East Harbor is situated on a peninsula stretching into the waters of Lake Erie. The park also lies on the fringe of Ohio’s prairie marsh zone. These wetlands are remnants of the Great Black Swamp, which once covered an area 120 miles long and 30-40 miles wide. Nature enthusiasts enjoy viewing an abundance of waterfowl and shorebirds in the park’s scenic wetlands, as well as from the swimming beach and picnic areas along the lake. East Harbor also offers a large campground and great boating, hiking, and fishing amenities.
Lake Erie offers unlimited horsepower boating opportunities. The park's marina provides seasonal and day-use dock rentals, fuel, launch ramp, full-time mechanic, and boat supplies. The marina also offers storage for boats and campers in a fenced enclosure.
Area launch ramps are located at:
- Marina - for a fee
- Campground - two ramps open to the public, no fee
- South beach - carry-in kayak ramp, no fee, provides access to calmer waters of East Harbor
East Harbor State Park Campground is the largest in the Ohio State Park system. It offers Full Hookup, Electric, Non-electric and ADA sites. Pets are permitted at all sites. Other options include a Yurt (ADA), two Sherman Cabins (one ADA cabin), and Group Camping. Reservations are required and can be made online or by calling (866) 644-6727.
The park's 18-hole course plus a practice hole course is located near the Lockwood Shelterhouse. Bring your own equipment; rental equipment is not available. No fee is charged to play.
Lake Erie, the walleye capital of the world, provides anglers great catches of yellow perch, channel catfish, and largemouth, smallmouth and white bass, in addition to walleye. Both East Harbor and West Harbor are excellent for bluegill, crappie, and carp.
The park also offers a fishing pond and ADA fishing access near the Lockwood Shelterhouse. The pond is stocked annually with trout and catfish.
Hunting for waterfowl is permitted on the eastern side of the offshore islands. Seven duck blinds in the park are awarded by lottery through the Division of Wildlife. Deer archery hunting is by permit ONLY.
Located in the campground, the nature center offers seasonal programming.
Several picnic areas, equipped with tables and grills, offer fantastic views of the lake and marshlands. A picnic area is conveniently located next to the beach.
The park features a 1,500-foot sand beach on Lake Erie. Swimming is permitted in designated areas. Please exercise caution while swimming at the beach. Other amenities include modern restrooms, changing rooms, outdoor showers and vending machines. Dogs are not permitted on the swim beach.
BeachGuard — Water quality advisories, available Memorial Day to Labor Day from the Ohio Dept. of Health
East Harbor’s trail system leads visitors through the many different habitats found within the park. Multiple trails total more than 10 miles. All trails are multi-use, which allow hiking, biking, snowmobiles, etc.
The trail system includes:
- Blackberry Trail - 1/2 mile - Easy
- Channel Dunes Loop - 1.2 mile - Easy
- Meadow Trail - 3/4 mile - Easy
- Middle Harbor Trail - 3/4 mile - Moderate
- Middle Harbor Extension - 1/2 mile - Easy
- Red Bird Trail - 1/4 mile - Easy
- Rock Garden Loop - 0.3 miles - Easy
- South Beach Trail - 2.5 miles - Easy
- Water's Edge Trail - 1 mile - Moderate
- Wetlands Trail - 2 miles - Easy
- West Harbor Trail - 3/4 mile - Easy
Hundreds of migrating songbirds rest here before flying north across the lake making this a prime birding location during both spring and fall migration.
Under the proper conditions, park visitors can enjoy snowmobiling, ice skating, ice fishing, ice boating, and cross-country skiing.
Five snowmobile trails are found in the park:
- Channel Dunes Loop - 1/2 Mile
- Meadow Trail - 3/4 Mile
- Middle Harbor Trail - 3/4 Mile
- South Beach Trail - 2.5 Miles
- Wetlands Trail - 2 Miles
More to Do
- Volleyball, basketball and horseshoe courts, horseshoe pits, and playground equipment are located in the campground or day use area.
- Seasonal naturalist programming.
- Bicycle rental is available at camp store (419-734-5857).
- Visit Lake Erie Shores and Isles for area tourism information.
History & Natural Features
Before European settlement, the East Harbor region was home to Native Americans including the Ottawa and Wyandot tribes. Ottawa in native tongue means “trader.” An east-west trail skirted the southern shore of Lake Erie connecting the Pittsburgh and Detroit settlements, and also linked with the famed Scioto Trail from the south. This important area remained occupied by Native Americans until the War of 1812.
After the Great Black Swamp was eventually drained, the land became highly productive. Fruits, particularly peaches and grapes, were grown extensively. The grape culture became very successful as a result of quality soil, natural drainage, and suitable climate.
Marblehead Lighthouse was erected in 1821 east of the park on the Marblehead Peninsula to aid navigation in and out of Sandusky Bay. Johnson’s Island, on the bay side of the peninsula, was the site of a prison for Confederate soldiers captured during the Civil War. A Confederate cemetery still remains on the island.
The region has long been valued as a recreation area. The unique plant and animal life, sandy beaches, marshland, and the lake itself led to the development of East Harbor State Park. The park is one of northern Ohio’s most popular vacation spots.
East Harbor State Park is situated on a peninsula of land stretching into the waters of Lake Erie. A 2-mile-long strip of beaches and dunes separates the harbor from the open waters of the lake. The harbor itself is the former mouth of the Portage River, which once crossed the Catawba Island peninsula to flow into Lake Erie thousands of years ago. Lake Erie was created during a glacial period when massive sheets of ice gouged and scoured the bedrock of Ohio. The glaciers retreated 12,000 years ago leaving behind deep depressions that filled with meltwater forming the Great Lakes. Evidence of the force of the ice is found throughout the lake area. Small scratches in the rock surface, known as glacial striations, are common, whereas major glacial grooves, such as those found on Kelleys Island, are rare.
East Harbor lies on the fringe of Ohio’s prairie marsh zone. These wetlands are remnants of the Great Black Swamp that once covered an area 120 miles long and 30 to 40 miles wide. After a period of intense lumbering and draining in the late 1800s, the swamp was nearly destroyed. Only 10 percent of Ohio’s original wetlands now remain.
These wetlands harbor more wildlife than any other type of habitat in Ohio. Reptiles and amphibians are numerous including the green frog, American toad, water snake, fox snake, and painted turtle. Large numbers of ducks, geese, gulls, terns, and other migratory waterfowl delight birdwatchers. Middle Harbor is a birding hotspot where black-crowned night herons, egrets, great blue herons, and other shorebirds find refuge. Furbearers in the park include muskrat and red fox. Hundreds of migrating songbirds rest here before flying north across the lake.