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Travel | Lake Erie Islands

Ohio Road Trips: Lake Erie Shore

Lighthouses, a historic freighter and a new nautical museum offer insight into how Lake Erie shaped our state. 

Toledo to Mentor | 157 miles

Ohio’s Lake Erie shoreline stretches 312 miles, making it a prime avenue for a long summer drive. Our Great Lake once served as a water source for the Erie Native American tribe and later helped guide early frontiersmen as they made their way across a then-wild northern Ohio. It became a means of access for settlers from New England and, after the Industrial Revolution, proved vital for shipping raw materials. “The Great Lakes was and still is important to the steel industry,” explains Dante Centuori, director of creative productions at Great Lakes Science Center. “A large part of the U.S. and Canadian steel industry is concentrated around the Great Lakes.” A leisurely drive along the meandering shoreline from the the new National Museum of the Great Lakes in Toledo to the Fairport Harbor West Breakwater Lighthouse offers insight into our state’s nautical past.

1. The National Museum of the Great Lakes: The new museum set to open April 26 teaches visitors about the Great Lakes through interactive exhibits and is home to the S.S. Col. James M. Schoonmaker museum ship. “We’re different than other maritime museums because we look across the Great Lakes,” says executive director Christopher Gillcrist. “It’s the only place you’ll see artifacts from all five of the lakes.” 1701 Front St., Toledo 43605, 440/967-3467,

2. Marblehead Lighthouse State Park:
Marblehead is home to the oldest continually operating lighthouse on the Great Lakes. “There’s a lot of history here, and you have the opportunity to go up in the lighthouse,” says park manager Mike Monnett. “During sunrise and sunset there are beautiful views of the islands.” 110 Lighthouse Dr., Marblehead 43440, 419/734-4424,

3. Steamship William G. Mather: The William G. Mather transported goods across the Great Lakes for 55 years. Now moored outside the Great Lakes Science Center, the ship serves as a floating museum. “The interior is restored to different eras so you get a taste of what it was like in different time periods,” says the science center’s Dante Centuori. “You can go to the lower guest lounge and it’s like it was in the ’20s.” Seasonal hours, 601 Erieside Ave., Cleveland 44114, 216/694-2000,

4. Headlands Beach State Park: Home to the longest beach on Lake Erie, millions of visitors flock to this state park each year. “It’s one mile of natural sand,” says park manager Phil Vichosky. “It’s the largest natural sand beach in the state of Ohio.” It offers places to picnic and hike and is bordered by two nature preserves. 9601 Headlands Rd., Mentor 44060, 440/466-8400,

5. Fairport Harbor: West Breakwater Lighthouse: This lighthouse at the mouth of the Grand River was lit in June 1925. Today, a private citizen owns the landmark. “This is one of the few working lighthouses,” says owner Sheila Consaul, who offers tours and an annual open house. The National Weather Service also has a weather station inside. 9601 Headlands Rd., Mentor 44060,