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The Midwest: Nature’s Playground


Goodtime Lake Erie Island Cruises, courtesy Lake Erie Shores and Islands Welcome Center

Lake Erie Shores & Islands, Ohio

Whether it’s boating, sailing, fishing, kayaking, riding jet skis or simply hopping a ferry to one of the islands, “Lake Erie is the best resource we have for outdoor recreation,” said Amanda Smith Rasnick, group sales manager for Lake Erie Shores and Islands Welcome Center.

Fishing is one of the area’s most popular activities, and visitors can pull in some perch or walleye. Charter fishing boats can take groups of 25 to 30 people onto the lake to fish, Rasnick said, or visitors can cast from the shores of Kelleys Island or South Bass Island.

Goodtime Lake Erie Island Cruises offers daily cruises to both Kelleys Island and Put-in-Bay, the only town on South Bass Island. The 315-passenger Goodtime I departs from Sandusky, Ohio, for narrated island-hopping sightseeing tours Tuesdays through Saturdays. The boat first stops at Kelleys Island, where passengers can wander for an hour or so, before hopping over to Put-in-Bay. Goodtime also provides dinner, sunset and party cruises, and can be chartered for groups of 200 or more.

Perry’s Cave and Crystal Cave, both on Put-in-Bay, are also popular group attractions, Rasnick said. Perry’s Cave is a natural limestone cave 52 feet below the island’s surface that was discovered in 1813 and features stalactites, stalagmites, cave pearls and a rare underground lake. Crystal Cave is the world’s largest known geode, and stepping inside is “basically like going into a giant geode,” Rasnick said.

On the north side of Kelleys Island, next to the state park, visitors can take self-guided tours of massive glacial grooves “that are probably the largest display of the glacial change in the world,” Rasnick said. As the glacial wall moved south, it carved out the relatively soft limestone, leaving behind deep grooves that are embedded with visible fossils.

Door County, Wisconsin
Door County sits on the tip of Door Peninsula, which juts out into Lake Michigan. With Green Bay on the west coast and the open waters of Lake Michigan on the east, Door County is surrounded by water.

“With 300 miles of shoreline, water plays a key part of the experience here, whether you’re on it or just looking at it,” said Jon Jarosh, director of communications and public relations for the Door County Visitor Bureau. “Water really does shape us here in Door County; we’re surrounded by it.”

Kayaking is a popular group activity, and the area has kayaking outfitters that load their kayaks and equipment onto a little trailer and groups  onto a small bus and “will take you wherever you want to go,” Jarosh said.

“That gives them the flexibility to go where there’s calm water, lake side or bay side,” he added.
Door County Fireboat Cruises provides 90-minute narrated cruises either through the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal or to Sherwood Point Lighthouse and can take about 100 people on its big, red, retired Chicago fire boat.

Fish Creek Scenic Boat Tours can take up to 69 people on 90-minute to two-hour narrated tours out to Eagle Bluff Lighthouse, Peninsula State Park or the many islands and bluffs around Door County. The company also offers sunset cruises with live music.

Shoreline Charters is based out of Sister Bay and offers sightseeing tours of lighthouses, shipwrecks and the tall bluffs of the bayside; the 149-passenger Island Clipper departs from Gills Rock on the tip of Door Peninsula and cruises out to Washington Island, where passengers can hop a tram to see some of the island’s sights.

Fishing and sailing may appeal to smaller groups, Jarosh said. Some sailing charters are available for groups of about five to 10 people, and Sail Door County can take 22 passengers on its picturesque 62-foot wooden schooner, the Edith M. Becker.

Fishing charters are available for three to eight people, and the summer salmon season is probably the most popular time for fishing trips.