If you’re looking for a fantastic midwest fall leaf-peeping road trip, look no further than Lake Erie Coastal Byway in Ohio.
Special thanks to By Rob Tischler, Co-Owner of Allstar Coaches for this guest post.
As summer begins to fade away, autumn-aficionados wait eagerly for the first bursts of fall color to appear. By the time October arrives, leaves have changed from a vibrant green into brilliant shades of red, orange, purple and yellow. Since the invention of the car, fall-lovers have toured this country’s scenic backroads, hoping to experience these remarkable colors firsthand. During peak-season, leaf-peeping is akin to traveling through a private watercolor, commissioned just for you. Nothing quite compares.
Some experts claim fall’s best colors happen in the northeast, in places like Vermont or New England. Others point to the Great Smoky Mountains on the Tennessee, North Carolina border. But for my money, northern Ohio offers a look at some of the best fall foliage in the country (with the added bonus of fewer crowds).
The Lake Erie Coastal Byway
One of my favorite fall foliage tours lies at the northern edge of Ohio along the nearly 300 mile stretch of coastal roads known as The Lake Erie Coastal Byway. Extending from Conneaut in the east to Toledo in the west, this collection of back roads, state highways, and interstates hug the shores of Lake Erie. Along the way, they pass through quaint fishing villages, beautiful state parks and Cleveland — Ohio’s second-largest city.
To make the most of your trip, you’ll want to time your drive for when the leaves are at their most colorful. Unfortunately, predicting the peak color isn’t an exact science. The timing of this seasonal transformation depends on the weather, soil conditions and a dozen other factors. However, peak season in the coastal part of Ohio typically arrives between the second and third week of October.
You could drive the length of the byway and back over a long weekend, but I prefer to take my time. When I make this trip, I pack my RV with all my trusty outdoor gear and plan to spend a full week outside, watching those birch, elm, maple and oak trees do their thing. Fortunately, you’ll find plenty of parks and natural areas along the way to enjoy this beautiful part of the country.
Great Ohio Lake to River Greenway
You’ll begin your journey near the Pennsylvania border, following Route 531 along the Lake Erie coastline. Before long, you’ll arrive in Ashtabula — the terminus of the Great Ohio Lake to River Greenway. This playground consists of 81 miles of asphalt biking and hiking pathways that any outdoor enthusiast will love. Travelers could spend an entire day at this spot, taking in all those amazing fall colors while exploring the lush woods and farmland that make up the greenway. So don’t forget to pack your walking shoes or your trusty bike, because this is one spot you won’t want to miss.
Ashtabula County is known for their many covered bridges, wine and beautiful sunsets at Geneva-on-the-Lake State Park. You’ll find a campground to park your RV for the night or reserve a room next door at The Lodge at Geneva-on-the Lake.
As you leave Ashtabula county, you’ll continue your drive west along the water as you pass through Lake County and onto Cuyahoga County — the home of Cleveland, Ohio. Now Cleveland sometimes gets a bad rap, but it has a lot to offer outdoor lovers. In fact, one of the city’s crown jewels is its network of green spaces known as the Cleveland Metroparks.
This park system includes 18 natural spaces covering some 23,000 acres, featuring more than 300 miles of walking, running and biking trails, golf courses, a zoo and more. This natural space is the perfect place to ogle autumn’s seasonal beauty and get a little exercise to boot. While visiting Cleveland, you can also stop by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, watch a Browns game or tour one of the city’s many museums.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Just a few miles south of Cleveland sits Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which preserves the natural area around the Cuyahoga River. This is a relatively young national park, receiving its official designation in 2000. However, it’s long been a favorite recreation spot for city-dwellers in Cleveland and nearby Akron.
At the park, visitors can explore miles of hiking trails taking them through farmland, forests and rolling hills. Before you leave, be sure to visit the stunning Brandywine Falls — the tallest of the park’s 100 waterfalls — for an ideal view of the park’s forest land wearing its full autumnal colors.
Kelleys Island State Park
Continue traveling west as you leave Cuyahoga Valley National Park. You’ll soon arrive at one of Ohio’s most unique attractions: Kelleys Island State Park. Humans are believed to have inhabited this 2,800-acre space for centuries, as evidenced by the island’s prehistoric mounds and earthworks. Park visitors can also view petroglyphs — dated to at least the 1600’s — carved into a massive limestone boulder called Inscription Rock. The island is also home to the Glacial Grooves Geological Preserve which exhibits 18,000-year old grooves scoured into limestone rock by glaciers during the last ice age.
While you’re taking in the history, you can also travel along three different hiking and biking paths. Each allows you to explore different parts of the park and see more of those unbelievable fall leaves. Private ferries bring cars, RVs, bicyclists, and pedestrians to the island multiple times every day from mainland locations in Sandusky and Marblehead.
Maumee Bay State Park
Your coastal trip ends at Maumee Bay State Park, near the Ohio-Michigan border. This 1,300-acre park sits on what was once a massive wetland known as The Great Black Swamp. Due to human settlement, the swamp was drained and converted to farmland. Today, only a small strip of swamp remains.
Visitors can stop by the Trautman Nature Center at the heart of the park, which features interactive exhibits detailing the area’s history and natural diversity. Then, head outdoors to enjoy miles of hiking and biking trails as you tour the reclaimed marshland and see the best fall has to offer.
Where Ohio History, Culture and Nature Meet
During your drive along The Lake Erie Coastal Byway, you’ve traveled some 300 miles through 8 different counties and countless communities along the way. You’ve also experienced firsthand the unique coastal Ohio culture, so deeply ingrained with the long history and natural wonder of Lake Erie itself. Most importantly, you’ve witnessed fall’s full display by touring 5 of the state’s most remarkable natural areas, all set against one of the country’s largest freshwater lakes. Truly a trip to remember.