Despite the beauty of Ohio's Lake Erie shores in winter, only the hardiest of individuals -- ice fishing enthusiasts, snowmobilers, cross-country skiers, and such -- are likely to brave the frigid temperatures just for fun. But now, thanks to the opening of a $16.7 million lodge and conference center last summer, visitors to Geneva State Park can enjoy the scenery while sitting next to a cozy fireplace, having dinner in an elegant restaurant or taking a dip in an indoor swimming pool.
With only 698 acres of land, Geneva State Park, Geneva, Ohio, isn't large by state park standards. But the entire length of the park overlooks Lake Erie for some two miles, offering direct access at several points along the way. And, the 300-foot guarded Breakwater Beach swimming area is abundant with sand -- the soft kind that oozes between bare toes in summer and offers up a wealth of intriguingly shaped stones worn smooth by the battering waves of Lake Erie no matter what the season.
At the state park marina, dozens of motorboats and sailboats stand at the ready -- 383 docks are available for rental -- and a six-lane boat ramp provides easy access to the lake. In addition to a canteen and concession area, the marina offers boat supplies such as gasoline and bait; Lake Erie is, after all, known as the walleye capital of the world, and yellow perch, channel catfish, and Coho salmon are frequent catches here as well. Those who prefer to hoof it can traverse a sidewalk at the east breakwall of the marina, climb a few steps, and be treated to a panoramic view of the shoreline.
Opportunities abound for overnight guests; the 12 one-bedroom cedar cabins were renovated recently, and all include fully furnished living areas and kitchens, as well as cable TV, air-conditioning, and heat. For those who prefer their living a bit more on the rugged side, the campground has 88 campsites with electricity, showers, and flush toilets.
Away from the shore, three miles of park trails attract scores of hikers, cross-country skiers, snowmobilers, and hunters, depending on the season. Several areas of fresh-water marsh and mature woodlots showcase plants that are rarely found in the Buckeye State, like smartweed and leafy sedge. A picnic area near the campground includes a volleyball court, and the camp office loans games and sporting equipment to registered campers.
Picnicking, in fact, is a popular activity at Geneva State Park. Chestnut Grove, primarily comprised of white oak, was the first land acquired by the state to create the park in 1964, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The Crabapple Picnic Area includes two shelter houses to accommodate larger groups.
It is the new lodge, though, that's reeling with visitors from far and wide. Situated on a tree-lined bluff with extensive views of the Lake Erie shoreline (and an abundance of benches strategically placed at the water's edge), the lodge offers 109 guest rooms, many with a lake view, and an indoor swimming pool overlooking the lake. Expansive windows in the octagon-shaped full-service Horizons restaurant and lounge provide still more lake views. The spacious lobby features a floor-to-ceiling wood-burning fireplace surrounded by plump sofas and chairs and plenty of complimentary reading material.
Delaware North Parks Services, a hospitality management company in Buffalo, N.Y., oversees day-to-day operations at the lodge, which is first in Ohio to be located on state-owned park land and built with local funds. Ashtabula County built and owns the lodge, while the state leases the site and markets the lodge as part of the state park resort system.
Visitors who want to do some exploring in surrounding areas won't be disappointed. A privately owned public golf course lies within the park boundaries (four other courses are located within a few miles), and some 19 wineries, many of which offer tours and eating facilities, are accessible within minutes. Just down the road, Geneva-on-the-Lake, billed as Ohio's first resort area, boasts a water park, the Old Firehouse Winery and dozens of arcades and gift/souvenir shops.
A short drive to the East of about 15 miles puts you in the port city of Ashtabula, where the restored Harbor Commercial District offers unique shops and is listed on the National Register of Historical Places. The much-photographed Ashtabula Harbor Light, established in 1836, is perched on the end of the Ashtabula Harbor breakwall. The lighthouse’s original Fourth Order Fresnel lens is on display at the nearby Great Lakes Marine and U.S. Coast Guard Museum.
Prefer your traveling closer to land? Ashtabula County is known for its 16 historic covered bridges; the annual Ashtabula County Covered Bridge Festival takes place on the second full weekend in October, and self-guided tour brochures are available so you can go it alone.
Geneva State Park, 4499 Padanarum Road, Geneva, Ohio 44041. Park office: (440) 466-8400.