East of Cleveland, you’ll find a gem of an area for outdoor adventure in Lake County, Ohio. Lake County is located on the southern shore of Lake Erie with four main cities including Willoughby, Mentor, Painesville, and Madison.
Our family experienced a variety of what the area has to offer, made lots of memories, and enjoyed quality time together.
Our younger son joined my husband and I for a two-day trip filled with lots of outdoor adventure on the water and on land.
You’re probably already familiar with the city of Cleveland but Lake County gives you an excuse to explore lesser-known hidden gems that are just 20 miles east of the city.
Explore the Beauty of Holden Arboretum
9550 Sperry Road, Kirtland, OH
We started our introduction to the Lake County area with Holden Arboretum. This place knows how to make a great first impression!
Holden Arboretum is THE perfect setting for nature lovers and photographers as the largest arboreta in the world with 3500 acres to explore.
I took A LOT of pictures during our visit because it was just too BEAUTIFUL!
The welcoming environment beckoned us to admire it from every angle and we experienced each step with a sense of wonder.
You can purchase timed entry tickets for Holden Arboretum up to two weeks in advance if you have a preferred time and date for a visit.
How Much Time Should You Allow for a Visit to Holden Arboretum?
The average visit to Holden Arboretum is 2-3 hours. After walking the grounds, I totally understand why.
You could easily spend even more time there depending on your specific interest, whether that’s hiking or gardening.
There are lots of hiking trails and scenic gardens with numerous photo opportunities at every turn.
If you want to sit and admire your picturesque surroundings, you’ll find plenty of benches throughout the arboretum.
Admire “Stickwork” by Patrick Dougherty
“Stickwork” is one of the special exhibits on display by artist, Patrick Dougherty. This natural art installation is made completely from willow sticks and branches twisted and formed into incredible works of art.
One of the Stickwork installations is almost like a natural maze that invites you to explore from different angles and paths.
Be on the lookout for unique views from the piece at every angle including up to the sky and through the “natural windows” within the piece.
Climb the 120′ Emergent Tower
Appreciate the surrounding area with a birds-eye view after you climb up 12 stories/ 202 stairs of the Emergent Tower.
The Emergent Tower provides guests with a unique perspective above the trees, 120 feet in the air.
If you are concerned about the height, you can go up as high as you feel comfortable. There are several platform sections where you can catch your breath and rest on the way up or down the tower.
The signs at each platform stop also let you know how much closer you are getting to the top.
The views at the top are totally worth it! On a clear day, you can see Lake Erie in the distance!
Go on the Murch Canopy Walk
Walk 65 feet above the forest floor on the 500 foot long elevated Canopy Walk. You’ll want to allow about 30 minutes for walking on the canopy.
Murch Canopy Walk is also wheelchair-accessible with ramps to the first platform and suspension bridges wide enough for most wheelchairs to pass.
My brother had special needs and I LOVE that this experience is accessible for all guests.
If you are concerned about heights you’ll find that this suspension bridge doesn’t sway too much while you are walking across it.
Holden Arboretum is definitely a place that you will want to allow plenty of time to visit!
Lunch Stop at La Casita Market
452 Storrs Street, Painesville, OH
We worked up an appetite after our adventure at Holden Arboretum. For lunch, we enjoyed a great meal at an authentic Mexican restaurant about 25 minutes away.
My husband ordered the steak fajitas, I ordered the chicken chimichanga, and my son enjoyed a chicken quesadilla.
We were definitely FULL after the chips and salsa and our generous entrees.
After your meal, make sure that you stop inside the market next door. You’ll find a variety of foods that will pique your interest, including flavors of popular brands that you may have never seen before.
We opted to purchase a few “new to us” flavors of drinks to take with us on the road.
8365 Harbor Drive, Mentor, OH
Mentor Lagoon Nature Preserve and Marina is another gem that I HIGHLY recommend!
A kayak paddle through Mentor Lagoons Nature Preserve & Marina lets you choose your own adventure.
You can explore by the marina, paddle through the marsh area with lots of active wildlife, or even paddle to a small waterfall.
Before you set out on your adventure, I would recommend taking a picture of the water trail map so that you have a point of reference for your trail options along the way.
Kayaks and stand-up paddleboards are available to rent on-site from Memorial Day to Labor Day. If you’ve never been kayaking before, you’ll find these kayaks feel very sturdy and don’t tip easily.
The lagoon is a no-wake zone which gives you an opportunity to see SO MUCH wildlife along the way.
My favorite discovery was the baby ducks hanging out with their mom along the marsh.
We also saw many cranes in the preserve while we paddled around.
If you have time constraints, I would recommend prioritizing your time kayaking in the preserve area instead of the marina area for a more unique experience.
Watch a Lake County Captains Game at Classic Park
35300 Vine Street, Eastlake, OH
Summer is a great time to squeeze in an adventure watching America’s favorite pastime. While you are in the area, why not can watch a baseball game while you are in town?
The Lake County Captains are a Minor League Baseball team that is a High-A affiliate of the Cleveland Guardians, formerly known as the Cleveland Indians.
Minor League baseball games are very family-friendly and there tends to be more crowd interaction due to the close proximity in the stands. There are also lots of great promotions throughout the season to help make it even more affordable.
Of course, Skipper the mascot is a crowd-pleaser for adults and kids alike in the stands. You can’t help but smile as you witness his charm interacting in the crowd and funny dance moves.
If you want to eat at the baseball game, you’ll find plenty of options at the ballpark. I’d personally recommend the cheddar jalapeno Italian sausage with peppers on top from the grill at the top of the stands located behind the home plate.
You’ll find an assortment of adult drink options at the Corona Castaway’s Bar on the third-base side. There are also soft drinks, frozen lemonade, and ice cream too.
Make sure that you check the team schedule for upcoming fireworks shows after the baseball game. There are 15+ firework shows at home during the summer season.
Breakfast at JT’s Diner in Willoughby
38748 Lakeshore, Boulevard Willoughby, OH
JT’s Diner is known for a great affordable breakfast with some fun and sass.
The sarcastic signs on the wall and coffee cups with the phrase “Eat and Get Out” let you know it’s all in lighthearted fun.
My husband ordered the western omelet and I ordered the deluxe omelet with a side of gravy to share.
My son opted for the chocolate chips added to his pancakes and bacon on the side. You definitely won’t leave hungry after breakfast at JT’s Diner!
Explore Around And Inside Squire’s Castle
2844 River Road, Willoughby Hills, OH
Walk around the shell of a castle that was built in the 1890s by oil pioneer, Feargus B. Squire.
Squire’s Castle is part of Cleveland Metroparks and the structure that you see ironically was only intended to be the gatekeeper’s lodge.
The lodge was used as a weekend retreat for Squire in the early 1900s and the architectural style is modeled after English and German baronial castles.
The shell of the building is still really interesting to wander around appreciating the details, like the curved door frames.
The remaining fireplaces and empty space of each room invite you to imagine what the structure was like when it was originally built.
Just a heads up, you may notice an occasional bird flying above you as you pass from room to room. You can’t blame them for setting up nests inside a castle.
There are nice hiking trails on the property around Squire’s Castle. I would HIGHLY recommend taking a picture of the trail map before you start your hike.
During our hike, I also used the live GPS navigation from the Alltrails app.
We are directionally challenged and it helped us get back on the correct path when we made a wrong turn on the trail.
Squire’s Castle resides on North Chargin Reservation, home to several natural attractions in the area including Buttermilk Falls.
Go Kayaking or Stand Up Paddleboarding on Lake Erie at Fairport Harbor Lakefront Park
301 Huntington Beach Dr, Fairport Harbor, OH 44077
While you are in Lake County you’ll want to enjoy some time on Lake Erie.
At Fairport Harbor Lakefront Park there is a beach area, playground, sand volleyball court, concession, and restroom/changing area.
The entry fee to the park is under $5 for out-of-county guests. There is a swimming area sectioned off by the beach to keep swimmers out of the path of kayakers and boaters.
If you want to venture farther out on the water, you can rent a sit-on-top ocean kayak or a stand-up paddleboard.
We brought our inflatable stand-up paddleboards with us. I appreciated that we didn’t have to walk far from the car to the beach area while carrying them. If you have a dog with you, there is a section of the beach designated for pets.
Stop for Ice Cream at Fairport Harbor Creamery
202 High Street, Fairport Harbor, OH
After a fun day at the park, treat yourself to a scoop or two of ice cream, a boozy milkshake, or a pastry at Fairport Harbor Creamery.
There is a walk-up window and plenty of outdoor seating for you to enjoy your sweet treat of choice. The ice cream shop is located within close proximity of the park and the lighthouse downtown.
129 2nd St, Fairport Harbor, OH
The Fairport Harbor Lighthouse was built in 1825 and in 1925 the light in the tower was decommissioned.
This is the first Great Lakes Lighthouse Marine Museum in the United States, as well as the state of Ohio. Inside the museum, you can learn about its history and view several artifacts throughout the course of its usage.
Check their schedule online for information on upcoming group tours and public hours of operation.
Worth the Wait at Scooter’s World Famous Dawg House
9600 Blackbrook Rd., Mentor, OH
You know it’s gotta be good when you see a line out the door! I asked the couple in front of us if it REALLY was worth the wait… and they confirmed it was.
Scooter’s World Famous Dawg House is known for its fresh-cut fries and hot dawgs.
Warning: their fry portion sizes are HUGE! Only order the family size if you can fill up a 15 passenger van.
Scooter’s World Famous Dawg House is only open in the summer which also creates an increased demand during a short window of time.
Pro tip- call in your order ahead of time.
Check out the detailed murals on the wall while you wait for your order to be prepared.
We ordered the junior fry and there were plenty of fries for the three of us to share.
My son ordered the Mac and Cheese dawg and I tried the Extreme Dawg because I’m drawn to anything that includes hot sauce and jalapenos.
My husband mixed things up and ordered that Bleu burger with a side of onion rings.
There are a few tables inside and a long table with high-top bar stools along the wall. On a nice day, I would recommend sitting outside at one of the picnic tables with umbrellas.
Enjoy More Scenic Views of Lake Erie at Headlands Beach State Park
9601 Headlands Rd, Mentor, OH
Headlands Beach State Park has free entry and lots of parking. It’s a bit of a walk to the public beach in comparison to the short walk from the parking lot at Fairport Harbor Lakefront Park, but the views are worth it.
Just keep this in mind if you have younger kids or if you are carrying a bunch of gear to the beach.
You’ll find that the 35-acre beach on Lake Erie provides plenty of room for groups to spread out even on a more crowded day.
The park is also located next to Headlands Dunes State Nature Preserve with 1 mile of hiking trails.
There is a boardwalk you can take straight to the beach in case you have a wagon or guest with a wheelchair.
If you enjoy fishing, the popular spot is at the breakwall located at the eastern end of the park near the Fairport Harbor West Breakwater Light.
Where We Stayed in Lake County, Ohio
During our visit, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Cleveland Northeast – Mentor located minutes from the stadium, where the Lake County Captains play.