Lake Hope State Park
Travel | Great Ohio Road Trips

5 Must-Visit Ohio State Parks on the Water

Ohio State Parks offer access to wide-open lakes and all the fun that comes with them. These summer hot spots are a good place to start.

Nine out of 10 Ohio State Parks offer boating or paddling as recreation options and nearly three-fourths have places to swim, making our state’s 75-park system a great choice for on-the-water fun as temperatures soar. With locations scattered throughout the state, there’s bound to be one close by, but the decision of where to head depends on what you’re looking for. Choices range from tent camping for those who want to rough it to laid-out lodges that offer all the creature comforts one could ask for.

1. Lake Hope State Park: Located in the middle of Zaleski State Forest, this 2,983-acre park draws those looking for a relaxing experience on its 120-surface-acre lake. Visitors can rent pontoon boats, paddleboards, canoes, kayaks and even hydrobikes. “The pontoon boats we offer are perfect for families,” says Lori Grupenhof, the park’s assistant manager. “And the hydrobikes, which are like two pontoons with a bike on top, go fairly fast. They’re kind of the Rolls Royce of paddleboats.” There’s also a 600-foot swimming beach for those who want to take a dip. The southeast Ohio state park has a remote feel, but there is the 24-room Laurel Lodge for an overnight stay in addition to the nearly 200 campsites. 27331 St. Rte. 278, McArthur 45651,  740/596-4938,

2. Salt Fork State Park: Ohio’s largest state park covers more than 17,000 acres and is home to the 2,952-surface-acre Salt Fork Lake, which winds like a snake through the rolling hills of Guernsey County. In the summer, boating, tubing, fishing and water-skiing draw visitors to the water. “We’re a big boaters’ lake,” says park manager Adam Sikora. “We get boats of various sizes coming down … any kind of boating recreation [is] a popular activity.” Three areas are designated as boater-swim sections. The park is also home to a 2,500-foot public swimming beach, 13 miles of hiking trails and 72 miles of bridle trails. The on-site lodge has 148 guest rooms, and its Timbers Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. 14755 Cadiz Rd., Lore City 43755, 740/439-3521,

3. Portage Lakes State Park: This Summit County park is home to eight navigable lakes that weave through the area and pass by both public spaces and private homes. “The Portage Lakes were created through glaciation,” explains park manager Mike Studeny. “Kettle lakes is what they’re called … they’re not manmade.” The quieter areas draw kayakers and pontoon boats, but there are also two designated speed zones that boast 400-horsepower limits. At Portage Lake State Park’s beach, travelers will find a volleyball court, a shoreline hiking trail and a dog park. 5031 Manchester Rd., Akron 44319, 330/644-2220,

4. Maumee Bay State Park: For those looking for a coastal feel, the 1,336-acre Maumee Bay State Park offers a distinct experience created by its proximity to Lake Erie. The 124-room lodge, 24 cottages and Scottish Links Golf Course are surrounded by meadows, woods and marshes filled with diverse plant and animal life. Visitors have direct access to Lake Erie, and can take in views of the coastal wetland from the 2-mile boardwalk. The park also has two inland lakes. “A lot of kayaking gets done around there,” says park manager Andy Thompson. Off the water, guests can enjoy a nature center and 10 miles of multipurpose trails often used for horseback riding and biking. 1400 State Park Rd., Oregon 43616, 419/836-7758,

5. Alum Creek State Park: A 25-minute drive north from Columbus, Alum Creek State Park is home to the 3,387-surface-acre Alum Creek Lake. Boaters flock here for the quiet coves and swimmers are drawn to Ohio’s largest inland beach, which stretches more than 3,000 feet. Fishing, jet-skiing and kayaking are popular, and the marina rents boats, personal watercraft, kayaks and more. “The lake is unlimited horsepower, so it’s pretty packed here with the boating crowd,” says park manager Jason Meyers. The 4,630-acre park features a disc-golf course and 14 miles of mountain biking trails. 3305 S. Old State Rd., Lewis Center 43015, 740/548-4631,

State Parks on the Water | Minor League Ballparks | Adams County Quilt Barns | Antique Superstores | Gardens | Retro Diners | College-Town Eats | Quirky Museums | Night Skies