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Camping on South Bass Island

Tonya Prater, Owner

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South Bass Island is part of Lake Erie Shores and Islands and is widely known as a popular vacation destination in Ohio but did you know you can also experience camping on South Bass Island?  

For residents and visitors alike, the Lake Erie islands are some of the best places for summer day trips, but the islands are also a popular overnight getaway for those who wish to spend more time exploring.

The ferries from Port Clinton and Catawba whisk visitors to the island in less than a half hour, making it easy to feel as though you’ve traveled somewhere exotic, but at the same time, you can return to northwest Ohio by dinner time. 

I have many wonderful memories of visiting South Bass Island and Put-in-Bay with my husband and kids, my mom and dad, and even as a girlfriend getaway. It sounds cliche, but this can be a destination for everyone with one or two caveats. 

Over the years, Put-in-Bay has been known as a party destination due to the number of bars that line the downtown area. Despite efforts made in recent years to clean up that reputation, there are still naysayers who have happened upon the island at an inopportune time and scream their disdain from the rooftops. 

Unfortunately, there was a time when I was one of those people. Thankfully, I decided to give the island a second chance, and I’m so glad that I did. It is now one of my favorite places in the state of Ohio to visit and a destination that I think everyone should visit at least once. Here’s how I suggest you do that. Skip the weekends and busy adult festivals and visit mid-week when the island is quieter for a relaxing visit. I think you’ll find that the island truly is worth visiting. 

Our Review of the South Bass Island State Park Campground

My husband and I camped at South Bass Island early last season (May) and we loved our stay. We were one of the few visitors at the time and pretty much had the campground to ourselves, which is how we like to camp. 

I’ve been told that things get much busier and much louder as the season progresses so if we were planning to camp after Memorial Day, we’d certainly have packed our earplugs or sound machine to ensure we weren’t disturbed from our sleep. I’m an extremely light sleeper, so it doesn’t take much to rouse me from my slumber.

A gold minivan hooked up to a green SUV tent

While I had originally hoped to van camp, we had recently purchased a cool SUV tent that attaches to our minivan and opted to test that out instead. Since we took our vehicle, we hopped a ride on the Miller Ferry, the only ferry service that offers car service (including RV transport) to the island.

The ferry ride was a short 20-minute ride to the island. From there, we stopped to pick up the golf cart we reserved in advance at E’s Golf Carts so we wouldn’t need to worry about unhooking our minivan from our tent when we wanted to explore. Golf carts can’t be kept overnight so next time around we’d take our bikes or rent two once we were on the island.

You are only permitted one vehicle at your campsite and this includes the golf cart. Still, there is some overflow parking in the front of the campground by the park office during the busy season to accommodate those who may be camping with friends or extra family members.

Our campground with the golf cart

The camp manager was extremely friendly and helpful when we checked in and suggested that we may want to look at the campsite we had selected before we finished checking in as she wasn’t sure the one I selected would be a good fit for us and our camping equipment. It’s important to note that as I mentioned, we were camping off-season, had our trip taken place in the middle of summer there is no way it would have been possible to switch sites because the campground is usually at capacity.

We took a look at the cliffside spot I’d reserved and found it wasn’t going to work for our tent type. We needed something that we could back directly into that was level to accommodate our tent. The site we selected would require walking through another tent site to reach ours and it was located right on the cliff which is bothersome if you have a fear of heights. If you plan to camp with kids, I would not consider the campsites near the cliffs.  

After careful consideration, we decided to move to site 82, which seemed a bit larger than some of the sites, permitted us to back in, set up our tent, and have easy access to the bath/shower house. We were only there one night in somewhat cooler weather so we didn’t need to take a shower so I can’t comment on water temperature but I can say that the bathrooms were clean and well kept.    

The ruins of Victory Hotel at South Bass Island Campground

We were also steps away from some of the ruins from the Hotel Victory, which this history buff found pretty interesting. The luxury property once encompassed 100 acres on South Bass Island, including land that is now the campground. When it opened in 1892, the Hotel Victory was the largest and grandest hotel in America. Sadly, it was plagued with calamity almost immediately after opening and burned to the ground in 1919. Today, ruins of the Victory Monument and pool can be seen at the campground.   

Watching the sunset over Lake Erie from South Bass Island Campground

The best part of our stay at the campground was the sunset. Make sure to note what time the sun will set during your stay and make your way towards the lake to watch the sun cast a gorgeous amber glow on the cliffs. We found a great spot to admire the view near the stone beach.   

We enjoyed our stay and would love to return to check out the cabents.  

How to Get to South Bass Island

Ferry in the water.
  1. Take the Miller Ferry from Catawba and arrive in Put-in-Bay less than 20 minutes later. This is the only car ferry service to the islands, and you can also visit Middle Bass Island on the Miller Ferry. (Miller Ferry also offers free parking if you opt to leave your car on the mainland, but that wouldn’t be ideal for camping.)
  1. Take the Jet Express passenger-only catamaran from Port Clinton, with stops at Put-in-Bay, Kelley’s Island, and Cedar Point. 
  1. Charter a flight with Island Air Taxi or the Griffing Flying Service,though also not idea it you plan to camp and transport all your gear. 

Campsites at South Bass Island State Park Campground

The sun setting with green grass and a park bench in the foreground.

This state park campground is one of the only public camping areas on South Bass Island. The best part of this Ohio State Park system campground is that there are campsites to accommodate every type of camper. There are primitive camping sites for those who like to keep things simple, and there are full-service campsites for those who want to hook up a camper with all the bells and whistles and camp in style.

The RV sites have a choice of electric sites or full hook-up sites. One of the best things about this wooded campground is that you are pretty much a five-minute golf cart or quick bike ride from the most popular things on South Bass Island. And, you have easy access to the best park features like a front-row seat to the best sunsets on the island.

For those who don’t camp at all, you can still have the relaxing experience of camping on the shores of the Lake Erie islands. The park has four cabents, cabin-like tents with a canvas roof, that you can rent. There’s also a rustic cabin that can sleep up to eight people.

The variety of campsites makes this state park a camping destination on South Bass Island. 

Campground Amenities

  • Picnic Tables
  • Shower House with Flush toilets and hot showers
  • Fresh drinking water
  • Fishing pier and fish cleaning station
  • Picnic Shelter
  • Dump station
  • Playground
  • Small stone beach
  • Plus, the campground is conveniently next to a public boat launch.

South Bass Island Campground FAQ’s

Where is South Bass Island state park?

South Bass Island State Park is located on South Bass Island. The address is 1523 Catawba Ave, Put-In-Bay, Ohio.

How do I get to South Bass Island State Park?

As I mentioned above, to get to the state park, you first need to arrange passage to the island from one of two ferry services, Jet Express or Miller Ferry. Our preferred ferry and the only one that allows you to take your vehicle, is Miller Ferry. While you don’t necessarily need to purchase ferry tickets in advance for a day trip, I do recommend that you think ahead when transporting a vehicle or certainly when transporting your camper, as there are fewer spots available for vehicles than there are passengers per day.

Is there a pool at South Bass Campground?

No, there is not a pool at the campground but there is a small beach area where you can swim.

Does South Bass Island State Park allow pets?

Yes, dogs are permitted in the tent and RV sites but not in the cabents or cabin.

What can I do at the campground?

In addition to camping, guests can enjoy a picnic, go fishing, ride bicycles, or go swimming. The beach is rocky, so I highly suggest a pair of water shoes like these ones. There are hiking trails nearby but will require exiting the campground.

Can I make a reservation for South Bass Island state park?

Yes! There are no walk-in sites at South Bass Island Campground. The campground often sells out months in advance so make sure you plan ahead.

How do I make a reservation?

You may make your camping reservations up to six months in advance (the sooner the better) at ReserveOhio.com.

Where can I find a map of South Bass Island Campground?

You’ll find a pdf map of the campground here.

Beyond the Campground: What can you do while you’re on the Island?

Perry's Victory & International Peace Memorial on South Bass Island is visible from downtown Put-in-Bay

Once you arrive on the island, there are plenty of fun things to explore, like the Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial (this is free for those under 15, and those with a national parks pass), the world’s largest geode at Crystal Cave, the Butterfly House, Perry’s Cave, and take a photo with the brand new Put-in-Bay sign, just to name a few. 

If you’re traveling with teens you may want to check out our post of The Best Things to do with Teens on Put-in-Bay.

With so many great Put-in-Bay restaurants (did I mention that Put-in-Bay has a foodie trail?), you don’t even have to worry about cooking at camp; you can head downtown and grab a meal. In the evening, you can hang out around the campfire or experience Put-in-Bay nightlife after the day trip crowds go home and enjoy a quiet morning of fishing or watersports before the day crowds arrive. 

Some of my favorite restaurants are The Keys (the conch fritters are a must), GOAT, The Boathouse, and if you simply have a hankering for a greasy pizza, Cameo Pizza is yummy.

Keep in mind that many of the attractions on the island are closed or have limited hours during the off-season, so make sure you look at an island calendar and call each attraction and restaurant to confirm hours of operation before your visit if you plan to travel during the shoulder season.

If you’re not locked into camping on South Bass Island, Middle Bass Island and Kelleys Island each have a couple of great spots to camp too. Or, make a week of it and explore all the campgrounds on the Lake Erie Islands!

If you’re looking for more things to do in the area, consider spending some time in and around Sandusky as well.

Carol

Thursday 8th of September 2022

We've stayed at both South Bass and Middle Bass islands before and enjoyed our stays immensely. We look at the calendar of events beforehand so we aren't camping during some wild party weekend. Staying overnight in the campground is your least expensive lodging option and the Ohio State Parks do a wonderful job maintaining them. I highly recommend it!

Tonya Prater

Thursday 8th of September 2022

Hi Carol, Yes, I suggest people definitely check out the events calendar. I'm looking forward to camping at South Bass again and I also want to camp at Middle Bass. Do you have any tips for camping on Middle Bass?

Mico

Tuesday 6th of September 2022

Can we camp and parked my Van on or near beach where we can view lake and sunset from tailgate of our car?

Tonya Prater

Thursday 8th of September 2022

Hi Mico, They have a map of the campground so you can see which campsites will be along Lake Erie. However, those sites are pretty much all on the cliff and not on the beach. But it would be an easy walk to the beach area where you could watch the sunset with other campers. I do want to share that the beach is not a large area. It's pretty small and it's rocky, not a typical sandy beach. The marina is also next door to the state park and great for watching the sunset as well.

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