Aerial shot of boat on Grand Lake St. Marys (photo courtesy of Grand Lake Region Visitors Center)

Summer in Ohio’s Grand Lake Region

Built around the massive Grand Lake St. Marys, this part of northwest Ohio is known for on-the-water recreation, shoreline festivities and new places to explore.

Exploring Grand Lake St. Marys

Grand Lake St. Marys is Ohio’s largest inland lake, ideal for both unwinding and staying active. From birding and boating to fishing and camping, this 13,500-surface-acre aquatic gem has options for everyone. Formerly the world’s largest reservoir (until the Hoover Dam was completed in 1936), the body of water once fed the Miami & Erie Canal. Today’s Grand Lake is shallow yet expansive, reaching across Auglaize and Mercer counties to Celina on its northwest shore and the town of St. Marys on its northeast.

“One quirky fact about Grand Lake, it sits along a kind of continental divide,” says Dave Faler, manager at Grand Lake St. Marys State Park. “The water on the west end goes south, eventually ending up in the Ohio River, while the water on the east side goes north to Lake Erie.”

The Grand Lake Region offers a natural playground that includes restored wetlands, beaches and three decorative lighthouses for visitors to enjoy. In addition to plenty of tranquility, there is fun along the shore with live music, restaurants and events that bring travelers to town during the summer months. 

Man fishing on Grand Lake St. Marys in the early morning (photo courtesy of Grand Lake Region Visitors Center)

“If you’re looking for peace or a party, you’ll find that here,” Faler says. “Our park is a beautiful, natural area with a great diversity of wildlife … You’re also near museums that highlight bicycles, Neil Armstrong’s space exploration and Fort Recovery.”

Grand Lake’s fishing reputation makes it a hot spot for anglers, too. Ample crappie, bluegill, bass and more populate the waters. Local companies rent pontoon boats and fishing boats for those who do not have their own watercraft.

“The fish coming out of Grand Lake are some of the biggest in this area,” Faler says. “You’d have to travel far south to find this kind of fishing.”

Birding is another big attraction, with bald eagles and ospreys frequently spotted in the area. During the spring, birders who visit the region are likely to spy common loons migrating north.

“Five years ago, a large flock of American white pelicans took up residence here,” Faler adds. “They stay 11 months of the year.”

Grand Lake St. Marys State Park’s campground has 208 campsites, as well as cabins, for those who want to make a weekend of it. Nature trails and dog parks help the whole family stay active, while sandy beaches — including boater’s beaches with sand bars — are popular hangouts, as are the state park’s outdoor pool and splash pad.

The Anchor restaurant in downtown Celina (photo courtesy of Celina-Mercer County Chamber of Commerce)
Things to do in Downtown Celina

Stroll the city of Celina’s downtown district, where historic architecture blends with modern flavors and styles. Restaurants, breweries, coffeehouses and shops reflect the investment by local entrepreneurs working to make this city of nearly 11,000 residents a destination for travelers.

Co-owners Ben Amstutz and Nathan Giesige operate 211 Speakeasy Steak & Ale House, a downtown eatery that offers surf-and-turf entrees like the bone-in porterhouse and blackened scallops, along with a multitude of craft beer choices. 

Hazelnut Coffeehouse offers fresh espresso and homemade pastries served lakeside, while Brew Nation serves up cold beer and barbecue with live music on weekends. New restaurants like The Anchor, which opened in 2021, further boost downtown’s appeal. (Try appetizers like the street corn chori queso or the gourmet jalapeno popper burger.) 

The James Watson House is another addition to Celina’s food scene. Husband-and-wife team Chris and Cassie Campbell are restoring the historic Celina landmark — named for city founder James Watson Riley — as a restaurant. For the project, they partnered with Phil Moeller and Michael Hoying, owners of the late-1800s building that at various times served as a cigar factory and an opera house.

“The James Watson House will have a modern, big-city vibe with historical notes,” says Cassie. “The menu will be similar to our other restaurant, The Merchant House in Greenville … steaks, chops, pastas and seafood.”

In addition to dining, downtown Celina offers a mix of both longstanding and new shops. For over 70 years, Wilson Shoe Store has been selling name-brand fitness and fashion footwear. Jones Jeweler is another multigenerational local store known for its quality special-occasion jewelry. New shops on the block include Made Apparel, which outfits customers with screen-printed sweatshirts and tees. Made Home stocks handmade pottery, candles and home decor, while 419 Collective offers books, candies, locally made apparel and more.

People driving amphicar into water at the Celina Lake Festival (photo courtesy of Grand Lake Region Visitors Center)
Summer Festivals in the Grand Lake Region

Along Grand Lake, warmer waters and longer days mean its time for festival season. Taking full advantage of the inviting and scenic lake locale, multiple celebrations throughout the summer provide plenty of food, music and aquatic traditions that are hard to find elsewhere.

“When summer hits in Mercer County, there’s some event going on every weekend,” says Michelle Miller, Celina resident and co-chair of the Celina Lake Festival. The city’s biggest event draws anywhere from 10,000 to 18,000 people to the shore of Grand Lake. As a longtime volunteer with the festival, Miller says she loves how the free, three-day event (July 28 through 30) brings people together for fun on the lake.

Fireworks kick off the festival, as boaters and landlubbers alike watch the kaleidoscope of colors over the water. The festival highlight is the opportunity to see vehicles known as “amphicars” drive from land out onto the surface of the lake. The event draws amphicar owners from across the United States to make a splash, with some escorting local dignitaries such as the festival’s pageant queen or the mayor. Toss in a kids fishing derby, pet and dog show, a 5K run and a parade that spans two-and-a-half hours, and it’s enough to keep you busy all weekend. Classic concessions, amusement rides and live music round out the offerings at this lively celebration.

Other nearby festivals include events like the Fort Recovery Harvest Jubilee (June 14 through 18), which kicks off the summer festival season with an antique tractor show, dodgeball tournament, animal petting zoo, pie-baking contest, parade and lots of rides, music and food. Zuma Days (June 16 and 17) transforms a small park in Montezuma into a party with a live auction, reverse raffle and kiddie tractor pull, plus live bands and inflatables for the kids to enjoy.

Tractors that do-si-do are just one of the fun events at the Maria Stein Country Fest (June 23 through 25), which also includes live entertainment, sporting competitions and local foods and is held on the beautiful grounds of the Maria Stein Shrine.

This year’s St. Marys Summerfest (Aug. 10 through 13) coincides with the lakeshore community’s bicentennial year. The full schedule of events includes live music, concessions, midway rides, cutest baby and pet contests, a kiddie tractor pull, a rubber duck race and lots more summer fun. 

When You Go 
Learn more about the Grand Lake Region and the destinations mentioned in this article at

Grand Lake St. Marys State Park

Food & Drink

211 Speakeasy Steak & Ale House

Brew Nation

Hazelnut Coffeehouse

The Anchor

The James Watson House


419 Collective

Jones Jeweler

Made Apparel

Made Home

Wilson Shoe Store


Celina Lake Festival

Fort Recovery Harvest Jubilee

Maria Stein Country Fest

St. Marys Summerfest

Zuma Days