The trademark of Headlands Beach State Park is its massive 35-acre Lake Erie beach. Besides providing exceptional sunbathing and swimming opportunities, Headlands Beach also offers unique beach glass hunting and phenomenal Lake Erie sunset viewing. Picnicking is available throughout the park, and a seasonal concession provides a wide variety of tasty and cool food and drink options.
The interaction of the lake, wind, and sand creates the rare lakeshore sand dune habitat which supports rare and unique plants, and helps position the park as one of Ohio’s premier birding locations. Additional wildlife viewing opportunities include nesting bald eagles, red fox, and the spectacular monarch butterfly migration. To help protect the beach and wildlife, visitors are asked to always carry-in/carry-out their litter.
A federal breakwall accessible at the east end of the park offers fishing opportunities for walleye, yellow perch, largemouth bass, and steelhead.
A scenic picnic area with tables and grills is provided.
A medium-sized shelterhouse pavilion is available for reservation. It holds up to 40 and features electric access, picnic tables, a preparation table, and two charcoal grills. Reservations can be made at www.reserveohio.com or 1-866-OHIOPARKS (644-7275). When not reserved, the shelter is first come, first served.
As the largest natural sand beach in Ohio, Headlands offers recreation for swimmers and sunbathers. Swimming is permitted in designated areas. Please exercise caution while swimming at the beach as there are no guards. Inflatable devises are prohibited, but certified life vests are suggested.
During the summer season, a concession stand is open near parking lot 12. Restroom facilities and several dumpsters are provided between the parking lot and beach area. Please carry out all trash to dumpsters near parking area to help keep the park beautiful. Glass, alcohol, and pets are prohibited on the beach.
- BeachGuard — Water quality advisories, Memorial Day to Labor Day, from Ohio Dept. of Health
A mile-long paved hike/bike trail runs the length of the park, which gives visitors easy access to various areas of the park, and to the adjacent Headlands Dunes State Nature Preserve, which offers additional trails. This trail is also popular for exercise.
- The Buckeye Trail - 1.5 miles - easy, accessible and pet friendly (trail only).Its blue blazes allow users to follow its path as it weaves through the park grounds.
Under the proper conditions, park visitors can enjoy sledding and cross-country skiing.
History & Natural Features
About 14,000 years ago, the mile-thick Wisconsin Ice Sheet started to melt and with its retreat came the first hints of what the modern landscape of Ohio would look like. It would take nearly 6,500 more years for Lake Erie’s shoreline to resemble what we see today. During this time, various indigenous people took advantage of this ‘new’ land.
The first inhabitants of northern Ohio were not tribes of the better-known cultures, which would come later. Rather, what we know of the earliest peoples who lived here, before contact with settlers and before written language, is derived from interpretation of artifacts obtained through archeological studies. These studies revealed that the early hunting-based societies – like the Paleo-Indians and Archaic Indians – rapidly transitioned into the farming settlements and forts of the Late Woodland and Late Pre-historic Native Americans. Strangely, and still cloaked in mystery, all pre-historic indigenous peoples left Ohio by 1,650 A.D.
Within a hundred years, the state became repopulated with Native Americans better known by their tribe names, such as the Shawnee, Ottawa, Seneca, Delaware, Iroquois, and Wyandots. The Erie Indians also made some of northern Ohio their home, but they were more populous to the east of the state. Still, their tribal name – roughly translated into ‘Cat People’ or ‘long tail’ – became the name of our great lake. Unlike the native peoples before, much of the culture and traditions of these later tribes were captured in writing.
As the colonies to the east grew, so did the expansion of pioneers and settlers to the west. The Ohio Country provided bountiful trapping and hunting, and later, fertile ground for farming. Thus, many easterners made the arduous trip to Ohio. Before their arrival, Moses Cleaveland surveyed northeast Ohio, and the Connecticut Western Reserve was delineated around 1800. For his efforts, the City of Cleveland was named in his honor. An early typographical error, however, omitted one of the A’s in his name.
As settlers arrived, the nearby Grand River soon became a hub of commerce and industry. Settlers came to fish and unload coal and ore from boats onto railroad cars. To protect the mouth of the river, a Federal Breakwall was constructed in 1827. As soon the first, huge, blocks were laid, sand began collecting to the west of this breakwall, and the future Headlands Beach State Park began to form.
In 1951-52, the state of Ohio began acquiring the land that would become Headlands Beach State Park. Originally opened in 1953 as Painesville Beach State Park, the name was changed to Headlands Beach two years later. Its large beach has attracted huge crowds consistently since opening. Capital improvement projects, which started in 1967, created numerous parking lots, roadways, concession buildings, restrooms, and change booths. In 2013, Headlands Beach was listed among CNN’s top 20 U.S. beaches. In 2019, Planet Ware listed Headlands as the 14th Best Beach in the country.
Unlike Lake Michigan, Lake Erie is not known for its ability to form sand dunes. Yet, when given the chance, it does so with vigor. Beginning with the Federal Breakwall project in the 1820s, our Great Lake has been depositing sand onto the shore at Headlands. In fact, nearly the entirety of the park is from sand that started depositing west of this breakwall. Moreover, prevailing wind has taken this sand and mounded it up into dunes throughout the park and the adjacent Headlands Dunes State Nature Preserve which protects a unique dunes habitat comes unique dunes plants.
Species more common to the Atlantic coastal plain can also be found growing in Headlands’ sand dunes. Sea rocket, beach pea, seaside spurge, beach grass, and purple sand grass – all rare in Ohio – persist on the dunes. Both the park and preserve display the best example of a lakeshore sand dune community in the state.
Part of this unique environment, both common and rare wildlife become a showcase. Headlands Beach State Park is one of Ohio’s premier birding locations. Lake birds, shorebirds, and raptors take advantage of the park’s mix of habitats positioned along Lake Erie’s shoreline. Further, rare bird sightings are almost common here. Other wildlife, such as red fox, raccoon, and white-tailed deer, are commonly spotted. In late summer, monarch butterflies drift across the lake and find respite within the park. Large accumulations of these amazing insects are often seen covering trees within the park on cool mornings in late August and September.