WORTH THE DRIVE: Lake Erie the perfect destination for socially distant escape

The waves gently roll in, kissing the sandy shore as seagulls swoop along the water’s edge and a distant sailboat glides across the shimmering surface as the radiant sun makes its nightly departure.

This idyllic setting is not a distant exotic destination and there are no passports required as it’s in the Buckeye State — along the shores of Lake Erie.

Long celebrated for its record-breaking roller coasters and vibrant island vibe, Cedar Point and Put-In-Bay are only two of the many unique destinations that the Lake Erie coast has to offer. With a continued emphasis on social distancing and safety, the Lake Erie shore and islands can be an ideal destination for that last blast of summer fun or an early autumn getaway.

Island adventure

The largest of Ohio’s Lake Erie islands, Kelleys Island is a tranquil destination where nature takes center stage.

The Glacial Grooves — a National Natural Landmark — are a must-see on the north side of the island.

The island is also home to Kelleys Island State Park, which offers hiking trails and a swimming beach as well as areas to camp and fish. The nearby North Pond State Nature Preserve, consisting of 30 acres of wetlands, is home to a variety of rare plants and animals and is one of the last natural marshes in Ohio’s western Lake Erie basin.

Getting around the island can be an adventure itself with bike, kayak and golf cart rentals available. Finish out the day with a visit to one of the island’s unique restaurants or the family-friendly Kelley’s Island Wine Co., which has plenty of outdoor seating and even a few farm animals.

Watersports 101

The inviting Lake Erie waters are just waiting to be explored and what better way to do that than by kayak or paddleboard?

Paddle & Climb – just steps away from Sandusky Bay – is one of the many places to start your aquatic adventure. Life jacket on and paddles in hand, it’s a short walk to the water’s edge and then you can create your own scenic journey. Paddle through the serene coves at Shoreline Park or take to the open water and paddle toward the towering Cedar Point coasters. With rates ranging from an hour to a full day, take as long as you like to enjoy the sights (www.paddleandclimb.com/).

If you’d prefer a planned route, try the Lake Erie Islands Water Trails guide with five circular paddling routes and associated public access points around South Bass, Middle Bass, North Bass, Kelleys Island, and the Catawba and Marblehead peninsula area. For information, visit www.shoresandislands.com/.

Animal adventure

While social distancing seems to have caught on with creatures of the two-legged variety, the four-legged friends you might encounter at the African Safari Wildlife Park in Port Clinton are another story entirely.

Friendly alpaca and American Bison as well as a curious giraffe and zebra eagerly gobble up the lettuce and carrots from your hand at the drive-thru safari leaving smudge prints on your windows and smiles on your children’s faces. If you want more animal adventures, there is also a walk-thru safari and kangaroo, porcupine and tortoise feeding experiences.

For information, visit www.africansafariwildlifepark.com.

Nature exploration

From peaceful nature preserves to picturesque lighthouses, there is so much to explore.

The Lake Erie Wing Watch area — the shoreline region between Oak Harbor and Lorain – is among the country’s best areas for birding. From regal bald eagles to colorful warblers, the area is home to more than 300 bird species.

If fishing is your pastime of choice, you can get your fill on Lake Erie. Port Clinton is, after all, the Walleye Capital of the world. There’s more than walleye in the water as September is the best time for smallmouth bass while fall is ideal for yellow perch.

Some of the magnificent sites are manmade as the region is home to eight unique lighthouses — six of which can be viewed onshore. The oldest continually-operating lighthouse on the Great Lakes, the Marblehead Lighthouse is a postcard-perfect destination and one of the most photographed spots on Lake Erie. The Port Clinton and Vermilion lighthouses are both easily accessible as well. For more information and, even, a suggested lighthouse tour route, visit www.shoresandislands.com/.

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