9 fantastic winter activities on Lake Erie in Ohio

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Along the northern Ohio rim you will find the beautiful shores of Lake Erie. Extensive views of crashing winter waves and lakefront snow have drawn visitors from all over the world to explore here during the months when Old Man Winter rules the weather. Winter is not the time to hide indoors; it’s time to don snowshoes to explore, then enjoy a hot crackling fire with a mug of hot chocolate with heaps of whipped cream.

Getting to Lake Erie, even in winter, is usually accessible via a road trip, but if you’re the type to fly, Cleveland Hopkins International Airport is right on the lake. Cleveland is the perfect base to start your winter activities on Lake Erie.

Brandywine Falls (RobDemPhoto / Shutterstock.com)

1. Find a frozen waterfall

Bundle up for some great hiking opportunities to frozen waterfalls. Northeast Ohio is home to several waterfalls that can freeze completely in the winter. These waterfalls roar with water in warm weather, but there’s a whole different atmosphere around these water-filled ice displays in winter. Hold on patiently and listen to the stillness interspersed with the sounds of water and loud crackling as winter sets in on the falls.

Two of the most notable are Brandywine Falls and Tinkers Creek Gorge Great Falls.

Food and Wine at Laurentia Winery in Ohio
Laurentia Vineyard (Tamara Davis / Shutterstock.com)

2. Visit the vineyards of Ashtabula County

Winter in the Grand River Valley is magical. Lake-like snow covers Ashtabula County with a stunning display of sparkling snow, giving the landscape a brilliant blanket of white. Ashtabula caves are scattered throughout the county. It is said that there is something extraordinary about these wineries during the winter months. Upstairs in the cellar, diners enjoy crackling fires while the aging wine barrels are in the wine cellars. Inside, find a quiet gathering of friends sipping wine while warming up from the winter chill.

Fun fact: it’s not uncommon to drive to the vineyards to park next to a snowmobile.

Pro tip: While you’re there, explore the stunning covered bridges around snow-capped Ashtabula County.

3. Look at the drop of walleye

Head to the walleye capital of the world on New Years Eve to watch Wylie the walleye drop at midnight. Brave the cold and count down New Years with the locals for this spirited event. Before the Dorés fall, take the “Bar Swim” loop in one of the heated luxury buses to swim around Port Clinton, taking you for themed drinks to warm you up before the fall. After Wylie’s fall, the night sky comes alive with a stunning fireworks display.

Ice fishing huts on Lake Erie
Zack Frank / Shutterstock.com

4. Go ice fishing

In winter, weather permitting, Lake Erie is home to colorful villages of ice slums with structures large and small. Ice fishermen and professional guides measure the thickness of the ice and wait for the perfect time to get out and catch perch and walleye. While you can go ice fishing just off the mainland, improve your game a bit and charter a flight to Put-in-Bay or Kelleys Island for a unique experience off the coast of one of the islands. Book a quiet stay in a bed and breakfast where you will practically own the island.

Pro tip: Board Island Air Taxi for your winter trip to the islands.

Cleveland Harbor West Pierhead Lighthouse
Cleveland Harbor West Pierhead Lighthouse (Amy Nichole Harris / Shutterstock.com)

5. See the lighthouses covered in ice and the ice gardens

The lighthouses on the shores of Lake Erie draw visitors from all over during “tourist season,” however, in winter the crowds are smaller and the display is beyond anything you have ever seen. If you’re lucky, a little winter wind will blow the waves up on Lake Erie so you can marvel at the ice-covered lighthouses. My favorite is the West Pier Lighthouse in Cleveland. In 2010 we had a year where this lighthouse was absolutely breathtaking.

Although the lighthouse is photogenic, don’t miss Mother Nature’s magnificent ice show along the shores. Every branch, rock or outcrop becomes a work of art as the water and wind create something new to see each year. The frozen gardens change every day and with the chaotic winter weather you never know what you might see.

Pro tip: If you time it right, you might be able to see a phenomenon called scoops of ice cream forming along the shores.

6. Stay in Genève-sur-le-Lac

Genève-sur-le-Lac jumps in the summer, but visitors who like it a little quieter come in the winter to enjoy the beauty of the lake from another perspective. Snowshoes, cross-country skiing and snowbiking in Geneva State Park allow you to stay active before returning to your accommodation for the night. Dine at Crosswinds Grill for a farm-to-table experience off the beaten track. The Crosswinds Grill is located at the Lakehouse Inn, a boutique destination that offers unique winter experiences. After a day of winter games, unwind with a spa treatment and enjoy your cold weather getaway.

Pro tip: If the weather is favorable, take a walk on the beach in the national park and look for pieces of sea glass.

7. Play indoors at the Kalahari Waterpark

If you’re a kid at heart, Sandusky, Ohio awaits you inside the Kalahari Resort. When the doors open to let you in, you are struck by the tropical heat when it is freezing cold outside. Prebook a cabana by the wave pool for your stay and sip delicious drinks poolside before heading to the spa for a hot chocolate facial. It’s not all about water at this premier resort; the food served here is more than fantastic. Extreme milkshakes, gigantic burgers and Italian cuisine is a foodie’s dream. After all your daytime fun and still have some energy, play a game of mini bowling or have a game of putt-putt on the phosphorescent course.

Pro tip: Stop by the Candy Hut for a piece of chocolate coated bacon sprinkled with sea salt – it’s to die for.

Maumee Bay State Park in Ohio
Juli V / Shutterstock.com

8. Take a walk on the promenade in Maumee Bay State Park

Birdwatching along the shores of Lake Erie is one of my favorite things to do, and strolling along the trails in Maumee Bay State Park is always high on my list of places to go to. any time of the year. In winter, this walk becomes an open door to see some of Ohio’s native wildlife and migratory birds. On one occasion, as I was walking, a group of deer crashed into the swamp, running regardless of the world, that is, until they saw me. They stopped to glare at me ‘what are you doing here’ before heading deeper into the woods.

If you fall in love with the beautiful state park, you don’t have to leave; Reserve a room at Maumee Bay State Park Lodge to enjoy the lake view from your lakeside room, where you can enjoy all the wild waves and icy blasts in comfort. Take a dip in the hot tub before bed to warm up your bones after your day of bird and wildlife viewing.

If you want more birding in the area, take the Lake Erie Bird Watching Trail through the swamps of Western Lake Erie. This drivable trail takes you through some of the beautiful parks along the lake, where you may see majestic eagles, great blue herons, white egrets, and maybe swans.

Pro tip: Visit during America’s largest birding week to see colorful warblers as they migrate through the Lake Erie region.

9. Drive the Lake Erie Coastal Trail Scenic Drive in Ohio

If the weather conditions are perfect, you can take the Lake Erie Scenic Drive across Ohio to the other, stopping in small towns along the way and enjoying the metropolises as well. Visit cafes, wineries, and historic stops as you stroll along the Lake Erie coast.

About the halfway point you’ll land at Sandusky, where I like to spend a little time as I cross. I don’t care how old I am; I love going to the Merry Go Round museum, where I can ride the restored carousel several times. If you visit here, take the time to view all of the hand-carved animals, some dating from the turn of the century.

End your journey with dinner at Tony Packo’s, an iconic restaurant on the shores of Toledo. Since 1908, Tony Packos has been offering his Hungarian cuisine with delicious hot dogs served on his famous buns. Stroll through the original location and see all of the signature rolls of famous people who dined here; Burt Reynolds was the first celebrity to do so while filming The rainmaker.

Pro tip: DO NOT start this route without the route map and app!

Consider these other outdoor activities in Ohio:


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