Ohio's oldest state park remains a beloved day-use destination. Buckeye Lake first served as a feeder lake for Ohio's canal system during the early 1800s. After the canal era, the new parklands began drawing tourists from around central Ohio. During the mid-20th century, visitors flocked to the park's amusement park and dance hall, now closed. Today, the park's largest draw is the 3,100-acre lake which provides wonderful boating and fishing opportunities. A 4-mile shoreline path connects the North Shore to Lieb's Island and offers a variety of areas for fishing and relaxation.
The 3,100-acre Buckeye Lake is designated as an unlimited horsepower lake, but pontoons, sailboats, canoes, and rowboats are also common. Nine launch ramps provide access to the lake and seasonal docks are available through a lottery system at Fairfield Beach. Contact the park office for more details. Local marinas offer fuel and other items for sale.
Two boat/swim/camp areas are also available at Lieb's Island and east of Cranberry Bog.
Anglers enjoy fine catches of perch, bluegill, crappie, largemouth bass, channel catfish, and bullhead catfish.
- Fishing access includes an accessible fishing pier on Mud Island. Limited parking is available.
- Ohio fishing regulations apply.
- A valid Ohio fishing license is required (16 and older).
The entire lake is open to waterfowl hunting in season. Waterfowl blinds are available at Buckeye Lake by lottery.
Four picnic areas with tables and grills are situated in quiet spots overlooking the lake. Mini shelters are available on a "first come, first served" basis.
Two public swimming areas have parking and latrines.
- Fairfield Beach on the south side of the lake
- Crystal Beach on the north side of the lake
Beaches are open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Swimming is permitted during daylight hours only. Swim at your own risk. Pets are NOT allowed on swimming beaches.
- BeachGuard — Water quality advisories, Memorial Day to Labor Day, from Ohio Dept. of Health
Under the proper conditions, park visitors can enjoy ice skating, cross-country skiing, ice fishing, and ice boating.
History & Natural Features
In order to provide interconnecting waterways for a growing state, a canal system was developed in the early 1800s. The system required feeder lakes to supply the water necessary to maintain the 4-foot canal water level. Because of their location, areas such as St. Marys, Indian Lake, Lake Loramie, Guilford, and Buckeye lakes were to be developed as part of the project.
The canal project was formally started by Governor Jeremiah Morrow on July 4, 1825 in a special ceremony near Newark. In attendance was New York's DeWitt Clinton, the father of the Erie Canal. Ohio's canal system was becoming a reality.
Construction of the dike blocking drainage into the South Fork of the Licking River began in 1826 and was completed in 1830, forming the Licking Summit Reservoir which would eventually become Buckeye Lake. Before impoundment, the forests were not cleared leaving large tracts of timber and brush emergent in the newly formed lake.
As the water level rose, several large mats of sphagnum moss broke loose from the bottom and became "floating islands." Other islands were created because the land was above the water level.
During the canal era, canal boats traveled along the original western end of the lake. This lake however, was not large enough to supply the necessary water for the canal so it was enlarged. Later, in order to provide an even larger amount of water, another lake was developed north and west of the original one. A dike, known as "Middle Wall," separated the Old Reservoir and New Reservoir. This dike was used as a towpath for the canal.
With the advent of railroads, the canal system became outdated. Many miles of canal fell into disuse and were abandoned or sold. In 1894, the General Assembly of Ohio set a policy whereby the feeder reservoirs were established as public parks. At that time, the name of Licking Summit Reservoir was changed to Buckeye Lake.
By 1900, there were numerous cottages and several amusement parks around Buckeye Lake. In the early 1900's, as recreational use increased and power boats became popular, the "North Bank" was reinforced and the "Middle Wall" removed. Development continued around the lake. During the 1940s and 50s, many folks traveled to the Buckeye Lake Amusement Park to see big-band stars, dance at the Crystal Ballroom and picnic.
In 1949, when the Ohio Department of Natural Resources was created, the area officially became Buckeye Lake State Park.
At one time, the ground now known as Buckeye Lake was a natural lake and wetlands system resulting from glaciation. Thousands of years ago the glaciers moved south across Ohio altering drainage systems and landscape. Natural lakes, known as kettles, were created when huge chunks of ice broke off the glacier and melted in depressions. Other lakes were formed when the glacier blocked existing water outlets. As time progressed, clay and silt settled out of the still water into the bottom of the lakes.
Today as we study the landscape, we can learn of the old lake locations by the nature of the underlying clay and silt. The large area of fine clay sediment in the Buckeye Lake region indicates that the glacial lake was broader than the present man-made lake.
When Europeans began settling in Ohio, only a few of the ancient lakes remained. They were shallow bogs or marshes. Explorer Christopher Gist, while traveling the Scioto-Beaver Trail just south of Buckeye Lake, camped by the watery bog's edge. In 1751, he named the area Buffalo Lick or Great Swamp in his journal. The Great Swamp included two long narrow ponds that were joined during high water. A considerable part of the wetland was a cranberry-sphagnum bog.
Cranberry Bog State Nature Preserve, which is also a National Natural Landmark, is a small and shrinking remnant of this bog. When the lake was impounded in 1826, Cranberry Bog broke loose from the bottom and became a floating island which may conceivably be the only one of its kind in the world. Most of the island is an open sphagnum moss meadow with an abundance of cranberries and pitcher plants making the area a naturalist's delight. Due to the fragile nature of the bog remnant, access to the island is by permit only from the ODNR Division of Natural Areas and Preserves.
Buckeye Lake's shoreline offers excellent habitat for waterfowl. Good bird-watching opportunities exist especially during the spring and fall migrations. One of the state's largest great blue heron rookeries is situated on adjacent private land, but the birds can often be seen in the park.