While it’s true places like The Catskills in New York and The Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee have some truly legendary fall foliage, Ohio’s certainly no slouch when it comes to proudly displaying autumn’s complexion. Whether it’s the rolling reds of Hocking Hills, the searing oranges of Cleveland’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park or the blazing yellows of Wooster’s tree lined streets, we Ohioans have it pretty good.
That being said, sometimes it’s nice to venture a little off-the-beaten path to a few lesser-known locales. A few spots where the tepid waters of Lake Erie provide the perfect canvas for fall’s burst of chroma. Or just maybe, if you’re feeling wild, even put an island in your life. So, without further adieu, let’s take a look at some small towns on Lake Erie who’s true colors may surprise you a bit.
Huron, Ohio: Just past the edge of Sandusky in the town of Huron, Ohio, the contiguous wetlands of Sheldon’s Marsh State Nature Preserve are most frequented during the spring, due large in part to a bird migration that attracts nearly 300 species. However, that’s not why we’re here. We’re here because of this…look below. A one-mile paved trail will take you to Lake Erie’s edge and hopefully, if you time it right, give you this type of photo opp.
Local’s Tip: If you’re looking for a quick bite to eat and don’t mind driving an extra five minutes, try the Sand Bar. It may look like an unassuming diner, but the food is terrific and the service is excellent. Go for the pizza.
Sandusky, Ohio: The renaissance-minded town not only has Cedar Point, home of the extremely popular Halloweekends, but a downtown historic district that is seriously booming and a ton of lookout points to scope the beautiful fall colors surrounding Sandusky Bay. This particular spot, and yes we could’ve picked a better photo that actually showed leave’s color (the sunset is worth it don’t you think?), is called Shoreline Park.
Local’s Tip: Sandusky’s restaurant and bar scene has exploded over the last 5-7 years, which is great news for anyone visiting for the night. Try the Volstead Bar for a 30’s style speakeasy cocktail or Small City Taphouse for authentic Vietnamese Cuisine, sushi and 50+ beers on tap. Looking to stay overnight? Hotel Kilbourne, a 9-room luxury boutique hotel, just opened and features Sandusky’s first-ever rooftop bar, Moseley’s Public House.
Vermilion, Ohio: This quaint harbor town sits directly on Lake Erie and the Vermilion River, making it ideal for boaters and almost feels New Englandly. Don’t bother looking that up, it’s not a word. Vermilion’s waterborne location also makes it an awesome spot for scoping fall colors — Everything downtown is also within walking distance. So park your car, pop down to Main St. Beach and start snapping photos.
Local’s Tip: Woodstock Cafe, a colorful spot focused on local sustainability, is a great place to grab a coffee and gourmet sandwich — Great selection of craft beer as well, if you’re into that sort of thing. We are.
Put-in-Bay, Ohio: Yes, this legendary island is home to a bevy of taverns and pubs, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Put-in-Bay has a sneaky good outdoorsy side and is absolutely beautiful pretty much any time of the year, especially in the fall. Combine this unique location on the western basin of Lake Erie with events like the Island Wine Festival and Put-in-Bay Oktoberfest and boom, there’s no reason you shouldn’t go.
Travel Tip: The Miller Ferry, the easiest and most affordable transportation to the islands, is just $14 RT per person. You should probably take your dog too, since they ride for free. You’re welcome Fido.
Marblehead, Ohio: On your way to the Miller Ferry, you should probably stop off to see one of Lake Erie’s most iconic landmarks. Marblehead Lighthouse is not only the region’s most photographed spots, but is the oldest lighthouse in continuous operation on the United States side of the Great Lakes. From the rocky headlands of Marblehead Peninsula you can look out and see Kelleys Island, Put-in-Bay and the rollercoaster-laden skyline of Cedar Point. And while the Lighthouse gets a lot of the attention, the town of Marblehead itself is gorgeous.
Local’s Tip: If you’re looking to spend the night or even just visit a unique winery, the Redfern Inn at Rocky Point Winery is the perfect spot. Guests here have access to bicycles, a private lounge on the grounds of the winery and several fires pits with gorgeous views of the lake.
Have another Lake Erie town you’d like to add? We know there’s more, these just happen to be the one’s we frequented last year.