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Lake Erie Cities and Attractions on The Great Lakes Circle Tour

Updated on September 23, 2018
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish has 30 years of successful experience in medicine, psychology, STEM courses, and aerospace education (CAP).

Sunset on Lake Erie near Maumee State Park
Sunset on Lake Erie near Maumee State Park | Source

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 of us are unaware that a route completely around the Great Lakes exists, besides the fact that it is so long - like driving across the United States twice.

I first heard about The Great Lakes Circle Tour in 2003 on a visit to Michigan, were 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, dining on diverse cuisine in the towns along the way.

Lake Erie counties in Ohio.
Lake Erie counties in Ohio. | Source

Pennsylvania has just one county along Lake Erie: Erie County with the largest attraction being Presque Isle.

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.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
 Wabash and Erie Canal historic marker Lorain Lighthouse at sunset.
 Wabash and Erie Canal historic marker
Wabash and Erie Canal historic marker | Source
Lorain Lighthouse at sunset.
Lorain Lighthouse at sunset. | Source

Toledo to Lorain

Major Cities

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

What to See

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 area, 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.

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 ogf 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 especailly 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 wth 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 the Cedar Point park along State Route 6 is 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 eary 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 area 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. | Source

Birding at Lake Erie

Favorite Spots to View Ships

Major Cities

  • 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 favitre 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.

Erie Wrecks West
Erie Wrecks West

On tours around the Great Lakes, I have seen many sunken wrecks and find this book to describe the most riveting examples. Ohio and Michigan certainly have quite a few wrecks, with legends and family stories attached to them. Some are as old as the War of 1812 - 1814 that was fought on the lakes and they remind us of our continued fight for freedom, even after the American Revolution.

 
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame | Source

Cleveland to Conneaut/Conneaut Lake

Major Cities

  • 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 Painesvlle, 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 Asthabula, 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

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" is a word from one of the nations in the Iroquois Confederacy. It is originally "Ga-nen-yot", meaning "standing stone."

Conneaut OH Harbor
Conneaut OH Harbor | Source

Conneaut to Erie, Pennsylvania

An amazing number of wineries continue to develop across the state line from Conneaut. Ohio and Pennslvania share tourism form 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 5 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.

Source

Turtles at Presque Isle
Turtles at Presque Isle | Source

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 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.

Source

Erie, Pennsylvania

  • Sommerheim Park Archaeological District: Just west of Erie.
  • The Flagship Niagara: The Flagship Niagara League and the War of 1812: flagshipniagaraleague.com 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 fiolks to join their Christmas Bird Count in this location.
  • Waldameer Park and Water World in Erie PA

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Frigate Niagara in transit on Maumee BayThe Niagara at Erie PA.
The Frigate Niagara in transit on Maumee Bay
The Frigate Niagara in transit on Maumee Bay | Source
The Niagara at Erie PA.
The Niagara at Erie PA. | Source

© 2011 Patty Inglish MS

Comments

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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      5 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      I love it up around the lake! Some new parks are under contruction there, so it gets even better.

    • Jenn-Anne profile image

      Jenn-Anne 

      5 years ago

      Great hub Patty! Been up and around Erie many, many times. There is so much to see and do and it all very beautiful. This guide is incredibly useful!

    • HaileyChambers profile image

      HaileyChambers 

      6 years ago from Avon Lake, Ohio

      Fantastic article!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      I don't know about the Ontario side yet, but the Ohio side has camping along the entire route. There are more campgrounds than I could mention here. Have a good time!

    • Phil Plasma profile image

      Phil Plasma 

      7 years ago from Montreal, Quebec

      I am dreaming of buying an Aliner Classic and would love to do the Great Lakes tour. The detail you've given me here tells me how many parks there are that we could potentially camp in along the way.

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 

      7 years ago from Northern, California

      Awesome Patty!So many things to appreciate about the great lakes and the surrounding areas! Thanks for another great hub~

      K9

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Holy cow, I knew the Great Lakes were great... but not THAT great! They're HUGGGEEEEE!!!! The Great Lakes Circle Tour sounds like quite epic vacation - you've described so many different sites to see along the way!

      I'm quickly learning through all of your Hubs just how little of this nation I've seen O_O

      But hey... that just means I've got more to enjoy! Yay!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Enjoy the tours of any the Great Lakes next year! Lots of the towns have museums and art galleries, festivals, and unique restaurants. Thanks for commenting as well!

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 

      7 years ago from UK

      This is a wonderful hub- full of valuable information. We're planning a trip to this region next year and this has been immensely useful. Thanks Patty- voted up/useful/awesome!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Yes, it's nice to see more visitors to the Great Lakes as well. Thanks, Denise!

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Wonderful hub filled with interesting info for the traveller. I loved the turtle photo! Our Midwest/Great Lakes region sure is getting the spotlight!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      At one time, ferries ran between Detroit, Toledo, and Cleveland at least. It would be nice if we could have them back. Thanks for your comment, suziecat7!

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 

      7 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Great Hub. It's been quite some time since I've been around the lakes but I remember being so impressed by Lake Erie. Thanks for the interesting read. (I'm a geography freak) Rated up!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Thanks for reading and making such a positive comment, prairieprincess!

      Our Governor, John Kasich,just saved part of Lake Erie by vetoing a bill that would allow businesses to draw off 15 million gallons of water a day from the lake without a permit. I hope the legislature does not override it.

    • prairieprincess profile image

      Sharilee Swaity 

      7 years ago from Canada

      Wow, Patty! What an amazing hub! I have been around that area a fe times (from Ontario to Maine) and always find the lakes to be so incredible with their size and beauty.

      I love the way you have incorporated the maps into the hub. This would be very useful for someone planning a trip to the area. Voted up useful beautiful and awesome!

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