The spritz of water splashing on me from the side of the boat is refreshing as I hit the Alum Creek waterway with Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Parks and Watercraft Lieutenant Jeff Baker. Lots of boats are out today enjoying the cool-down from the early summer heat in motor boats, sailboats, kayaks, pontoons and fishing boats.
While Alum Creek is one of Ohio’s busiest boating waterways with more than 3,300 aquatic acres including coves that are great for swimming, all of Ohio’s lakes and rivers give boaters a special reason to enjoy the water.
The fresh air, the bounce on the wake and the friendly greetings of passing boaters reminds me of time I spent on the water as a kid with my grandpa boating on Grand Lake St. Mary’s in the summer. In fact, family time and making memories is one of the best reasons to go boating in Ohio.
“Boating gets you out into nature and it creates memories with the time spent with friends, family and kids,” said Lt. Baker.
There are many ways to enjoy boating in Ohio. If you have your own watercraft you can tackle a new lake or river every weekend and never hit them all in the state. If you do not own a watercraft, most marinas near Ohio lakes rent boats, kayaks, canoes, paddleboards and paddleboats by the hour or the day.
For all statewide boating information, refer to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Parks & Watercraft. Here are some of the top waterways to explore by region to get you started.
Boating In Central Ohio
Deer Creek State Park
Located about 40 minutes from Columbus, Deer Creek allows unlimited horsepower boating on the 1,277-acre reservoir and boat-swim areas to take the plunge while parked. There is a marina for fuel, dock rentals, boat rentals and overnight accommodations with a full-service lodge, cabins and campground.
Delaware State Park
Just north of Columbus, Delaware State Park has a 1,300-acre reservoir that allows unlimited horsepower boating. There are three boat ramps available with boat and dock rentals offered seasonally. The full-service marina has fuel and supplies available. Overnight options include boat camping that is permitted at several locations and a family campground.
Kokosing State Scenic River
For the people who love paddling, the Kokosing River is one of the most scenic waterways beginning in Mt. Vernon and winding through portions of Knox and Coshocton counties. You can follow the water trail map and experience a variety of water conditions suitable for all levels of paddling experience.
Boating In Southeast Ohio
Salt Fork State Park
You can enjoy boating in Ohio’s largest state park, Salt Fork, which offers two marinas for all types of boats. Unlimited horsepower is allowed on the 2,952-acre lake with eight boat ramps for easy access. There are combined speed/ski zones are marked by buoys and swimming permitted from the boat in designated areas. There is a full-service lodge on-site, deluxe cabins, a family campground and boat camp sites available for overnight stays.
Muskingum River Parkway
The river located near Zanesville is home to Ohio’s only remaining complete system of hand-operated locks in the nation that are still used by recreational boaters. You can plan your boating trip to go through one of the 10 locks by calling Dillon State Park office for current lock schedules and/or fees. The Muskingum River Parkway is 112 miles long and is recognized as a national historic site.
Kayakers and paddlers will enjoy the small Belmont Lake in Barkcamp State Park. It is located in the rugged and picturesque Appalachian region and provides boating opportunities for both hand-operated and electric motor boats on the 112-acre lake. Take a picnic lunch to enjoy on the banks.
Boating In Southwest Ohio
The 2,830-acre Caesar Creek Lake in Caesar Creek State Park is a perfect place to spend the day boating. The park has five boat ramps and is located about 30 minutes north of Cincinnati. The new marina offers fuel, refreshments, supplies and shower facilities. The park also has several designated areas for boat swimming and overnight options include boat camping and a large family campground.
Tucked away in Hueston Woods State Park in western Ohio, Acton Lake is open to boaters of any motor size, but there is a “no wake” speed restriction on the 625-acre lake. There is a launch ramp a seasonal marina for boat rentals, dock space and fuel. Overnight options include a modern lodge, cabins and camping.
Little Miami State & National Scenic River
Ohio’s first state and national scenic river is a southwest Ohio paddling treasure. The Little Miami River has bountiful natural scenery from its northern reaches above Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve as a small stream to its southern sections that are as wide as three miles in some areas. Public access is available at many sites along the river.
Boating In Northeast Ohio
Lake Erie (Geneva State Park)
Lake Erie provides some of the best boating in Ohio and one of the best access locations is on the northeastern shoreline in Geneva. The park offers a full-service marina, a six-lane boat ramp and dock rental. Overnight options include a full-service lodge, modern cabins and a large family campground.
West Branch Lake
Located just north of Akron, West Branch State Park is a popular destination for all types of boating. The 2,650-acre lake allows for unlimited horsepower but a no-wake zone extends 300 feet from all shorelines. The no-wake zones are reserved for paddlers. There is a large family campground for overnight visits.
Grand State Wild & Scenic River
As one of only three streams in Ohio to be designated as a Wild and Scenic river, the Grand is one of the top examples of a natural stream in Ohio ideal for paddlers. The headwaters of the river start in Portage and Geauga counties. Follow the river north through Trumbull County, Ashtabula and Lake counties. The views from the river include both wooded areas and steep shale bluffs.
Boating In Northwest Ohio
East Harbor State Park
Located on the shores of Lake Erie, East Harbor is an ideal spot because it is located near many of the lake’s popular tourist spots. There is a marina with seasonal and day-use docks, launch ramp and boat supplies and storage. There is a family campground on-site.
The wide Maumee River is perfect for many types of boating and Mary Jane Thurston State Park is a one of the best spots from which to launch. The Maumee is a state scenic river with natural scenery to indulge your senses for an afternoon or several days. There are campgrounds located at various locations along the river.
Sandusky State Scenic River
The Sandusky River runs through the agricultural region in northwest Ohio and is one of the longest rivers in the Lake Erie watershed. The river is ideal for paddlers to coast through this historic region that was once home to Native American tribes. There are a number of access points providing facilities and boat launch areas. Paddlers should note that there are several low head dams and areas that may require you to portage your canoe or kayak, so it’s important to plan your trip ahead of time.
Of course, safety on the water is the most important factor to remember to ensure your day boating is a safe one. The ODNR Division of Parks and Watercraft wants to remind boaters to always wear a life jacket, do not drink alcohol while operating a boat, create a float plan for days on the water, not to overload boats beyond capacity and to understand boating laws. You can take boater education courses through ODNR and review Ohio boating laws online.
For more outdoor adventures, Find It Here at Ohio.org.