Ohio State Route 2 may not have the same cachet as Route 66, but for those seeking a gentler, calmer, more relaxing getaway, this 40-mile stretch from Bono to Marblehead (strictly speaking, the last eight miles or so to Marblehead are not on US-2) has everything to soothe your senses and enjoy the simpler pleasures of life. Part of the 190-mile-or-so popular Lake Erie Birding Trail, this stretch of the Ohio coast has been attracting vacationers, bird watchers, and Lake historians to the area for decades. And for good reason: With miles of hiking trails, endless bird and wildlife spotting opportunities, golden beaches, camping and rental accommodations, miles of lakefront vistas with direct access to the Erie Islands, and a unique Americana town where life seems to run at three-quarter speed, it’s no wonder that visitors seeking a place to truly unwind return here year after year.
Birders Migrate Here, Too
Ohio SR 2 runs 227 miles in northern Ohio from the Indiana state line in Hicksville in the west, eventually joining US20 in Painesville Township. The route forms part of the Lake Erie Birding Trail (actually seven individual loop trails) which is strung out from just west of Toledo to Ashtabula and boasts sightings of over 400 different bird species.
1. Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area
From Bono (15 miles east of Toledo) driving through open countryside, past fields of swaying yellow canola, even those with little knowledge or interest in birds cannot fail to notice the white egrets and blue herons standing majestically in the marshes and ditches by the roadside. This area of marshland is home to these beautiful birds, and there are a number of wildlife areas where you can stop, hike into the marshes, and watch the birds. Heading from west to east, Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area (900+ acres of which half is accessible to the public) is a peaceful place to take a stroll (up to two miles one way) with great views of Lake Erie and many opportunities to enjoy the wildlife (including bald eagles).
Pro Tips: There are several pull-offs along the road to a parking lot. Although the trail is an easy hike, it is not paved, so hiking shoes are a good idea. There are no facilities here.
2. Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge
Adjacent to the Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area is the much larger, 7,000-acre Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, which visitors have described as “an absolute dream.” Originally part of the much larger and delightfully named “Great Black Swamp,” today’s refuge has 10 miles of hiking trails along boardwalks and past lookout points. On selected dates, you are able to drive on “seasonal roads.” This is cool, as you get to visit areas of the refuge not usually open.
Pro Tips: Hunting and fishing are allowed in designated areas of the refuge. You may borrow field guides and binoculars at the visitor center to make your wildlife viewing more enjoyable.
3. Magee Marsh Wildlife Area
A little further along is the 2,200-acre Magee Marsh Wildlife area. If you visit here in early to mid-May, be prepared to rub shoulders with hundreds of other bird watchers and photographers. This is the time when warblers stop here during their migration north, and this is Warbler Nirvana for many. People come from miles around to witness the large congregation of birds preparing to take off over the lake and head north. Their return journey in the fall is also an incredible time to visit, as up to 300 species of birds have been spotted in the area at this time.
Pro Tips: There is a one-mile boardwalk with good viewing points. Restrooms are available in the parking by the beach. There is no entrance fee. Wildfowl and deer hunting is available here with the appropriate permit.
4. Marblehead’s Iconic Lighthouse
Heading further south and east on Hwy 2 toward Port Clinton, take Hwy 163 out along the finger that sticks out directly east into Lake Erie — the smallest and shallowest of the Great Lakes. Stop and explore the fingernail — Marblehead — with its iconic, red-topped lighthouse fronting the shores of Lake Erie and Sandusky Bay. This lighthouse has stood sentinel and operated continuously, longer than any other Great Lakes light. Entry into the lighthouse is possible (due to reopen at the end of May 2021) for a small fee, and the 77-stair climb to the top affords fantastic views of neighboring Kelleys Island and Cedar Point Amusement park some five miles (20 miles by car) away. The adjacent former Lightkeeper’s cottage is now a museum established by a local non-profit organization for the preservation of this unique village and particularly the lighthouse.
Pro Tips: For early risers, head to Marblehead Lighthouse State Park and snap an iconic photo as the sun climbs into the sky over the lake, heralding the dawn of a new day. Sit and have lunch at a picnic table in the shadow of the lighthouse, watching fishermen cast for walleye in the lake.
With a permanent population of around 1,000, strolling along Marblehead’s single main street is like walking through a neighborhood where everyone knows each other. Stop by the Chamber of Commerce — or is it a barber or even a soap store? It’s actually all three, located in a single building (with a further two people living upstairs). The barber has been cutting hair here for 22 years. Walk through the house to the next couple of rooms, and you’ll find the Marblehead Soap Company, a three-generation local family store that makes natural handcrafted soaps and other organic body products that they supply to the hotel across the street. The family also keeps bees, and with around 200 hives, there is no shortage of local honey to choose from.
The historic schoolhouse — complete with its red Boys’ and Girls’ doors — is now a winery and inn. A perfect combination! Rocky Point Winery, offering six local and many other wines, is on the first floor of the three-story building. In the summer, guests can enjoy a large patio garden complete with fire pits for those cooler evenings in which to sip, sit back, and quite possibly snooze. The Red Fern Inn offers five-star accommodation on the top two floors and is one of the highest-rated Inns on Ohio’s north coast.
Just around the corner from Marblehead Lighthouse State Park is St. Mary Byzantine Catholic church with its distinctive onion domes and a clear, if perhaps surprising, link to its Eastern European roots.
The small park Lucien Clemens Park, with its grassy area, benches, small beach, and waterbreak to provide safe swimming, is a genteel addition to the town and epitomizes Marblehead — understated, relaxed, and family friendly.
A short diversion from Main Street down a neighborhood side road leads to the lake. Here, a couple of benches provide another excuse to sit and watch life amble by — in this case, the Kelley’s Island ferry shuttling people and cars back and forth and seagulls endlessly wheeling and diving.
Just west of Marblehead on the shores of Lake Erie, East Harbor State Park is a hub of activity. The campground and marina make it a great base for exploring this 40-mile northern Ohio coastal stretch. The park has 1- miles of trails, two miles of beach, and safe lake swimming.
There are plenty of accommodations along this 40-mile route – from the highly-rated Red Fern Inn to cottages for rent, and RV sites and campgrounds. Whatever you choose, bring sturdy walking boots and dress in layers — the weather on the coast can be a few degrees cooler than inland. And don’t forget the sunscreen.