Great lakes in Ohio: Head to the beach before summer's end

Head to the beach before summer’s end

Great lakes in Ohio: Head to the beach before summer's endThe outdoor swimming season in Ohio is shorter than a pair of men’s Speedos, spanning three months from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

As a kid it seemed an eternity, probably because I spent so much time in our pond, swimming with toe-nibbling bluegill and through slimy algae. It was a rite of passage growing up on a farm in northeastern Ohio.

In July, the kids and I were invited to a friend’s pond in Canal Winchester. This fun outing got me wondering where else could we go for a cool lake swim in the Buckeye State.

Great lakes in Ohio: Head to the beach before summer's endThrough scouring the Internet, I learned that swimming is welcomed in designated areas at many of the Ohio State Parks with lakes and on Lake Erie, and it’s free to enter state park beaches. I also learned that there are many other beaches throughout the state, some of which require an entry fee.

Before you set out, be sure to check water quality advisories, such as the Ohio Department of Health’s BeachGuard.

Below is a sampling of swimming sites in Ohio.

Alum Creek State Park
3305 S. Old State Rd., Delaware, Ohio 4301
Highlights: 3,387-acre lake with 3,000-foot beach, bathhouse, concessions, sand volleyball courts, disc golf

Atwood Lake Park
9500 Lakeview Rd. NE, Mineral City, Ohio 44656
Highlights: 2,460-acre lake with beach, inflatable beach toys, concessions, fishing pier

Conneaut Township Park
480 Lake Rd, Conneaut, OH 44030
Highlights: Sandy beach, concessions, picnic area, playground, shuffleboard, boardwalk, gazebo, and basketball, volleyball, tennis and bocce courts

Cowan Lake State Park
1750 Osborn Rd., Wilmington, Ohio 45177
Highlights: 1,000-foot beach, bathhouse, bike rental, picnic areas

Deer Creek State Park
20635 State Park Rd. 20, Mt. Sterling, Ohio 43143
Highlights: 1,700-foot beach, boat-swim area in cove, picnic tables, grills

Delaware State Park
5202 US Route 23 North, Delaware, Ohio 43015
Highlights: 1,300-acre lake with 800-foot beach, bathhouse, concessions, disc golf

Euclid Beach Park
16301 Lakeshore Blvd., Cleveland, Ohio 44110
Highlights: Former site of Euclid Beach Amusement Park, 650-foot beach, picnic area, observation pier for bird and butterfly watching, boardwalk

Edgewater Park
6500 Cleveland Memorial Shoreway, Cleveland, Ohio 44102
Highlights: 2,400-foot beach, dog-friendly, cabana rental, volleyball, concession stands, panoramic views of downtown Cleveland

Fairport Harbor Lakefront Park
301 Huntington Beach Dr., Fairport Harbor, Ohio 44077
Highlights: Beach along shores of Lake Erie, concessions, kayak rentals, boardwalk

Grand Lake St. Marys State Park
834 Edgewater Dr., St. Marys, Ohio 45885
Highlights: Four public beaches, swimming areas for boaters, miniature golf course, bicycle rental

Guilford Lake State Park
6141 Clewell Dr., Lisbon, Ohio 44432
Highlights: 600-foot beach, bathhouse, volleyball courts, horseshoe pits

Headlands Beach State Park
9601 Headlands Rd., Mentor, Ohio 44060
Highlights: Ohio’s largest natural sand beach, scenic picnic area

Huntington Beach
400 Bryson Ln., Bay Village, OH 44140
Highlights: Designated Blue Wave Certified beach by the Clean Beaches Council, Mitchell’s Ice Cream, near Lake Erie Nature & Science Center

Indian Lake State Park
13156 State Route 235 N, Lakeview, Ohio 43331
Highlights: 5,800-acre lake with two public beaches, picnic shelters

Kelleys Island State Park
920 Division St., Kelleys Island, Ohio 43438
Highlights: 100-foot beach, picnic area, near Glacial Grooves State Memorial

Lakeview Park
1800 West Erie Ave., Lorain, Ohio 44052
Highlights: Beach along Lake Erie, playground, rose garden, Lorain Lighthouse, spectacular sunsets, lawn bowling, beach volleyball, picnic facilities

Lake Hope State Park
27331 State Route 278, McArthur, Ohio 45651
Highlights: 120-acre lake with 600-foot beach near dam, sun deck, concessions

Madison Lake State Park
4860 E. Park Dr., London, Ohio 43140
Highlights: 300-foot beach, dog swim area, basketball courts on beach

Maumee Bay State Park
1400 State Park Rd., Oregon, Ohio 43616
Highlights: Two sand beaches on Lake Erie shore, concessions, bathhouse, lakeside amphitheater, boardwalk, bike rental, Scottish links golf course, Trautman Nature Center

Mosquito Creek Lake Park
1439 State Route 305, Cortland, Ohio 44410
Highlights: 600-foot beach, butterfly garden, summer concerts, bike rental, archery range, disc golf

Nickel Plate Beach
1 Nickel Plate Dr., Huron, Ohio 44839
Highlights: Lakefront stretch of sandy beach, ping-pong table, corn hole, beach volleyball, concessions, playground, picnic facilities

Tappan Lake
84000 Mallarnee Rd., Deersville, OH 44693
Highlights: 2,350-acre lake with beach, slides, concessions, paddle boat rentals

Villa Angela Park
Park Rd., Cleveland, Ohio 44119
Highlights: 900-foot beach, boardwalk, fishing pier

Wallace Lake
213 Prospect St., Berea, Ohio 44017
Highlights: 17.6-acre old quarry, sandy beach

Senecaville Lake Park
22172 Park Rd., Senecaville, Ohio 43780
Highlights: 3,550-acre lake with public beach, inflatable beach toys, concessions, beach volleyball, playground

Creature comforts found beside Ohio’s largest forest

Lodge love. That’s what we call the feeling you get when you enter an inviting, well-worn lodge.

We felt this vibe when visiting the Shawnee Lodge & Conference Center in West Portsmouth, Ohio. It was our first visit to an Ohio state park lodge. It’s one of eight state lodges in Ohio. We’re now curious to visit all of them at our own pace. Heck, we liked this one enough to visit it twice – once last fall and again over spring break.

What quantifies lodge love?

First, you’ve got to have a cavernous lobby that somehow connects to the nature of the area. Shawnee has exposed wooden beams, oversized couches and lots of references to the Native Americans who once called the area home. There also are big tables for playing board games that are available at the registration counter.

You also need plenty of outdoor pursuits. Shawnee Lodge offers access to the largest state forest in Ohio. Known as “Ohio’s Little Smokies,” the Shawnee State Forest spans more than 63,000 acres and includes 60 miles of hiking and bridle trails.

Returning to comfortable lodging that’s slightly rustic, yet modern and practical at the same time, is essential if you don’t like to camp.

Our rooms had a set of bunk beds, chunky log furniture and sensible toiletries including pumps of shampoo, conditioner and shower gel.

A good lodge also needs quality comfort food in a setting that offers a panoramic view of the property.

The Smokehouse restaurant at Shawnee offers tasty brisket and other barbecued meats, made-from-scratch soups and a variety of homey classics such as baked spaghetti and meatballs, and liver and onions.

Lively lodges have extra amenities. Shawnee offers two swimming pools, Frisbee golf, canoeing, nearby horseback riding and an arcade.

“Some of our customers are regulars since the lodge opened in 1973,” said Lisa Moran, sales and catering manager. “They like that it’s a central location, so we get a lot of people from out of state. I think it’s all the back-to-nature activities we offer.”

“We actually get the kids to put their phones down.”

What’s not to love about that?

Learn more about the Shawnee Lodge & Conference Center.

South Drive-In Theatre: As outdoor movie screens lose steam across nation, South High reels on

As outdoor screens lose steam across nation, South High cinema reels on

I’ll never forget my first drive-in theater experience. It was the summer of 1978, and my siblings took me to see a double feature of “Jaws 2” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” at the 42 Drive-In in Brunswick, Ohio.

South Drive-In Theatre: As outdoor movie screens lose steam across nation, South High reels onI was 8 years old, and I was terrified. But I loved it and returned again and again until the old theater eventually closed, along with so many others like it across the country.

According to, there are just 330 drive-in theaters in operation in the United States, two dozen of which are in Ohio. During the happy days of the 1950s, the site says, there were nearly 4,000 such theaters.

The sole outdoor cinema in Columbus is the South Drive-in Theater, at 3050 S. High St., which opened in 1950. Customers here have a choice between two screens, each offering a double feature, one of which seems more geared toward families.

In July, my daughter and I saw a first-run showing of “Hotel Transylvania 3” and “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.”

We arrived 30 minutes before the start of the first movie and found a decent parking spot in the third row. Early birds lined the coveted front row, savoring unobstructed views and a lush lawn, where kids played in the waning shadow of the big screen.

South Drive-In Theatre: As outdoor movie screens lose steam across nation, South High reels onWe enjoyed making a comfy spot in the back of our SUV and watching the movies through the hatchback.

My daughter liked what she called an “old-timey” feel, and I liked sharing a childhood tradition with her.

Another perk is that children ages 5 to 11 get in for $2, while kids ages 4 and younger are free.

Disappointments were expected and included latecomers with blinding headlights, inconsistent sound from the old speakers, wafting cigarette smoke and pesky mosquitos, despite our attempts to repel them with spray.

Speaking of bugs, the theater also hosts a giant flea market on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, from March through November. Arrive early for the best finds. Dealers begin setting up at 5 a.m. and most continue selling until 1 p.m.

Learn more about the South Drive-In Theatre. Find a drive-in theater near you at

Rockmill Brewery: Plan date with kids at picturesque beer haven in Lancaster

Plan date with kids at picturesque beer haven in Lancaster

Rockmill Brewery: Plan date with kids at picturesque beer haven in LancasterIf you’re like us, date nights are few and far between. But a lack of short-order sitters and poor planning on our part doesn’t stop us from getting out once in a while for some quality adult time with our kids in tow.

One surprising place to do just that, we recently discovered, is the Rockmill Brewery in Lancaster, 30 minutes from downtown Columbus.

The small-production brewery is located on a former horse farm, and the rural landscape is both romantic and adventuresome. There’s plenty of room to roam, including a fishing pond that reflects the trees around it. The Hocking River flows near part of the property, resembling a painting, meandering off into the wooded horizon. And, even more surprising, there are explorable recess caves.

We paid a visit on Father’s Day, and it sorta felt like we were crashing a private party. Folks were nicely dressed, sipping beers on a hillside, as their children played alongside stretched-out blankets. Other guests threw Frisbees and played corn hole, awaiting a band that was scheduled to play in the evening by a small building that resembled a church.

But this, we learned, is how you behave at Rockmill. It’s a family affair, and bonding is encouraged.

Rockmill opened in 2010, and it’s gotten a solid reputation among craft brewers in central Ohio. The company also operates Rockmill Tavern in Columbus’ Brewery District.

Rockmill Brewery: Plan date with kids at picturesque beer haven in LancasterOwner Matt Barbee describes Rockmill as a “Belgian-style brewery,” with added sugars that provide distinct flavor profiles, such as fruit, spice or herbs, in addition to the traditional beer notes that come from grain and hops. The results are big, complex flavors that go far beyond the common lager. Rockmill’s standard beers are named simply after their style: witbier, saison, dubbel and tripel.

The quaint tasting room was once a horse stable, and there are several nooks and crannies where you can get lost while you indulge in a brew. Or, take it outside on the spacious grounds. You can bring your own food, or opt for the tasty selections from a food truck outside — Backcountry Barbecue offers standard BBQ fare. Check its website for dates and times of operation.

Rockmill Brewery is located at 5705 Lithopolis Rd. NW, Lancaster. Learn more at

Rockmill Brewery: Plan date with kids at picturesque beer haven in Lancaster

Rockmill Brewery: Plan date with kids at picturesque beer haven in Lancaster

Rockmill Brewery: Plan date with kids at picturesque beer haven in Lancaster

Rockmill Brewery: Plan date with kids at picturesque beer haven in Lancaster

Rockmill Brewery: Plan date with kids at picturesque beer haven in Lancaster

Rockmill Brewery: Plan date with kids at picturesque beer haven in Lancaster

Rockmill Brewery: Plan date with kids at picturesque beer haven in Lancaster

Rockmill Brewery: Plan date with kids at picturesque beer haven in Lancaster

Rockmill Brewery: Plan date with kids at picturesque beer haven in Lancaster

Rockmill Brewery: Plan date with kids at picturesque beer haven in Lancaster

Rockmill Brewery: Plan date with kids at picturesque beer haven in Lancaster

The Wilds: Escape to an African savanna in southeast Ohio

Go on an African safari in southeast Ohio

A lone yellow oil pump stands out in a spacious, green valley in southeast Ohio, a reminder that this 10,000-acre swath of land was once drilled for oil and mined for coal by a dragline called Big Muskie.

But the land now known as the Wilds has been reclaimed, and most of the heavy equipment has been replaced by a collection of wild animals. Indeed, giraffes now move like cranes through the recovered meadows of the largest wildlife conservation center in North America. Rhinos, too, plow through tall grass, as do antelopes, zebras, camels and more than two dozen endangered species.

It seems like another world, but only because it’s so close to home in Columbus. For animal lovers and conservationists, the Wilds in Cumberland, Ohio, provides a bounty of adventure and education, as I recently learned while attending a weekend campout with my daughter, Rosie, and her Girl Scout troop.

The non-profit park opened in 1994 and began a partnership with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in 2001. Options include guided safari tours, horseback riding trails, fishing ponds, mountain bike paths and zip-line courses on 2,000 acres of pastures and lakes. There’s also a 27-acre Carnivore Conservation Center, which houses African wild dogs, cheetah and dholes.

We stayed overnight at the Robert W. Teater Conservation Education Camp, which accommodates 48 people in four yurts. The comfortable and modern camp is available for school groups and families, too. Otherwise stay at the family-friendly lodge or glam it up on a romantic getaway at Nomad Ridge – high-end yurts for adults only.

Our guide, named “J,” took us on bumpy tours in an old school bus and led us on night hikes, where we called for barred owls and encountered a snapping turtle.

We saw that spots where seams of coal were removed are now high cliffs. Places that had been bulldozed and flattened are now meadows. Native aviary species have returned, making the area a haven for bird-watching.

The best part, though, was seeing animals we’d only seen at the zoo seemingly roaming freely in Ohio. Oh yeah, and petting a rhinoceros was pretty cool, too. “It felt like a hairy rock,” Rosie said.

For more information, visit

Blendon Woods Natural Playground: Creative play encouraged in forested nook of Metro Park

Creative play encouraged in forested nook of Metro Park

The best places to play are those where you can use your imagination, as we did during a recent visit to the Natural Playground, a 10-acre space at Blendon Woods Metro Park in Westerville.

As we climbed on a net amid trees, we pretended to cling to a spider’s web, hot lava bubbling beneath our feet. We then scurried across a log bridge as angry trolls threw mud pies at us. Later, we hopped on a hillside zip line, narrowly escaping the clenches of a make-believe forest beast.

There are intentionally no posted rules or regulations at the Natural Playground to hinder creative play. If you want to leap from a vine while pounding your chest like Tarzan, go for it. There’s a vine for doing just that.

There’s also a teeter totter made out of two hunks of wood, a pile of limbs for building forts and fairy houses and a train made of logs.

The park opened in May 2017, inspired by the bond between a little girl named Maris and her dad, Tim, who’d frequented Blendon Woods. Tim Zugaro died in a car accident in 2016. Tim’s wife, Michele, contributed donations from his funeral to build the play area.

Memories of Tim abound, including a couple of wooden posts that read Tim’s Teeter and Zugaro Zip.

The space is delightfully unstructured, a place where kids are encouraged to get off the trodden path to play in the dirt and climb trees.

Learn more about Blendon Woods.

Franklin Park Conservatory adds stunning attraction to its natural surroundings

Well before the first shovel of dirt was turned for its new children’s garden, Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens asked kids what would make the place a success.

Their answer: Rainbows, waterfalls and room to climb.

The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation Children’s Garden has that in abundance, as well as a fairy garden and library, a straw bale playhouse, a wetlands display, a sandstone bluff, a rope bridge, even a human-sized cardinal’s nest. When it opens on May 19, the children’s garden will highlight an expansion of the conservatory’s downtown grounds that was years in the making.

Well-established as a premier floral attraction that caters mainly to adults, the conservatory, founded in its present form in 1993, now has the goods to make kids think twice about spending an afternoon tied to a screen.

“Children don’t get outdoors as much as they used to,”says Jenn Wilson, the conservatory’s marketing director. “We wanted to reduce the screen time they have and replace it with more green time. Our goal was really to connect with kids on a natural level. We want them to use their imagination again.”

The conservatory set aside $5.7 million to build the garden, which was designed by Terra Design Studios of Pittsburgh. It covers 2 acres on the conservatory’s 40-acre campus (an adjoining 48 acres owned by Columbus makes up Franklin Park) and offers 16 galleries all with unique perspectives on nature.

While the garden takes advantage of existing flora, including a majestic mulberry tree, the conservatory added an astounding 19,000 new plants to bring it to life. “This is the largest botanical project the conservatory has undertaken,” Wilson says.

The garden will be staffed from April through October, so there’ll be plenty of regular educational offerings, such as a community garden that will allow participants to plant, cultivate, harvest and prepare vegetables.

We previewed the children’s garden a few days before it was set to open. Here are the highlights:


Kids love rainbows, so the first thing visitors will see is a rainbow arch made up of 56 stained glass panels. It’s a nod to Columbus’ reputation as the “Arch City,” thanks to the metal arches that stretched over some of its downtown streets. In each pane, embedded crystals will sparkle in the sun, and rainbows will appear on the ground.

The garden’s rainbow welcome terrace includes seating walls embedded with glass to mimic rainbows. Nearby, boulders will emit a rainbow-colored mist when the sun shines just right.


A highlight of the garden is a 150-foot-long sandstone creek built for wading when the weather turns warm. It includes a boardwalk perched above a wetlands exploration area, which is actually a small water retention pond.

Kids will learn about environments and life cycle by observing the critters sure to make a home in the pond.

Room to climb

One of the first attractions you’ll see after passing through the rainbow arch is a canopy walk, a covered walkway from which kids can spot a spotted salamander design in the concrete. Further exploration along the canopy walk will bring them to the human-sized cardinal’s nest, steadfastly weaved by conservatory staff. Nearby is a hammock lounge, hovering over a garden of plants below.

The conservatory’s believes the children’s garden will help double its annual paid attendance of 100,000.

“Since the conservatory was founded 25 years ago, much of the experience has been confined to the building itself,” she said. “We do 500 educational classes and about 450 events throughout the year. All those things were competing in a three-acre building. We had a great need to expand outward.”

The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation Children’s Garden is located at the Franklin Park Conservatory, 1777 E. Broad St., Columbus, OH 43202.

The park is open daily, except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Admission to the children’s garden is included with admission to the conservatory. Cost: ages 13-59, $18; age 60 and over, $15; ages 3-12, $11; under 3, free. Call 614-715-8000 to learn more.

Scioto Grove Metro Park by Columbus Family Adventures

A look at seven of our favorite swings in the Columbus area

We’ve visited a lot of playgrounds in the Columbus area over the years, and swings remain one of our favorite things about them.

Here’s a look at seven of our favorite swings in central Ohio, from a traditional, tree-hung one at a working farm in Canal Winchester to a comfy bench swing along downtown’s Scioto Mile.

Slate Run Living Historical Farm by Columbus Family Adventures

Slate Run Living Historical Farm

1. Slate Run Living Historical Farm in Canal Winchester is one of 19 metropolitan parks in the Columbus area. It’s part working farm and part tourist attraction, offering visitors a chance to see what it was like to raise animals and crops in the 1880s. Even its wooden swing is a throwback. Hung by rope from an old maple tree, there’s often a line to ride it.

Recreations Outlet by Columbus Family Adventures

Recreations Outlet

2. Children are encouraged to test the merchandise at Recreations Outlet in Powell. The supplier of outdoor play equipment allows children to gleefully bounce, slide, climb and swing on everything in its showroom as adults watch from the sidelines, some moved to purchase what they see their children enjoying.

Scioto Grove Metro Park by Columbus Family Adventures

Scioto Grove Metro Park

3. Scioto Grove Metro Park in Grove City is one of central Ohio’s newest metroparks. The 620-acre park is full of innovative offerings including platforms for tents along a backpacking trail, sleek picnic shelters and a swanky playground with a circular swing that’s a hit among youngsters.

Wickliffe Playground by Columbus Family Adventures

Wickliffe Playground

4. Kids go gaga for Wickliffe Playground at first site. The castle-like playground was built in 1990 with loving care by volunteers at Wickliffe Progressive School in Upper Arlington. Neat features include a tunnel of tires, a portion of a walkway that rocks back and forth, and a section that looks like a locomotive. There also are two tire swings that kids never seem to tire of.

Olentangy Park by Columbus Family Adventures

Olentangy Park

5. Olentangy Park in Worthington offers well-kept tennis courts, a sledding hill, a skate park and access to the Olentangy Trail. Along the multipurpose trail by the skate park is a simple swing with a narrow wooden seat that was still there last time we checked. It’s the kind of swing you feel privileged to happen upon and even more so to glide upon under a sycamore tree.

Whetstone Park by Columbus Family Adventures

Whetstone Park

6. Whetstone Park in Clintonville is home to a handful of city gems, such as the beautiful Park of Roses, access to the Olentangy Trail and a popular playground that sits on a bed of wood chips. Recent additions have given rise to modern equipment including a hammock-like swing that can support a boatload of happy kids.

Scioto Mile by Columbus Family Adventures

Scioto Mile

7. Downtown Columbus really outdid itself when it created the Scioto Mile, a revitalization effort that included revamping Bicentennial Park. Managed by the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, the park stretches a mile along the Scioto River, extending from the Arena District on the north end of Downtown to Whittier Peninsula on the south. Its greatest achievement, in our opinion, are the bench swings along the path that beg you to relax and take in the city sites.