Alum Creek in Autumn, Westerville, Ohio

Paddling Alum Creek Lake

Explore beach vibes and scenic paddling at this popular suburban oasis.

The amenity-filled Alum Creek State Park is a popular destination. One of the big draws of the lake (a reservoir, technically, with a dam on the southern edge of the park) is its sandy beach—the largest inland beach in all of Ohio. There’s also a campground, an equestrian camp and 38 miles of bridal trails, a revamped marina with scores of slips for sailboats and motorboats, hiking trails, a dog park, ample fishing, disc golf and…a whole lot of people enjoying all those activities, especially on summer weekends. 

However, that’s all to say that a peaceful day of paddling presents the best option for getting your own slice of the immense 3,387-acre lake to yourself. And to up the odds of seclusion in your favor, launch onto the northern section of the lake, above the Cheshire Road bridge: It’s the no-wake zone. The lake narrows the farther north you go, where there are cliffs, birds of prey (including osprey) and plenty of calm waters that offer a more peaceful atmosphere. This section of the Alum Creek State Park is a near-urban oasis and a popular destination for paddlers in the know.

There are three prime northern launch spots for canoes, kayaks and SUPs, as you travel north from the Cheshire Road bridge to the little village of Kilbourne. The first put-in spot is just above the Cheshire Road bridge, off Africa Road, on the east side of the lake. Next, as you head north, is the launch site just off Howard Road, also on the east side. Both sites have large, paved parking lots, restrooms and picnic areas. There are docks for paddlers and a cement ramp for boats at each location. The third spot is off state Route 521 (Kilbourne Road), in the village of Kilbourne, on the east side of the lake, which at this point, has narrowed back to creek-size. Launching here is a bit more rustic, and potentially muddier and more challenging than the first two, with only creek-bank access—meaning that there’s no ramp or dock.

Recommended Route

The creek flows south, and the current is generally gentle, although it does pick up some speed after a heavy rain. It’s about 5 miles from Cheshire Road to Kilbourne; many paddlers start at Howard Road and travel north to Kilbourne and then back, which is a roundtrip of about 7 miles. Alternatively, you can start at Kilbourne and do a southern out-and-back (though it means paddling back upstream).

From Howard Road to Kilbourne is the most quiet and scenic portion of the route. The banks are lined with tall eastern cottonwoods and sycamores that extend to the shoreline, intermingled with shale cliffs that vary in height, some more than 60 feet tall. There are also a series of quiet inlets to explore, formed by the smaller creeks and streams that run into the Alum Creek. These inlets are popular with anglers, so make sure not to get tangled up in their lines.

This section of the park is the home of a lot of wildlife: otters, beavers and white-tailed deer on shore; catfish, largemouth and smallmouth bass, muskie and pike in the water; hawks, blue heron, bald eagles and osprey up above, circling as they hunt (and fish). From Howard Road to Kilbourne is considered prime birdwatching territory—and there are hiking trails along both sides of the creek that parallel the water.

Birding Perk

The state park is one of the few places in Ohio where you can spot an osprey, fish-hunting birds whose wingspans are over 5 feet long. These magnificent predators were gone from the state until the Ohio Division of Wildlife began transplanting them in 1996, building hack boxes (nests) atop tall poles along rivers and creeks at five locations state-wide. There are three nesting towers at Alum Creek State Park—located about midway between Howard Road and Kilbourne. 

Park Upgrades

Construction of the Alum Creek Marina Building, a $4.6 million project, is now complete. The new marina is located next to the old marina, near the southwest corner of the park. The marina complex includes boat and kayak rental, public restrooms and shower facilities, plus outdoor gathering spaces. (For additional boat rentals, Public Lands’ Polaris store is 6 miles south.) 

Overnight Options

Consider camping at the park and do a paddling day-trip or two. The large campground is on the west side of the lake just below Cheshire Road. There’s a launch site here, reserved exclusively for the use of campers. Otherwise, the park is open daily dawn to dusk (no entry or day-use fees apply). More info: 

Refresh & Refuel

Bring snacks and water with you, as there isn’t anywhere to dock and eat north of Cheshire Road. The closest restaurant to the water is the Kilbourne Market, which is a couple hundred yards from the put-in spot off OH-521, serving pizza and sandwiches. The Henmick Farm & Brewery is just north of Kilbourne and a nice spot for post-paddle refreshment.

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.