We are very lucky that our area is jam-packed with outdoor activities for the kids. Now that it’s almost summer, and the days have been filled with warm weather and sunshine, everyone wants to get their kids outside. For many families filling their summer with trips to the beach, nature hikes, park trips, and everything that summer has to offer helps to combat the cabin fever that will be creeping in in a few months. This is the perfect time of year to spend time outdoors, explore our area, and share experiences with our children.
Here are our picks, in no particular order, for the best free or low cost outdoor family activities in Lake County, Ohio:
Mentor Headlands Beach
Located at 9601 Headlands Road in Mentor, Headlands is one of most kid friendly beaches in Lake County. Headlands Beach is a one mile long, natural sand beach and it is the largest natural sand beach in the state of Ohio. During the summer months lifeguards are on duty, and the soft, sandy bottom makes this beach perfect for wading or swimming. The park also features picnic areas, grills, a very large parking area, restrooms, changing areas, and playground equipment for the kids. Parking and admission are free.
Headlands Dunes State Nature Preserve
Bordering Headlands Beach to the east is Headlands Dunes State Nature Preserve. This is a beautiful place to take the family. Walking the sandy trails through the dunes and seeing Lake Erie in the distance definitely makes you feel like you aren’t in Ohio anymore. This is a great spot for nature lovers because there are several species of plants that grow here that aren’t found anywhere else in our area. This is also a very popular place for bird watching. It’s beautiful, it’s peaceful, and it’s so different than any other park in our area. Parking and admission are free.
Bellflower Spray Park
Bellflower Spray Park is located at 7221 Bellflower Road in Mentor and open from Memorial Day through Labor Day. This is an awesome find. It’s a large (3,000 square foot) spray park and your kids will have a blast here. There are benches and a covered sitting area for parents, it’s entirely fenced in, and the floor of the spray park is slightly padded and is made of a material that provides a bit of traction so that it isn’t slippery. The kids have so much fun, and it is completely free. If you live in an apartment with no yard, this park is an amazing alternative to running through the sprinklers.
Squire’s Castle at North Chagrin Reservation
What kid doesn’t want to go run around and play in an old castle? Squire’s Castle is located in Willoughby Hills in North Chagrin Reservation. There are several hiking trails, a nature center that overlooks Sanctuary Marsh, a beautiful scenic lookout, picnic areas and trails for everything. Squire’s Castle is just one of the many great things about North Chagrin Reservation.
The picnic area and large, open, grassy field in front of the castle are popular gathering places for birthday parties, family get-togethers, or even to throw a frisbee, or fly a kite. Admission and parking at Squire’s Castle and North Chagrin Reservation are free.
Lake Erie Bluffs
A new addition to Lake Metroparks, Lake Erie Bluffs is located at 2901 Clark Road in Perry Township. The park is 139 acres with a 1,300 foot long beach full of driftwood. Amenities of this park include: a public restroom, picnic tables, and a half mile hiking trail. There is no boat dock, but you can walk a kayak down to the shore if you wanted to do some kayaking, and you can swim at your own risk. One of the best features of this park is the scenic lookout on the top of the 70-foot bluff. You have completely undisturbed views in both directions with no development in sight. This park has become very popular for nature lovers, and it is a great spot to walk the beach, hike, and fish. This park is expected to become a popular spot for bird watching due to the number of rare bird species found at the park, including bald eagles. Lake Erie Bluffs is open from sunrise to sunset. Parking and entry to the park are free.
Mentor Lagoons Nature Preserve
Located at 8365 Harbor Drive in Mentor, this nature preserve is another great spot for walking, hiking, and biking. It has over three miles of trails with views of the Lake Erie shoreline, Mentor Marsh, and the marina. Admission and parking are free.
Chagrin River Park
This is one of the best parks in Lake County. The trails are beautiful, there is a fire pit that smells so good as you walk past it, there is a sledding hill that turns into a perfect area to play and roll down during the spring and summer. The river is a perfect spot for fishing, or wading, or letting the dog cool off after a long walk. There are several picnic areas, and a playground for children. There are three entrances to Chagrin River Park, two in Willoughby and one in Eastlake. Parking and admission are both free.
Holden Arboretum is one of the greatest finds in our area. This place is overflowing with gardens, and they are beautiful and meticulously cared for. It features over 120,000 plants! You can take your time and walk the paths through the different gardens, and stop and have a picnic. There are over 20 miles of hiking trails through ponds and the forest. The Holden Arboretum is located at 9500 Sperry Road in Kirtland. Admission rates are: $6 for non-members, $3 for children ages 6-12, $5 for seniors, and children 5 and under are free. Admission is free on Arbor Day.
Fairport Harbor Lakefront Beach Park
This one is almost free. Admission is free, but parking is $2 for county residents and $3 for out-of-county visitors. The beach has a sandy bottom, is a great place for swimming, and is often voted one of the best beaches in Northeast Ohio. The park also features a playground, concession stands, restrooms, changing rooms and showers, picnic areas, grills, and volleyball courts. You can rent kayaks by the hour ($10 per hour for a single, $15 her hour for a double). Stand-up paddleboards are also available to rent. This beach park is unique because it is quite pet-friendly. Dogs are allowed on paved and grassy surfaces, and there is a designated dog swim area.
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
This is a little splurge for some families, but it’s worth it! Taking the kids to the zoo builds such great family memories that no one will forget. The Cleveland Zoo is located at 3900 Wildlife Way in Cleveland. Parking is free and admission for the summer season is as follows: Adults (12 and older) $12.25. Children (2-11) $8.25. Children under 2 are free. These rates also include admission to TheRainforest. This zoo features a large elephant exhibit called Elephant Crossing. It also has the popular African Savannah section where you are able to hand feed a giraffe for $2. Kids love interacting with the giraffe and being so close to them. Other sections of the zoo are: the Northern Trek, Australian Adventure, and a Primates, Cats, and Aquatics section. There is also a nice lake walk, camel rides for $4 per person, a very large tree house play area, water misters to cool off, food courts, concession stands, and many restrooms, including family restrooms. This definitely makes for a memorable family day.