Various ferries run regularly between the islands and several small port towns about 2.5 hours north of Columbus, including Sandusky and Port Clinton. Those headed first to Kelleys Island should ship from Marblehead, a coastal town of gift shops, cafes and the oldest lighthouse in continuous operation on the Great Lakes.
Arrive a few hours before your preferred departure on the Kelleys Island Ferry to visit Marblehead Lighthouse State Park. On your way back to the boat launch, grab an amazing strawberry sundae at Brown's Dairy Dock.
East Harbor State Park
You've never far from a campground when tooling around the islands, yet many are booked in advance or at least packing in campers like a school of gizzard shad. A remedy from crowds and weekend-warrior bustle is East Harbor State Park, which is on the mainland roughly 15 minutes northwest of Marblehead.
Grab a grassy campsite (A127 was nice) to sleep off your enjoyable island weekend. At sunrise, hike the thin strip of land that divides the park's two harbors to see the sunlight glisten off waterways topped with lily pads and bass boats.
The park also has a long, sandy beach, plenty of worthwhile hiking trails and observation decks for watching wildlife.
Ohio River destinations
What to see: Situated at the widest, deepest section of the river, the Derby City riverfront includes restaurants, bars, hotels and the 85-acre Waterfront Park.
What to see: A river barrier measuring roughly 2,200 feet long is covered with the Portsmouth Floodwall Murals, beautiful paintings depicting the region's past.
What to see: Settled in 1790 by French aristocrats, this village between Marietta and Portsmouth has small-town charm and a square that overlooks the river.