Lake Erie is Open!

The ferries are running, beaches are open and there’s a full line-up of festivals and fun just waiting for you to join in. Here are 25 of the lake’s best events, plus a look at what’s new and other top ways to spend a summer day.
The lake is open for business — and fun. Below you'll find a list of top events, plus what's new and the best outdoor dining, beaches and views. 

April 30-May 2
Progressive Catawba Island Boat Show
Catawba Island Club
Come to see the boats, of course, but also to explore boating accessories, seminars and services and to enjoy live music and good eats. Port Clinton, Ohio,

May 6-10
The Biggest Week in American Birding
While the event is virtual this year, it’s still packed with keynote speakers and workshops, as well as virtual visits to top birding hot spots in northwest Ohio. 

May 27-31
Walleye Festival
Water Works Park
This annual event celebrates 40 years this May with an array of free, live concerts, a kids fishing derby, grand parade, educational programs and activities, a 5K run/walk and delicious food and drinks. Port Clinton, Ohio,

June 18-20
Festival of the Fish
Downtown Vermilion
Every year the city of Vermilion celebrates the sea on a grand scale with a lighted boat parade, pet parade, sandcastle-building contest, crazy craft race, pageants, antique wooden boat parade, firefighter water fights, fireworks, food, entertainment, markets and more! Vermilion, Ohio,

May 11
Blessing of the Fleet
Fox’s Dock
The boats, aircraft and safety vehicles that service the Bass Islands will be blessed by local clergy. Coffee, hot chocolate and cookies will be served on the dock. Put-in-Bay, Ohio,

June 5
Put-in-Bay Music Festival
The Boathouse Bar & Grill Parking Lot
Celebrate peace through music at this free concert! Attendees also will enjoy playing the Battle of Lake Erie Corn Toss, kids’ music, crafts, yard games, music workshops on drumming and beginner/advanced ukulele, and a Guitar Hero competition. Put-in-Bay, Ohio,

June 11-13
Bacon Fest
Kelleys Island Wine Co.
Come celebrate a love of all things pork with a pig roast, a weekend-long bacon takeover menu, bacon-themed cocktails and prizes awarded for the best bacon attire. Live music all weekend. Kelleys Island, Ohio,

June 12
Founders Day
DeRivera Park
Celebrate the founding of Put-in-Bay by Hispanic merchant Jose DeRivera with vendors, hot dogs, strawberry “shore-cake,” root beer floats and lots of fun. Put-in-Bay, Ohio,

June 21-23
River Days
Detroit Riverfront
Celebrate the city’s waterfront with activities on land and water, including plenty of live music, Jet Ski demos, sand sculptures, air shows, zip lines, boat tours and delicious eats. Detroit,

June 25-28
Pyrate Fest
DeRivera Park
Witness the return of the Pyrate King as he hoists the Pyrate flags Friday night, followed by the annual Pyrate Bar Crawl. Saturday brings family fun, including costume contests for kids and adults. Sunday is the annual 5k Pyrate Run and Fun Walk. Put-in-Bay, Ohio,

June 26-27
Beach Glass Festival
Ashtabula Harbor
Whether you collect, create artwork with or just admire beach glass and beach-inspired designs, this is a must-see event. Ashtabula, Ohio,

June 27
Blues & Barbecue Festival
Hotel Lakeside Lawn
Enjoy the music of the Honey and Blue band while enjoying delicious barbecue favorites and participating in organized park games, such as Gaga Ball, sand volleyball and field day games. Lakeside, Ohio,

July 10
KI’s Got Talent
Memorial Park
This second annual juried talent show invites islanders and visitors to showcase their talent, whether it’s singing, acrobatics, impressions or anything else. Kelleys Island, Ohio,

July 10-11
Toledo Lighthouse Waterfront Festival 
Maumee Bay State Park 
Come for the island music, food, boat rides, nautical-themed art and crafts, sandcastles, children’s activities, fireworks and, of course, the lighthouse. Oregon, Ohio, 

July 10-11
Taste of Buffalo 
Downtown Buffalo 
Taste of Buffalo is the largest two-day food festival in the United States. From Indian to Polish, Italian to Chinese, Caribbean to Irish, there is a cuisine to please every taste bud. Wineries from New York showcase their award-winning vintages, while music and food demonstrations complete the list of things to taste, hear, see and do. Buffalo, 

July 16-18
Island Fest
Memorial Park
The island’s No. 1 event of the season features Ohio artisans, local crafters, kids’ games, food vendors and a beer tent. Kelleys Island, Ohio,

July 16-18
Plein Air Art Festival and Wooden Boat Show
Lakeside Chautauqua
More than 40 plein air artists arrive to paint outdoor scenes throughout the community — and all are invited to watch them paint. On Sunday, the Lakeside waterfront will transform into an outdoor showroom of classic wooden boats as cruisers line the lawn of Hotel Lakeside. Lakeside, Ohio,

July 17
Headlands BeachFest 
Headlands Beach State Park
Head to Ohio’s longest beach to take in more than 20 arts vendors selling beach-themed item, as well as kite flying, games, live music, food and the highlight — three world-champion sand sculptors competing against each other for the win. Mentor, Ohio,

July 19-25
Chautauqua County Fair 
Chautauqua County Fairgrounds 
This annual family event combines farming, food and fun. Highlights include a demolition derby, rides, lots of entertainment and great food. Dunkirk, New York, 716-366-4752, 

July 25
Chocolate and Wine Walk
Downtown Vermilion
This Christmas-in-July themed event offers the chance to shop, wine and dine throughout the quaint streets of Vermilion. Vermilion, Ohio,

July 31
Chicago Live in Concert
Artpark Mainstage Theater
Join this legendary band for hits like “Saturday in the Park” and “You’re the Inspiration” in this outdoor venue. Lewiston, New York,

Aug. 5-8
Eden Corn Festival 
American Legion Post 880
Enjoy a wide variety of delicious foods, a tractor pull, square dancing, an arts and crafts show, auto show, musical entertainers, animal shows, contests and much more. And don’t forget to indulge in some buttery, juicy, sweet corn on the cob before you leave. Eden, New York, 

Aug. 6-8
America’s Grape Country Wine Festival 
Chautauqua County Fairgrounds
Enjoy the offerings of New York’s best wineries, agricultural producers, breweries and distilleries — all in one place. Plus live music, chainsaw wood carving, a classic car show and more. Dunkirk, New York, 

Aug. 11-12
Erie County Fair 
Hamburg Fairgrounds
A classic summer fair, complete with a midway, live music, agricultural competitions, rides, delicious food and more. Hamburg, New York,

Sept. 10-11
Red, White & Blues Festival
Throughout Fredonia
Eat, drink and enjoy live music at this event, which this summer marks 25 years of celebrating local vineyards and wineries, blues musicians and restaurants. Fredonia, New York,

What’s New
Overnight in the Trees 

Ready to go out on a limb? Then book a stay at Cannaley Treehouse Village, near Toledo, Ohio, which is billed as the largest public overnight treehouse site in the country. The village, which opened last summer, includes four tree-top cabins and three tent or hammock platforms, as well as slides, suspended cargo nets and rope ladders. Flatwood Commons, the day-use treehouse with a canopy walkway and crow’s nest lookout, can be rented for parties of up to 50 people.
Cannaley Village is in the Beach Ridge area of the Toledo Metroparks’ Oak Openings Preserve, which is already well known for its Instagram-friendly stand of oak trees and rare inland dune habitat formed when Lake Erie receded 10,000 years ago. A new 12-mile mountain-bike trail skirts the edge of the village and even inspired the bicycle theme of the four-person treehouse known as The Hub. The others are The Nest and The Dragline, built for two, and The Stable, a six-person treehouse. All treehouses have electricity, heat and air conditioning for year-round use.

Take Five
The View from Above

These observation towers will be a high point on your travels around Lake Erie.

Point Pelee National Park — Ontario
Point Pelee may be the spot where southernmost mainland Canada disappears under the waves of Lake Erie, but it’s the new observation tower rising above it all that has everyone talking. The nearly 80-foot-tall structure, which opened last August, is the result of a $3 million investment into the park. After climbing 144 stairs, you’ll have a panoramic view of the tip, not to mention views across Lake Erie to Pelee Island and beyond.

Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial — Put-in-Bay, Ohio
Perry’s Memorial towers 352 feet over the harbor, from which Oliver Hazard Perry led his naval fleet to victory over the British in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. Play a game of island “I Spy” from the top of the Greek Doric column that commemorates the lasting peace along the border with Canada. 

William C. Sterling State Park — Monroe, Michigan
This park boasts a mile-long sandy beach, lakefront camping, a boat launch and fishing lagoon. But the preserved marsh habitat is the reason that Michigan’s only state park on Lake Erie exists in the first place. Sterling was a 19th-century businessman and avid duck hunter who helped form the 5,000-acre Monroe Marsh Club by buying up what was considered worthless swamp. Today, 7 miles of trails are preserved for hiking, biking and wildlife viewing. Take the 2.9-mile paved Marsh Trail that skirts the largest lagoon in the park until you reach the observation tower at the 1-mile mark. From atop the metal structure, the entire lagoon comes into view, making it easy to spot waterfowl, such as egrets.

Bicentennial Tower — Erie, Pennsylvania
Rising 187 feet above Presque Isle Bay, Erie’s Bicentennial Tower is the centerpiece of the city’s Bayfront District, which includes the Erie Maritime Museum and the Sheraton Bayfront hotel. Take the elevator (or climb the 210 steps) to the viewing platform for a 360-degree view of Erie, the bay, Presque Isle and, on a clear day, Canada’s coastline. Access to the tower is free on the first Tuesday of the month; otherwise, the cost is $5 for adults, $2 for ages 7 to 12 and free for the little ones.

Buffalo Erie Basin Marina — Buffalo
It’s a little-known fact that the Buffalo Erie Basin Marina is designed in the shape of the city’s namesake animal. See if you can spot it from the marina’s observation deck at the end of Erie Street — also the site of a now complete state-funded boardwalk. The concrete structure has long narrow windows on its four sides that perfectly frame panoramas of the Buffalo skyline, the marina and Lake Erie, where it funnels water into the Niagara River.

What’s New
The Island Tobacconist

Standing 300 feet off Langram Road near the airport on Ohio’s South Bass Island is a nondescript, yellow steel building — home to the new Great Lake Tobacconist Shop and Museum.
Walk through the open garage door, and you’re met with the aroma of cigars, as well as a 1921 Ford Model T roadster, 1926 Ford Touring sedan and 1929 Model A Board Huckster. The walls are covered with old cigar signs, and the room is filled with antique display cases of cigar boxes dating back to 1888. An antique bar on the back wall contains 60 types of bourbon plus some rum and scotch. If shop owner Richard Warren likes you, he’ll offer you a pour, but the liquor is not for sale. 
And then there are the cigars, including 8,500 hand-rolled premium cigars.  
Warren attributes his love of cigars to his grandfather and uncle, who shared their cigars with him. He had his first hand-rolled cigar when he was 20 years old and serving in the Coast Guard in Costa Brava, Spain — and loved it. “The taste and the aroma of a hand-rolled cigar from the Canary Islands was absolutely amazing," he says. "I've only smoked hand-rolled since that first one."
His cigar-related travels have taken him to Honduras, Mexico, China and the Dominican Republic, where he partnered with a boutique cigar-maker to produce his cigars. His first cigar, The Niagara, was produced to celebrate the 200th anniversary of 1812’s Battle of Lake Erie. Warren is making a special, limited-edition Mary Ann cigar to honor the launch of Miller Ferries newest ferry (see page XX). 
The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to noon, with free admission.

What’s New
The Lady on the Lake 
The ride to Put-in-Bay, Ohio, will be faster this summer.
That’s thanks to the Mary Ann Market, the newest addition to the Miller Ferries fleet, which will provide service between the mainland and South Bass Island. The vessel is named in tribute to Mary Ann Market, who died in 2010. She and her late husband, Bill, purchased the ferry line from Mary Miller in 1978.
“We think emotions will be running high the day the Mary Ann Market docks next to the William Market in Put-in-Bay,” says Miller Ferries owner Julene Market. 
The new ferry is 140 feet long and 38.5 feet wide with a 7-foot draft. Able to transport 600 passengers and 28 vehicles, she is the fifth and largest ferry in the fleet. 
Construction began in 2019 at the Fraser Shipyards in Superior, Wisconsin, but incurred delays due to the coronavirus pandemic. The new $7 million, all-steel, drive-on, drive-off ferry is better suited for running in rough weather or at night. Her three Caterpillar C18s engines give her a faster top speed and make her more maneuverable in heavier winds and seas. 
The main deck has a cabin for passengers unable to climb stairs to the upper deck. The passenger spaces and pilot house are heated and have a new feature – air conditioning.
The added ferry will help meet growth demands of carrying larger vehicles and transporting more than 450,000 passengers annually.

Take Five
Outdoor Dining

There’s something about dining al fresco that just makes everything better. Here are five spots that offer a meal with a view.

Erie Steak and Seafood — Lorain, Ohio
For 24 years, visitors to Lorain’s waterfront could dine at the Jackalope, but, following the 2019 season, owner Jim Andrews revamped the menu and renovated the décor — coinciding with new ownership at what’s now known as Oasis Marina. The fare tends toward upscale (in addition to its namesake cuisine, expect pasta dishes and shareables), but in a casual setting, and the views are phenomenal. The third floor is available to rent as well for banquets.

Briquettes Smokehouse — Ashtabula, Ohio
Since 2009, Briquettes in Ashtabula’s historic harbor has been the place to go for lip-smacking barbecue (the corned beef is a religious experience). Its current location, opened in 2016, is a three-story building on Bridge Street, itself a trendy walkable area of small shops, restaurants and other retail establishments, and includes an expansive patio overlooking the harbor and the distinctive Ashtabula Lift Bridge — a rare bascule bridge that uses a single span with a counterweight.

Bayfront Grille — Erie, Pennsylvania
Located in the Sheraton Erie Bayfront Hotel, the Bayfront Grille offers formal dining, with a menu of steaks, seafood and pasta, as well as a full bar. Seating is available indoors or outdoors on the patio — and not just for summer; the restaurant offers patio dining in heated igloos (even before COVID-19) for diners to gaze on the frozen bay without getting chilled from the lakefront cold. Reservations are required.

Southern Tier Brewing — Lakewood, New York
Since 2002, this brewery, not far from Lake Erie and closer still to Lake Chautauqua, has been turning out a variety of beers, including dark, dessert-themed beers and its famous Pumking Imperial Ale. Recently, it’s branched out into distilling and selling its whiskey, vodka and gin. Its original facility offers tours and has a small brewpub (look for smaller taprooms in downtown Cleveland and on Pittsburgh’s North Shore). Outdoor dining is pet-friendly and features live music on weekends in the summer.

The Beach House — Port Dover, Ontario
The Canadian side of Lake Erie is well-known for commercial fishing (anglers on the American side are mostly recreational) — and that can easily be seen from the deck of the Beach House, as can the Port Dover Lighthouse, a historic landmark. As expected, the mostly casual menu features an abundance of seafood items, but there’s enough variety for just about any taste. The restaurant, open since 2004, also has a popular Sunday brunch.

Take Five
Lake Erie Beaches

The feel of the sand, the gentle breeze, the shimmering blue lake water … there’s no better way to enjoy the lake during the summer than at a beach. Here are five of our favorites along Lake Erie.

Edgewater Beach — Cleveland
Generations of Northeast Ohioans have been enjoying this lakefront park, part of the Cleveland parks system since 1894. The beach is open to swimmers, volleyball players and anglers (with a valid license, of course) and is pet-friendly. In 2017, a new $4.3 million beach house opened, offering locally sourced food and rotating craft beer from area brewers, as well as standard beach dining fare.

Point Pelee National Park — Leamington, Ontario
The southernmost point of mainland Canada, Point Pelee offers a variety of ecosystems, from marshes to forests and, yes, even beaches (specifically, 20 kilometers of beach, or roughly 12 miles). There are also bathhouse facilities and picnic grounds. (Check with the park to see what might be open based on pandemic restrictions.) The park is also fully bike-accessible and, because it’s under a migratory flightpath, remains a great spot for birdwatching in the spring and fall.

Presque Isle State Park — Erie, Pennsylvania
The peninsular park (its name, given by French settlers, means “nearly an island”) is the most popular park in Pennsylvania, and it’s easy to see why. It’s the only one in the Keystone State with a “surf beach” (literally: There’s a small but devoted surfing scene there — typically during the fall and winter), allowing for swimming, boating and fishing. Bicyclists appreciate its ample trails.

Port Stanley Beach — Ontario
Generations of vacationers have been visiting the Main Beach, once called the Coney Island of the Great Lakes for its amusement rides and other activities. Those are gone, but the beach — awarded Blue Flag status for its water quality and public safety benchmarks — remains a popular destination for recreation, from swimming to boating and personal water craft riding (available nearby for rental). Don’t forget to stop for Mackie’s orange drink while you’re there. There’s also the Little Beach, nearby but more quiet and secluded. If you’re a little more land-oriented, there’s a railway museum — and a train that operates between Port Stanley and St. Thomas. 

Evangola State Park — Irving, New York
Flanked by cliffs of Angola shale, the main beach at this state park, founded in 1954, is a popular destination in Western New York. In addition to the beach, the park features campgrounds (and yurts) and a disc golf course, and is a popular destination for weddings (there’s a hall on the park grounds that can be rented for events) and wedding photos. During the winter, the park offers cross-country skiing and other cold-weather activities.

What’s New
The Island Port  

After what turned out to be a soft opening due to COVID-19 last year, the Island Port is now fully open for business at the Jet Express dock in Port Clinton, Ohio. Formerly warehouse space, the building has been transformed into a passenger terminal, decorated with a modern industrial look but with nautical touches (naturally), with a full-service bar and full kitchen open to the public. Plans are being ironed out for a live music lineup, with space available to rent for private events.
“We want it to be inviting and cozy, where you can have a drink and watch the sunset,” says Chase Eagleson of the Jet Express.