Lake Erie, whose name is derived from the Iroquoian term "erielhonan," meaning "long tail," is one of the five Great Lakes in East-Central North America. It is the Southernmost of the bunch and has the shallowest average depth and the warmest, most inviting waters. The Northern shoreline is mostly composed of the Canadian province of Ontario, as well as part of the U.S. state of Michigan, while the Southern section is made up of the states of Ohio, Northwestern Pennsylvania, and Western New York. Throughout these regions, there are copious amounts of charming small towns that welcome visitors to relax in the maritime scene. Here are eleven that you will not want to skip.
There is a lot going on in Sandusky, both charming and exciting. Sandusky is in Northern Ohio, in Erie County, approximately equidistant between Cleveland and Toledo. For a walk on the pleasant side of town, visitors can enjoy the long and inviting waterfront, visit some of the neat museums, or take an island-hopping ferry tour to places like Kelley's Island, Put-in-Bay, or even float across the Canadian border to Pelee Island, Ontario. For some family fun or an exhilarating time with friends, follow the screams to the mega-coasters at Cedar Point, or check out some of the year-round indoor water park resorts.
Kelleys Island, Ohio
Speaking of Kelleys Island, if you happen to take the ferry out from Sandusky, you will arrive at the adorable island and village of the same name, also in Erie County. The community has a population of only a few hundred, so there is plenty of opportunity for relaxing shoreline vibes. Aside from fun on the beach and in the water, there is also Kelleys Island State Park, Glacial Grooves State Memorial (the world's largest display of glacial scoring), and loads of other small-scale parks to satisfy every outdoor enthusiast.
Pelee Island, Ontario
The Canadian equivalent of Kelleys Island (and just a stone's skip away by ferry) is the Township of Pelee, on Pelee Island in the province of Ontario. Pelee Island is Canada's southernmost inhabited land and therefore offers one of the most consistently pleasant climates in the country. The two resident wineries take full advantage of this, making the fermented grape beverage a special draw for adult vacationers. So once again, enjoy the island microcosm by strolling around, hopping on a bike, taking a dip, or simply kicking back and watching the world float by.
Port Stanley, Ontario
Port Stanley is a harbor village in the Municipality of Central Elgin, in Elgin County, on the North Shore of Lake Erie. On the way to some of the best sands in the region, visitors can check out the different sailboats anchored in the marinas and live vicariously through all the nautical neighbors. The well-maintained Port Stanley Beach has gained Ontario's coveted Blue Flag status for its excellent water quality and environmental measures. When the sun starts to set, cruise through the village streets, filled with the standard pubs, restaurants, and ice cream parlors you would hope to see in a cute summer-tourism community.
Westfield, New York
Westfield, in Western New York, is the name of both the town in Chautauqua County and the village within this town. The entire entity of Westfield combines the vineyards and lush green landscape of the Upstate region with the lake's lovely Southern shoreline - complete with beaches and a quaint harbor. Within the scope of the internal village, there are plenty of quirky shops and cultural/community outlets to check out.
Niagara Falls, New York
Niagara Falls is a modest-sized city in Niagara County, New York, that is best known for its titular state park and magnificent waterfalls. Established in 1885, Niagara Falls State Park is the oldest of its kind in the country, proudly promoting the trifecta of Horseshoe Falls, American Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls. Some fun ways to get up close and personal with the roaring giants is to step out on the Cave of the Winds or go for a ride on the Maid of the Mist. The Niagara region is also renowned for its vineyards, drawing even more tourists who perhaps want to stay dry but still wet their palettes.
Another charming community on the Ohio side of Lake Erie is the village of Geneva-on-the-Lake, in Ashtabula County. This summer resort is for beach bums and go-getters alike. "GOTL" has a state park, a marina, zip-lining, go-karts, cycling paths, and lots of good grub and shopping outlets along "the strip." All of this, plus the outdoor concerts and general out-and-about sensibilities of the community, will restore that youthful summertime nostalgia.
No discussion of places on Lake Erie would be complete without mention of Pennsylvania's city by the same name. Though Erie is the fourth largest city in the state, it still has a population under 100,000, which preserves some of the quieter essences that comprise this list's theme. The most frequented state park in Pennsylvania, Presque Isle State Park, juts out into the lake, just across from the city's shore. Some stellar beaches can be found here. If you are around in late August, be sure to line the port for a prime view of the Tall Ships festival. But if the weather takes a turn, the Erie Maritime Museum is a great spot to soak up the area's history and maybe even check off a few local breweries on the Lake Erie Ale Trail.
Fort Erie, Ontario
Back on the Canadian side of Lake Erie, where its Northeastern aspect meets the mouth of the Niagara River, sits the Ontario town of Fort Erie. On-site, the big draws are the National Historic Site of Old Fort Erie and, as always, the long sandy beaches. Just out of town, the aforementioned Niagara Falls awaits - as does the Niagara Parkway, a 55-kilometer (34-mile) scenic drive that passes by a bunch of cute towns and pit-stop-worthy attractions. During a visit in 1943, Winston Churchill called the parkway the "prettiest Sunday afternoon drive in the world."
Long Point, Ontario
On the thin strip of land that extends out from the lake's northern shore, the Long Point hamlet is perfectly positioned between Long Point National Wildlife Area and Long Point Provincial Park, plus a string of marinas. This area is part of a World Biosphere Preserve, which helps to protect one of the largest bird and waterfowl migration areas in North America. One of the best beaches on the entire lake can be found within this provincial park. As you may have guessed, it is called Long Point Beach. This can be quite a popular spot during peak season, so plan ahead if you are hoping to snag a campsite.
Our last stop brings us to another quaint and nostalgic spot in Ohio known as Vermillion, or "Harbour Town," or "Town of Sea Captains," in both Erie and Lorain counties. Just a half-hour drive East from Sandusky and about an hour West from Cleveland, Vermillion is right in the heart of the South shore action, and yet, a place to take the foot off the gas and settle into simpler times. This small city offers visitors a number of parks and beaches to choose from, a pedestrian-friendly downtown filled with artisanal shops and fine dining, and free concerts, outdoor movies, and other fun events put on by the community.
If you like spending time by the water, floating through parks, attending fair-weather festivities, and experiencing maritime history, these charming Lake Erie towns await your arrival. This Great Lake's inviting shoreline spans across the state and international borders, ensuring a unique experience no matter what side you settle down on. Have fun and enjoy the well-deserved respite.