From ziplining and glamping to movies under the stars and scenic views of the northern lights, get the scoop on activities for the entire family to enjoy once the sun goes down.

There’s a certain something in the air after the sun sets on a hot summer night — and we’re not just talking about humidity. It’s the feeling that anything could happen. We’re here to help make that something happen, whether you’re looking for action, adventure or just a good movie under the stars.

1. Chase the Northern Lights

If you’re up for the challenge, this is the ultimate Lake Erie adventure. 

See that photo on the cover of the July/August issue of Lake Erie Living? It’s the northern lights, also called the aurora borealis — and it was taken in Ohio.

Yeah, we didn’t think that was possible either.

Even the photographer, who’s been chasing the northern lights in these parts for years, wasn’t certain that was possible.

“I honestly couldn’t believe it made it that good a show in Ohio,” says Matt Shiffler, who lives in Cleveland. “I was blown away that it reached Ohio like that.”

The showing was due to a rare confluence of atmospheric events,
according to experts. Specifically, it’s increased sunspot activity sending flares down into our atmosphere. 

“When that all collides, that’s what causes the aurora and the lights to show,” Shiffler says.

Shiffler took his photo this April, but he says the northern lights are predicted to be showing even more intensely in the Lake Erie region as we head into 2024.

To be in the right place in the right time, Shiffler turns to, well, his phone. His favorite app is called Aurora Now — Northern Lights. On the night he took this photo, it showed a 50% probability of the lights being visible along Ohio’s stretch of Lake Erie.

Those were the highest odds he’d ever seen, so he headed out — and stayed out till 3:30 a.m.

“It’s so unpredictable,” he says. “But I would say just get out there and try to experience it. It is a chase. There is a chance for disappointment. That’s half the fun. A night under the stars brings a lot of calm and peace. It’s a beautiful night regardless. Just keep trying.”

Moseley’s Rooftop Bar

2. Top It Off

Lake views and aperitifs abound at Lake Erie’s rooftop bars. Here are three of our favorites.

Eat, Drink and Be Maritime: Peer over Presque Isle Bay at Oliver’s Rooftop, atop the Hampton Inn & Suites in Erie, Pennsylvania. It’s named after Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, known for taking down the British Navy in the 1813 Battle of Lake Erie. Try the War of 1812 cocktail with Faber citrus vodka, apple juice, fresh lime juice and Monin Desert Pear Syrup.

Meet You at Moseley’s: The boutique Hotel Kilbourne’s Moseley’s Rooftop Bar overlooks Sandusky, Ohio’s renovated Jackson Street Pier, the bay and Cedar Point. Sip on a margarita or mimosa — or try a craft beer on tap. Regular live entertainment and specialty tacos make the experience even better.

Fashionably Falls: Cabana or barstool? You decide at the Fallsview Rooftop Bar in Niagara Falls, Ontario, perched atop the Sheraton Fallsview Hotel. It’s the only pool with views of the falls, and you can reserve a Fireworks Experience that comes with an artisan cheeseboard and bottle of prosecco.

Lake Erie Canopy Tours

3. Fly Through the Sky

Ziplining is even more thrilling when done in the dark.

Lake Erie Canopy Tours, at The Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake in eastern Ohio, has been offering ziplining over its state park for years now. But, starting this summer, it’s offering a new perspective — the woods at nighttime. The zipline still soars at speeds up to 30 mph from towers as high as 60 feet off the ground, but it’s available exclusively on Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. and features the back half of the full tour. $89 per person,

Metroparks Toledo’s Treehouse Village

4. Tuck In, Treetop Style

Metroparks Toledo’s Treehouse Village offers an elevated cabin camping experience. 

Glamping is done with a bird’s-eye view — literally — at Cannaley Treehouse Village in Metroparks Toledo’s Oak Openings Preserve in northwest Ohio.

Tucked into the tree canopies, up 10 to 16 feet, are five treehouse getaways. A system of boardwalks connects two treehouses built for a couple of guests, a six-person treehouse and accessible six- and four-person accommodations with a ramp. Or, bring a tent and set up on one of the three platforms with hammocks (reservations required).

The nights are quiet and dark — though you’ll hear the rustling scampers of racoons, deer, squirrels and other woodland creatures. Look up for a starry show and — don’t worry — you won’t trip your way through the boardwalks at night since they are lit. 

Metroparks spokesperson Scott Carpenter booked a stay with his wife and grandson on a quiet night in February when temperatures were below zero. “It was toasty warm in the treehouse,” he says, adding that the sky was crystal clear. “It was an adventure, and there is a feeling of being secluded but you’re close to town.”

Each treehouse is equipped with heat and air conditioning, electricity, a refrigerator and microwave and a grill. Bring your own bedding and cooking utensils. The park provides wood for the generous communal firepit, which is surrounded by swinging benches. A crow’s nest offers a spot for birdwatching, taking in views — or just allowing your mind to wander. 

Nearby are three lakes for fishing, 50 miles of hiking trails, a 12-mile mountain bike trail and a skills course for all ages with obstacles you might encounter on the trail. “It creates an active, unique area in the park,” Carpenter relates, noting that it’s the country’s first public treehouse village, open since 2020.

A short walk beyond the park entrance is Heavy, a nanobrewery and coffee shop with entertainment on weekends. 

If you plan to go, think ahead. On weekends, treehouses are booked up to a year out, though availability opens up during the week and cancellations occur if you can manage a last-minute getaway. Carpenter advises following the Treehouse Village Facebook page, where they post openings. Also, reservations can be booked online.  Rates range from $125 to $250 a night for the treehouses; the tent platforms are $30 a night.

Monday Movies, Erie, Pennsylvania

5. See the Stars

Skip the air-conditioned theater and see a flick in the fresh air. Here are three venues to try.

Movies by the River: Wednesday is free movie night at Huron Basin & Amphitheater in northwest Ohio, beginning July 12 through Aug. 9 at dusk. From Minions: The Rise of Gru to Clifford, a menu of family-friendly flicks for the young and young at heart activate the community’s waterfront gathering place.

Kelleys Island Film Fest: Check out box office favorites at Ohio’s Kelleys Island Ball Field off Addison Street. Back-to-back shows start just before sundown and continue with a later showing on both July 22 and 23.

Monday Movies: Twice monthly, gather in Perry Square in Erie, Pennsylvania, for Monday Movies. What to expect? The family-friendly event includes a different food truck or two per showing, along with a brewery tent.

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