Lake Erie may be the second smallest of the Great Lakes (ahead of Lake Huron), but with 9,951 square miles of surface area and an 871-mile shoreline, it’s still a massive waterway that’s considered an inland sea. And with all that freshwater, it’s just begging for recreation. For curious kayakers and standup paddlers, however, knowing what you’re in for, and where to paddle, is key.
“People can be pretty shocked when they see the shoreline for the first time,” says Mark Pecot, owner of 41° North Kayak Adventures, an outfitter and paddling shop in Lakewood, Ohio, which has guided tours in the area for over 20 years. “The lake looks like the ocean. There’s quite a bit of exposed shoreline, especially on the southern shore.”
Experienced paddlers see that exposure as an asset. The open waters along the coast of Ohio regularly see waves cresting between 1 and 3 feet, though reaching up to 6-foot swells from northeastern weather systems, which local surfers and expert paddlers love. With the wind cooperating, Pecot says that glassy waters do create serene, peaceful conditions, on occasion.
In the summer, when southwesterly winds predominate, paddlers will often experience those calmer conditions, he says. Still, being fully aware of weather trends is paramount to paddling safety and fun.
“The open coastline and the wind that comes with it can be pretty challenging for beginner paddlers,” says Pecot. “SUPs looking for calm, protected water can take advantage of slow-moving rivers that feed into Lake Erie (like the Cuyahoga, which winds through downtown Cleveland), or pick a day with light wind to explore the coast.” He adds that beginning paddlers and SUPers can take to the calm waters of the Cleveland Metroparks Rocky River Reservation as well.
But for seasoned kayakers or those on a guided tour, like one offered by 41˚ North, the best destination to target for a kayak tour on Lake Erie is the collection of 14 islands in the Bass Archipelago off the southwestern shore of the lake.