There’s no need to break the bank when booking a vacation the whole family can enjoy! The Lake Erie Islands offer beautiful natural resources that don’t cost a dime to view as well as fun free activities closer to Downtown Put-in-Bay. If you’re looking for budget friendly Ohio vacations that will build memories to last a lifetime, look no further.
This itinerary will help guide your trip’s schedule and organize your day for maximum fun with minimum prices. Remember to check the weather before you head over to the island as many of these activities are outdoors!
Book Your Stay at Put-in-Bay
The first thing you’ll need to decide is the length of your stay. It’s easy to take a day trip over to the islands, but with the right accommodations, you can stay overnight for one or more days while remaining within budget.
Many hotels on the island offer lower rates on weekdays (Monday through Thursday), which may fit within your budget. If you don’t want to spend too much on an island hotel or cottage, you have the option to enjoy the island’s gorgeous scenery by renting a campground space instead.
The South Bass Island State Park Campground is a very affordable (and absolutely beautiful) alternative to the island’s indoor accommodations. The campground has everything from “primitive” tent campsites to full size trailer campsites and offers restroom facilities. Guests can even visit the swimming pool ruins of the famous Victory Hotel. There are campsites right on the cliffside overlooking the lake that offer perfect views of the sunset for around only $15 per night. Talk about a bargain!
Getting To Put-in-Bay
Once you’ve booked any needed accommodations or simply prepared for a quick day trip, it’s time to head to the islands. Start the day bright and early to beat the noon heat and ensure you’re making most of the day at Put-in-Bay. Jet Express has a wide variety of departure times during the week with the earliest leaving the dock at 8:30 a.m. Make sure to wake up a little early to arrive at the Jet Express’ Port Clinton dock in time to park and board the boat!
Tickets for the ferry can be purchased online or in person. Round trip for adults is $35. Kids six to eleven ride round trip for $11, children under the age of five ride for free. Jet Express provides convenient parking for travelers, and the parking lot is conveniently located across the street from the dock allowing for easy boarding. Parking is only $12 for the whole day so passengers can spend as much time on the island without worrying about the parking fees they may incur throughout the day. With every paid Jet Express ticket, passengers also receive a coupon booklet with discounts on golf cart rentals, meals and attractions for a more affordable day at the Bay.
The journey to Put-in-Bay amounts to thirty minutes dock to dock. The ferry has restroom access and allows passengers to bring on any food, drinks or even their bikes. And with direct service to Downtown Put-in-Bay, you do not need to worry about how you will be getting to your island destinations when riding the Jet Express. Once the boat arrives in Put-in-Bay, passengers will disembark right in the heart of downtown, making it easy to secure transportation and navigate to your next stop.
Getting Around the Island
Once you arrive downtown it’s time to begin your budget-friendly Ohio vacation! Get ready to take in all the sights and sounds the island has to offer without wincing at your bank account later on. Once you arrive in Downtown Put-in-Bay, you have several options on where to go and how to get around.
Many island visitors choose to rent golf carts, but those rental prices can be steep. Golf carts can also restrict the places you can access, and it can be hard to find parking on busy days! Bringing your own bikes or renting a bicycle is a cheaper alternative and a healthier way to cruise the island! Some bike rentals on the island go for as low as $10 for a full day. Additionally, South Bass Island is only four miles long by 1.5 miles wide and very flat, so biking your way around is completely doable.
If the thought of biking anywhere on a hot summer’s day feels exhausting, try an e-bike! E-bikes are newer, but welcome, additions to the island’s ever-growing assortment of rental vehicles. These bikes look like slightly bulkier bicycles and include a built-in electric motor allowing you to cruise at speeds up to 20 mph silently! You can also pedal the bicycle at the same time if you really want to burn a few calories along the way.
The Tour Train
If this is your first time on the island, the thought of biking around unfamiliar territory may seem daunting. If you aren’t sure where to start and don’t want to miss the best the island has to offer, try the Put-in-Bay Tour Train. The Tour Train offers scenic rides along South Bass Island with stops at Heineman Winery, Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center, Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial and the Lake Erie Island Nature and Wildlife Area. Tickets for your guided tour include a lesson on Put-in-Bay history while you enjoy the ride and cost $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 6-12 and nothing for children five and under.
Free Put-in-Bay Hikes
Our favorite free activity on the island by far is hiking. You can’t get much more affordable than hiking the local reserves and parks! There are several free-to-explore trails, parks, and activities that are perfect for families, couples, and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Some of our favorites include:
- Dodge Woods Storywalk Trail: Dodge Woods is perfect for grown ups to enjoy the wild flora and fauna, but it also offers a storybook posted along the path for children to read.
- Massie Cliffside Preserve: This wooded shortline preserve spans 11 acres. Dedicated in 2016, this preserve has a trail system under a half mile that guides visitors from the parking lot to the lake with plenty of opportunities for bird watching along the way.
- Scheef East Point Nature Preserve: A nine-acre protected property with a 0.3-mile walking path to the Lake Erie Shoreline.
- Jane Coates Wildflower Trail: A half-mile loop offering views of a variety of wildflowers as well as migratory songbirds.
Free Put-in-Bay Activities
If hiking isn’t your thing or your legs need a rest, there are plenty of other free activities to pad your budget-friendly Ohio vacation. These are just a few of our favorites:
- Aquatic Visitors Center: This free museum gives kids and adults alike the opportunity to learn about the science behind Lake Erie’s ecosystem. Kids under 16 can also fish from the center’s docks with provided equipment all for free.
- Antique Car Museum: Did you know Put-in-Bay is home to the most classic cars per capita in the United States? This free museum is perfect for car lovers of any age.
- DeRivera Park: This waterfront park in the heart of downtown offers a picnic area and playground for your kids to blow off some steam.
- Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial: While the Visitor’s Center is free, heading to the top of this 352-tall monument is only free for those under 15 ($10 admission for those 16 and up), but the views of Lake Erie are well worth any price!
If you get hungry in between sight-seeing, you can pack your own picnic to enjoy at one of the island’s many outdoor picnic areas or use the coupons provided with your Jet Express ticket for discounts on the island’s many restaurant options.
After a full day (or multiple days!) of memories and fun, it’s time to head back to the dock for the boat ride back to the car. Once back aboard the Jet Express make sure to grab a seat on the top deck so you can enjoy the beautiful views of Lake Erie one more time.
Ride with Jet Express
A quick day trip is an easy way to have a fun outing with your family members for an adventure everyone will enjoy. Once you have decided to take the family on a budget-friendly trip to Put-in-Bay, visit Jet Express online to purchase your ferry tickets.
As island experts, we’re brimming with day trip ideas and vacation itineraries for every sailor’s interests. Take a look at our family friendly itinerary here.