The Best Ways To Paddle Lake Erie

For curious kayakers and standup paddlers, however, knowing what you’re in for, and where to paddle, is key.

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.

“That side of the lake, the western side, is limestone,” says Pecot. “You get craggy cliffs and undercuts with sea caves, and pretty pebble beaches. You can island-hop between the major islands of South Bass, Middle Bass, and North Bass (also called Isle Saint George), with about a 3-mile crossing from the south shore. There’s some primitive camping out there as well. It’s a neat area that’s sometimes overlooked.”

Pecot says that the smaller, unnamed islands are uninhabited, some with old lighthouses on their rocky shores.

“There are also Lake Erie water snakes out there, which are cool to see.” The non-poisonous, swimming snakes fish for food and can be seen sunning themselves on rocks. “They won’t hurt you,” he assures.

Pecot says he’s encouraged by the uptick in paddlers taking to the water all along the Erie coastline, islands included. “It’s really changed the dynamic of the relationship people have with the lake,” he says. “Not only are people learning to understand the moods of the lake and the weather, but they’re realizing we need to protect it as a resource. We’re in an urban area, after all, with human impacts.”

Getting There

If you’re not going to paddle the 3 miles from the mainland to the islands, which Pecot estimates takes roughly an hour, you can ferry (with your boat) to the tip of South Bass Island, or ferry to Middle Bass Island. A 1-mile paddle from Middle Bass Island can take you to the natural harbor of South Bass’ Put-In-Bay. “It’s a natural harbor with a 352-foot-tall monument from the War of 1812 that commemorates peaceful boating,” he adds. “You can see Canada from there.”

More Info

Cleveland Metroparks has been mapping out water trails on Lake Erie, noting safe put-ins and takeouts for boaters. “It’s the community,” Pecot notes, “trying to encourage safe passage for boaters.” Visit clevelandmetroparks.com

Connect

Every June, a three-day event called the South Bass Island Kayak Rendezvous sees over a hundred boaters of all levels gathering socially for talks, group paddles, skills courses and more.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.