/boat ramp at South Bass Island State Park. PIBWR is open 10 am to 6 pm Memorial Day through Labor Day, weather permitting. There were times where capricious Lake Erie overwhelmed the docks, the boat ramp, the beach, and nearly the picnic table the week of June 26; and PIBWR was closed.

The picnic shelter at South Bass Island can accommodate fifty people and can be reserved. The shelter is supposed to have electric, but for some reason, it would not turn on (did not have a reservation at time of visit). There is a grill stand behind the camera, and waste bins under the shelter. The concrete floor, unfortunately, was covered in bird droppings.

Axel’s Waterfront Cafe is located on the grounds of the South Bass Island State Park campground, 1523 Catawba Avenue. Open 8 am till sunset, from May 1st onward, Axel’s serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Behind the camera is a playground, benches, and a fire ring. The view of Lake Erie is wonderful. The plastic curtain does a good job of keeping out the Lake Erie wind and rain.

This is the Victory Burger at Axel’s Cafe, at $10.50. It has American cheese, pickles, onions, and tomatoes. Fries are extra. This burger was part of a lunch for four adults at about $50, on Thursday, June 29th, 2017 at 12:50 pm. We had tried to have dinner at Axel’s on several evenings, but it was closed, even though the attendant said she'd be open. The burger seen here was fresh Angus sirloin and it tasted like it, too.

The Saunders Cottages Office at 1495 Catawba is also a tiny general store, stocked with camping and fishing essentials. (The SBI state park office also has a few shelves of camping items, but nothing like this.) This little store is chock full of lake maps, worms, fishing line, hot dogs, some dairy, and s’more stuff, and it sure beats the two mile round trip to the Island store at 410 Catawba. Twelve worms were purchased for $2.83 in a styrofoam cup.

A quarter mile up Catawba Hill from Saunders Cottages is Joe’s Bar & Restaurant at 1400 Catawba. Joe’s has amazing food. This former wine press house has live music, awesome burgers, dogs, and chicken sandwiches, and a fun backyard with cornhole and jenga. There’s plenty of parking; Joe’s is about as far away from PIB Village as you can get.

It's quarter after six pm on Tuesday, June 27, and for some reason Axel's is closed, but Joe's is open, and the live music here is that great classic American rock n roll. So we and our two teens walked in and got a table under a sign that said, "Where the cheap meet to eat." We could also have taken our food to one of the many picnic tables outside that had umbrellas.

The Naked Burger is a half pound of Angus beef with kettle chips, pickle, lettuce, tomato, and red onion on a brioche bun at $10.00. Amazing. The Cuban was also amazing as was the all-beef Scotty Dog. Our waiter, Hassan, was a nice young man from Ankara, Turkey. The burgers were prepared by a chef. He truly welcomed us to the “best dive bar on the planet.” Kids seem to be welcome here, as are dogs.

Not much in the way of dessert at Joe's, and Axel's is closed, so it was time to make s'mores back at the South Bass Island State Park campground. We used sawdust fire starters and stick matches that we picked up earlier at the Park Office to light the fire. The wood was a little wet from rain, and an Esbit hexamine solid-fuel cube with a storm-proof match brought from home got the fire going.

It's almost 9 o'clock on the evening of June 27th, 2017, at the South Bass Island State Park dock. Green Island, with its lighthouse tower, is in the distance. There are still people fishing here, because the walleye are as plentiful as the Lake Erie mayflies. The boats are in and the white cliffs are dark, with a few camp lanterns, turning in for the night, awaiting a beautiful morning.

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