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West Sister Island is the only designated wilderness area in the state of Ohio, United States of America. An important waterbird nesting colony, it is closed to tourists to protect the wildlife. Entry is for research purposes only and requires a permit. But you can see the island's historic lighthouse from the south shore of Lake Erie or from a boat.



During the Battle of Lake Erie, Commodore Perry reported his victory near this island.

In 1937, West Sister Island was declared "a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife...," by President F.D. Roosevelt.

During World War II the island was used as target practice for dive bombers.

Modern Day[edit]

West Sister Island is a National Wildlife Refuge in Lake Erie, northeast of Cedar Point National Wildlife Refuge. During Prohibition, the island was a hotspot for bootleggers bringing alcohol from Canada. West Sister Island is Lake Erie's largest sites protecting a rookery for Great Blue Herons, Cormorants, Great Egrets, and Black-crowned Night Herons. The birds must travel eighteen miles round trip to the mainland marshes, where waters are shallow enough to allow the birds to hunt for food for themselves and their young. Public access is not permitted, except for research purposes.

The geology of West Sister Island consists of glacial fill that lies over a limestone shelf. It is jointly owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Coast Guard, with refuge management being done by the staff at the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, under the Federal Wilderness Act.

Get in[edit]

Map of West Sister Island

The island is closed to the general public at all times, as the whole island is a National Wildlife Refuge. There are some birdwatching opportunities if you boat from a distance.

  • 1 [dead link] A Cruise For The Birds (board the Jet Express in Port Clinton). Occasionally the Friends of the Ottawa NWR offers a guided cruise around the island coast for birders. This cruise does not land at the island, but does include researchers who discuss their work with the Island.

Fees and permits[edit]

A permit[dead link] to access the island is only granted for research purposes. Permits are issued by the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.

Get around[edit]

There is no real infrastructure here and the island is covered with trees, very tall populations of poison ivy, Solomon's Seal, and other unhospitable vegetation.


The lighthouse before the artillery practice
The lighthouse after the artillery practice
  • 1 West Sister Island Lighthouse. The only remaining manmade structure on the Island. The top of the tower has been damaged by artillery practice during World War II.


  • Birdwatching. Birding may be done at a distance from a boat.

Stay safe[edit]

During World War II the island was used as a training site for US Artillery. Some remnants are said to remain to this day.

If you are caught trespassing on the island, you may be arrested and fined.

Precautions should be taken to protect your face from dropping bird waste. In particular, surprised birds may vomit at you.

Go next[edit]

This park travel guide to West Sister Island is a usable article. It has information about the park, for getting in, about a few attractions, and about accommodations in the park. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.