ROAD TRIP: Tour the Lighthouses of Ohio’s Lake Erie Shores & Islands
Published August 2020
Helping maritime captains navigate the Great Lakes for centuries, lighthouses mark coastlines and show safe entries to harbors. They are also popular among shoreline lovers for their unique beauty and photo opportunities.
The Shores & Islands region is home to eight lighthouses, six of which can be viewed onshore. The Green Island Lighthouse and West Sister Island Lighthouse are only visible from water, so you’d need a boat to see them.
With road trips soaring in popularity right now, let’s take a drive to see the area’s other six lighthouses. While this can probably be accomplished in one day, we suggest you take your time and spread it out over two days to get the full coastal experience. Lighthouse addresses and navigational maps are available by clicking on the lighthouse links.
Day One – Port Clinton to Marblehead
Starting from the western shores of the region and moving east, you’ll begin your lighthouse adventure at the restored Port Clinton Lighthouse. Originally at the mouth of the Portage River, the lighthouse built in 1896 sat on private property for six decades, until she was lovingly restored and brought to her new home at Water Works Park in 2016. A replica Lightkeeper’s Boathouse is also located in the park, along with a new in 2020 “Lightkeeper” sculpture on display through fall. While the grounds are open and accessible year-round, the lighthouse is not open for tours this year. Don’t forget to grab a photo with the “Lake Erie Love” sign also on display at Water Works Park.
Heading east on SR 163 via car, you’ll turn north on SR 53 at Catawba to drive your vehicle aboard the Miller Ferry, bound for Put-in-Bay. Yep, you can road trip right across the lake! Vehicles are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis Monday-Friday. Round-trip vehicles are not permitted on weekends. Or, leave your vehicle behind and plan to rent a bicycle or golf cart upon arrival to the island. From the Lime Kiln dock (Miller Ferry arrival point) you’ll drive up the hill (or walk to the top and rent your island transportation) and turn left on Langram Rd. en route to the South Bass Island Lighthouse. Operated by Ohio Sea Grant and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the lighthouse was first lit in 1897 to mark the south passage between Sandusky and Toledo. The grounds are open to the public and offer breathtaking lakeside views, however no tours will be offered this year. After taking in the lighthouse and views, head back out on Langram Rd. to downtown Put-in-Bay where you can grab a bite to eat, do some shopping, or simply enjoy DeRivera Park in the heart of town. Be sure to make note of ferry departure times so you can make it back to the mainland in time to enjoy your next stops.
Once you’ve returned to the mainland via the ferry, continue south on SR 53 towards SR 2. Just before the highway entrance, turn left on E. State Rd and then right on E. Bayshore Rd. Continue on E. Bayshore Rd. along the bottom side of the Marblehead peninsula to The Keeper’s House. This 1822 limestone home was the residence of the first three lighthouse keepers of the Marblehead Lighthouse. Check out the Ohio Historical Marker on site. Summer events at The Keeper’s House have been postponed, but it’s still a unique part of area maritime history to view. Continue east on E. Bayshore Rd. around the tip of the peninsula, where you’ll find the grounds of the Marblehead Lighthouse State Park, home to the lighthouse, the Marblehead Lighthouse Historical Society museum (located in a more recent keeper’s house), and the U.S. Coastguard Lifesaving Station replica.
The oldest continually-operating lighthouse on the Great Lakes, the Marblehead Lighthouse is also one of the most visited and photographed spots on Lake Erie. While the tower and buildings are not operating this year due to COVID-19, the state park’s grounds offer wonderful sightseeing opportunities, with views of the Lake Erie islands and Sandusky across the bay, as well as picnic grounds, and walking trails.
A couple of lighthouse-themed lodging options are available for your overnight stay. Near the Marblehead Lighthouse there is the Marblehead Lite Bed & Breakfast or the Lighthouse Resort Hotel. If you’re road-tripping via RV consider heading east for the night and staying at Lighthouse Point at Cedar Point in Sandusky – one of your stops on day two. Rest up…you’ve got a big day tomorrow!
Day Two – Sandusky to Vermilion
Good morning! Begin your day in downtown Sandusky and stop at the Maritime Museum of Sandusky on the corner of Meigs and Water streets, where you can learn about the area’s nautical history as well as step inside a replica of the Cedar Point Lighthouse. The gift shop also offers a number of lighthouse-related items. The museum is currently open 10 am-4 pm Tuesday-Thursday and Saturday-Sunday. The museum is also open on Fridays – 10 am-4pm is currently reserved for the at-risk population to visit and the museum offers evening hours from 4-8 pm for the general public. The museum is closed on Mondays.
Venture across the street from the museum’s parking lot to either the Meigs Street Pier or Battery Park for a view across the bay at world-famous Cedar Point Amusement Park, home of the original Cedar Point Lighthouse. Built in 1862, the lighthouse was used for navigation until 1909 and is now a central fixture among vacation cottages and cabins that are rented by Cedar Point as Lighthouse Point. The area is only accessible by guests of the amusement park or resort. If you ever get a chance to visit the peninsula, be sure to check it out!
Follow US 6 east out of downtown Sandusky and head towards Huron. You’ll see the entrance to the amusement park, along with the amazing sports venues, Cedar Point Sports Center and Sports Force Parks, and several lovely parks and natural areas on your way there. As you approach Rye Beach Road on the western edge of Huron, US 6 will merge with SR 2. Do not follow this route and instead continue straight at the stoplight intersection on to what is now Cleveland Road W. This road will continue into Huron and end at Main Street, where you will turn left and follow the road along the Huron River’s edge, past the Comfort Inn to the parking lot at Main Street Beach. Here you will find the entrance to the mile-long fishing pier, which leads out to the Huron Lighthouse. This pier is popular with fisherman, bird watchers, and leisure walkers and leads out to an observation platform from which to view the lighthouse. This unique light is still in operation and is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard. While not accessible up-close or available for tours, there are many historical markers and informational signs along the pier and observation platform where you can read about its history.
After the Huron Lighthouse, you can take Main Street back south, where it will meet back up with US 6. Continue east on US 6 towards Vermilion. Upon arrival in downtown Vermilion, US 6 will also become Liberty Avenue. At the stop light at the corner of Liberty Avenue and Main Street, turn left or north towards the lake. The road will dead-end into Main Street Beach, where you’ll find the Vermilion Lighthouse, which is a replica of the original. The original 1877 Vermilion Lighthouse served its community for half a century before being damaged in an ice storm. The lighthouse was replaced by a functional but not aesthetically pleasing light, and it was dismantled and moved to Lake Ontario, where it is now known as the East Charity Shoal Lighthouse off Cape Vincent. The replica was built in 1991 and located at what was then the home of the Inland Seas Maritime Museum, which has since moved to Toledo. However, the light is still operational and accessible via the beach. It is a popular location to sit and admire the lake. After you’ve visited the lighthouse, be sure to explore and enjoy the coastal town of Vermilion, known as “the town of Sea Captains” and filled with unique shops and eateries.
Be sure to photograph your Shores & Islands lighthouse adventure and tag @shoresandislands and hashtag #ThisisCoasting with your pics. If you participate in the U.S. Lighthouse Society Passport Program, contact us for info on where to get your stamp for each lighthouse.
If you are interested in continuing your road trip, there are many more lovely Lake Erie lighthouses to enjoy along the coast. Follow the Lake Erie Coastal Ohio Trail, a National Scenic Byway to enjoy more of Ohio’s shore.
Ohio's Lake Erie Shores & Islands
One of the Midwest’s hottest vacation spots, the region between Toledo and Cleveland provides an eclectic mix of historically significant sites, family-fun amusements, gorgeous scenery, and outdoor recreation.