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Lake Erie Cities and Attractions on the Great Lakes Circle Tour

Patty has enjoyed traveling between Canada and the USA for over 20 years and always finds something fascinating to report.

Sunset on Lake Erie near Maumee State Park

Sunset on Lake Erie near Maumee State Park

Lakeside Day Trips and Vacations

Although a surprising fact, the highways and roads circumnavigating a perimeter around the Great Lakes in the American Midwest cover 6,500 miles—about twice the width of the United States! Many people are unaware that a route completely around the Great Lakes exists.

I first heard about the Great Lakes Circle Tour in 2003 on a visit to Michigan, where the streets in the towns near Lake Huron supported bright green and white signs indicating its path. What fun! I soon found similar signs around Lake Erie.

Each of the five Great Lakes can be toured using these routes, or a complete tour of all five at once is possible. The longer trip is wonderful for those who have a few weeks of leisure.

A great summer would be spent driving around the bays and inlets, stopping at islands, visiting historical sites, and dining on diverse cuisine in the towns along the way.

Lake Erie counties in Ohio.

Lake Erie counties in Ohio.

Lake Erie Circle Tour

Ohio's North Shore of Lake Erie can be divided into two parts: Toledo eastward to Lorain, and Lorain to Conneaut. The Ohio Turnpike toll road runs along the lake at a short distance, but traveling along Ohio Routes 2 and 5 brings travelers closer to the water and through the small and large towns along the way.

The complete Lake Erie Circle Tour covers 680 miles. The AAA-suggested route is from Detroit, Michigan (where you can visit the shores of Belle Isle first) to Toledo, Ohio eastward across the state, across a short portion of Pennsylvania, where you might see the Northern Lights some nights at Presque Isle, up through New York to Niagara Falls, and across the Peace Bridge to Ontario Province, Canada.

From there, Ontario Highway 3 runs along the shore of Lake Erie all the way back to the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit.

Toledo to Lorain

Major Cities on Route

  • Toledo, Ohio: Gateway to Michigan and Canada
  • Port Clinton, Ohio
  • Sandusky: Home to Cedar Point
  • Huron, Ohio
  • Vermilion, Ohio
  • Lorain


Toledo is a major gateway city into Canada via the lake, with its large harbor and the Maumee Bay with its Park Lodge and Conference Center in the state's newest state park. It offers outdoor sports and activities all through the year, along with dining and a wonderful view of Lake Erie. From Toledo, the park is reached via I-280 S. and Cedar Point Road.

Adjacent to the state park are Mallard Club March Wilderness Area and Cedar Point National Wildlife Refuge. A number of outdoor activities are offered in these areas, including beaches all along the Lake Erie Shore at intervals from Maumee Bay to Conneaut in the East.

Taking County Road 204 south to State Route 2, travel east to find Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Magee March Wildlife Area, Turtle Creek Bay, and Big Sand Bay located in a large cluster together.

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Port Clinton

Continue to follow State Route 2 eastward to the city of Port Clinton. At this point, Lake Erie is to the north and the large Sandusky Bay is to the south. Port Clinton is at the western end of a peninsula that offers a number of harbors and at the eastern end, Lakeside Daisy State Nature Preserve.

A number of islands are located in Lake Erie at this point, seen as tourist attractions and also used as research facilities by Ohio universities. Islands include Catawba Island, Marblehead, Kelley's Island, Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island, and Middle and North Bass Islands. Pelee Island is just to the northeast, across the Canadian border in the lake.


Lake Erie and its islands were the site of many water battles during wartime, and especially during the War of 1812, after which 10,000 American prisoners were incarcerated in the horrid Dartmoor Deport prison in England for years after they were to be released. Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial was built on Put-in-Bay to remember those who fought in the Battle of Lake Erie (War of 1812).

This monument is a Doric column of 352 feet near the Canadian border and underneath are buried three American and three British officers killed in this battle. A visitor's complex is full of information and re-enactors are on hand to show tourists parts of the battle that occurred in 1813 with Perry's ship's flag inscribed "Don't give up the ship." Suffering great damages, Perry captured the whole group of six British ships in this battle.

A number of festivals, Civil War re-enactments, and cruises are available from Port Clinton's historic waterfront districts.

Cedar Point and Beyond

Returning to Route 2, travelers can cross Sandusky Bay and proceed to Cedar Point Amusement Park via State Route 6 that goes through Sandusky. On the west side of the city is Lions Park with a substantial amount of beach at the shoreline at Sandusky Bay.

The causeway entrance to Cedar Point Park along State Route 6 on the other side of the city is also near Pipe Creek Wilderness and Wildlife Areas. Cedar Point increases its rides and attractions every year, but always offers re-enactors that portray daily life in early Ohio settlements.

The last time I visited the park, I watched a woman that spun yarn from her long-haired dogs. Her finished knitted garments were good quality, warm, and very attractive.

Leaving this area, resume travel on State Route 6 to find Sheldon Marsh Nature Preserve. At the Juncture of State Route 6 and Township Highway 122 is located Bowling Green State University Firelands Campus. Stay on Route 6 through Huron, Ohio, and its shopping districts. The route proceeds to Old Woman Creek Nature Preserve and eastward past several beach areas to Vermillion, Ohio, and the City of Lorain.

View of Cedar Point Amusement Park on Lake Erie.

View of Cedar Point Amusement Park on Lake Erie.

Birding at Lake Erie

Here are a few great resources if you are interested in birding:

My Favorite Spots to View Ships

Major Cities on Route

  • Avon Lake, Ohio
  • Rocky River, Ohio
  • Lakewood, Ohio
  • Cleveland: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, NFL Hall of Fame

Continuing eastward on State Route 6, travelers find Avon Lake, Ohio. This is my favorite area on the lakeshore because its public libraries have enjoyed massive reconstruction. On my last visit to the main branch, I sat on a couch at a picture window facing the lake and watched sailing ships and freighters.

Continuing on Route 6 takes visitors though additional beaches, small towns, and parks to Cleveland, the home of the Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame. The waterfront is full of seafood restaurants with a fresh catch every day.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Cleveland to Conneaut and Conneaut Lake

Major Cities on Route

  • Euclid
  • Eastlake
  • Mentor, Ohio
  • Ashtabula
  • Conneaut
  • Erie, Pennsylvania

Take the Route 2 and I-90 parallel through a number of small towns and beach areas from Cleveland to Ashtabula, passing by the large Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland. Mentor Marsh State Preserve is north of Painesville, Ohio.

Several state nature preserves and Fairport Harbor are attractions here. Geneva State Park runs right up to the shoreline at Geneva-on-the-Lake.

At Ashtabula, drivers can take 2 and I-90 to Route 11 North to find Route 531 running very close to the shoreline if they wish. This will take you all the way to the last town on Ohio on Lake Erie: Conneaut.

Alpaca Farms

Alpaca Farms

Local Culture

The US Government sold some of its lighthouses by auction in 2011, including Conneaut Harbor West Breakwater Light. New owners will likely develop it into more of a tourist attraction. Ohio's Fairport Harbor West Breakwater Light in Painesville was also auctioned in Summer 2011.

This area of Lake Erie, on into Pennsylvania, is widely known for its wineries. Conneaut is also a bicycling city and cycle groups invite visitors to join them any time. In addition, Conneaut is known for its alpaca farms that invite visitors to see the animals and yarn preparation.

Conneaut OH Harbor

Conneaut OH Harbor

Conneaut to Erie, Pennsylvania

An amazing number of wineries continue to develop across the state line from Conneaut. Ohio and Pennsylvania share tourism from Conneaut Lake and Conneaut Lake Park as well, although these are approximately 30 miles inland from Lake Erie. The Pepsi Cola company helps the park with grant funding to improve its midway for historic preservation of the site.

Pymatuning State Park is fewer than five miles west of the amusement park and another good place to see.

Take Route 5 out of Conneaut and continue all the way to the far Pennsylvania state line. Between Conneaut and Erie, several nice views of the shoreline and some beach fronts are visible, as well as sailboats and freighters on the lake. Approximately 2.5 miles outside of Erie PA, you'll find Peninsula Drive and if you turn left, it will take you to Presque Isle.


Local Resources

Turtles at Presque Isle

Turtles at Presque Isle

Beautiful Presque Isle

The entrance causeway is a wide boulevard full of natural landscaping and native trees, one of the loveliest I have seen. It takes you out into Lake Erie to a beach and camping area among several small lakes.

You can drive completely around the perimeter of this area and back out to Route 5. This will take travelers through Erie PA, with its historic Union Train Station and other attractions, on through Lawrence Park and Shades Beach Park South and on to the New York state line where Route 5 as East Lake Road becomes West Lake Road.

Before you reach New York, you'll stop at North East, Pennsylvania, whose largest employer is Welch's. The town is known for its grapes today and fruit has always been its supporting economy.

Major Local Events

  • January through February: Many ice dunes form on Lake Erie, which is a unique sight. The park offers skiing and snowshoeing opportunities.
  • Spring: Bald eagle sightings.
  • October: Waterfowl and monarch butterfly migrations; leaf-peeping.
  • December: Audubon Christmas Bird Count.
  • Occasionally: Viewings of the Aurora Borealis.

Erie, Pennsylvania: Resources

  • Sommerheim Park Archaeological District: Just west of Erie.
  • The Flagship Niagara: The Flagship Niagara League and the War of 1812: This ship travels occasionally from Toledo to Erie along the lake as it did to commemorate the War of 1812 during the 2012 - 2014 celebration. Four-hour day trips are available from the dock in Erie.
  • Presque Isle: 301 Peninsula Dr, Erie, PA 16505. The Audubon Society asks folks to join their Christmas Bird Count in this location.
  • Waldameer Park and Water World in Erie PA

A Great Read for the Lake Eerie Area

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Patty Inglish MS

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