One of Ohio's best summer destinations is the 100-mile stretch of Lake Erie shore and resort towns between Toledo and Cleveland.
Marblehead and Catawba peninsulas curve into the lake and dissolve into a handful of islands, the largest of which are Kelleys, Middle Bass and South Bass, all accessible by ferry. Vacationers browse comfortable Victorian-Era towns known for their lighthouses and breezy harbors, and enjoy a taste of leisurely shore life.
South of the peninsulas, Sandusky draws visitors to its bay location with Cedar Point Amusement Park, the largest in the world, and three giant indoor water parks among its family-friendly resorts. And west of Sandusky is a lineup of natural places renowned for hikes and bird-watching.
Since 1822, this 75-foot limestone tower on the tip of Marblehead Peninsula guided ships. It's the oldest Lake Erie light in operation. Visitors to Marblehead Lighthouse State Park can take tours in the summer. You can visit the grounds for free as well as a museum in the keeper's house; a small fee is charged for lighthouse tours (419/734-4424; ohiodnr.com).
Busy Put-in-Bay village, about a 20-minute boat ride from Port Clinton, has been a destination for more than 150 years. Most guests tour Put-in-Bay and South Bass Island by bicycle or golf cart, or take guided tram tours. Attractions include Heineman's Winery (419/285-2811, heinemanswinery.com), back roads for biking, and Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial (419/285-2184; nps.gov/pev/).
Highlights of Kelleys Island, the largest and quietest of Ohio's Lake Erie islands, include glacial grooves (left), where advancing glaciers scoured long, smooth ruts (the largest in the world) deep into bedrock. Also on the island: Victoria-Era homes, a number converted into inns; 20 miles of shoreline; shady lanes for bicycling; and a manicured state park that covers a third of the island (800/255-3743; shoresandislands.com).
Cedar Point Amusement Park has a great mix of modern thrill rides and old carnival classics such as a Ferris wheel and carousels. Several of the park's 17 roller coasters offer lovely lake views -- until you start screaming, that is! Daredevils who find the roller coasters too tame head to the adjacent Challenge Park (419/627-2350; cedarpoint.com)
Bird-watchers with binoculars and telephoto lenses flock to this low-lying wetland, a haven for blue herons, egrets and other waterfowl, as well as deer, foxes and coyotes (419/898-0014; fws.gov/midwest/ottawa). You might spot bald eagles from viewing platforms or see them soaring above nature trails at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, adjacent Crane Creek State Park (entrance a mile east) or adjacent Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, next slide.
This bird-watching enclave 25 miles east of Toledo has a boardwalk trail and migratory bird center. These wetlands were part of a swamp that blocked regional settlement until it was mostly drained in the early 1900s. Peak warbler migration at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area is in early to mid-May (419/898-0960; wildohio.com).
Learn about the history and art of carousels with a guided tour of the Merry-Go-Round Museum; watch wood-carvers at work or work at the rubbing station to create your own merry-go-round art. Ride on a restored 1939 merry-go-round, in Sandusky's 80-year-old former post office (419/626-6111; merrygoroundmuseum.org)
Just east of Toledo, this lakeside preserve has a 2-mile boardwalk trail, nature center with interactive displays, two sand beaches, butterfly gazebo and other activities. Maumee Bay State Park also includes Maumee Bay Resort, with a lodge and cottages, plus golf and other recreation (419/836-1466; ohiodnr.com or maumeebayresort.com).