Take in amazing views of Lake Erie from your tent at South Bass Island State Park.
I awake to a cool summer breeze flowing through the tent window screens. As nature's alarm clock, it leaves me pleasantly well rested for a day of exploring South Bass Island with the family.
Put-in-Bay, a village on the island's north side, may have a fairly accurate reputation as a nighttime party destination, but there's a plethora of island pursuits for those like us searching for a relaxed camping excursion.
Take Perry's Monument, the centerpiece of the Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial, which commemorates the Battle of Lake Erie and the War of 1812. As we climb the 352-foot structure, panoramic views unfold of the Put-in-Bay marina, nearby Rattlesnake and Middle Bass islands, and Kelleys Island off in the distance.
Once back on solid ground, we rent bikes and head south for about a mile and a half through downtown for a quick visit to the Lake Erie Islands Nature and Wildlife Center, where we learn more about the island's animal and plant life.
Ready to return to camp, we settle in to enjoy a brilliant sunset from our cliff-edge spot at South Bass Island State Park. The view before us wins our full attention until our site becomes cloaked in darkness as the Great Lake consumes the sun.
Although the campground sits 30 feet above the lake on an exposed white stone cliff, it doesn't mean the lake is only for observing. At the southern section of the park, the land slopes to create a beach.
The next morning, we head down with our own kayaks for a morning paddle. The blue water's cooler-than-air temp sharpens the senses. From the kayak, I can see our tent — site No. 101 — shaded by the campground's forest canopy. I must remind myself I am camping in Ohio, as the view of the rising rock island topped with lush plants doesn't fit a typical Buckeye State campsite.
It is captivating — so much so that it prompts my wife to ask if I am OK. "I'm fine," I reply. "Absolutely fine." I trade smiles with the family, and we paddle on.
// Robert Loewendick
$28 and $29 nightly fee, 1523 Catawba Ave., Put-in-Bay, 866-644-6727, ohiostateparks.org
5 More Campsites
Beaver Creek State Park
The Little Beaver Creek cuts through a lush valley carpeted with a mix of big trees and short, river meadows. Sitting on top of the valley and overlooking the river are spacious campsites spread out under a mature pine forest. The North Country Trail runs through Beaver Creek State Park, offering premier hiking along the river and up the valley walls. $18-$23 per night, 12021 Echo Dell Road, East Liverpool, 866-644-6727, ohiostateparks.org
American Electric Power ReCreation Land
What was once a surface coal mining mega center in 1969, is now 60,000 acres of green, reclaimed wilderness 30 minutes south of Zanesville. The rolling hills and 600 lakes and ponds host six campgrounds across the AEP ReCreation Land. Campsites, many of them waterfront, are primitive and mostly remote, accessed by gravel lanes. The ruggedness of the place requires a good map, a GPS and a sense of adventure. Free with permit, visit website for addresses, 740-962-1205, aep.com/environment/conservation
John Bryan State Park
A sturdy pair of hiking boots is needed to explore the gorge at John Bryan State Park. Choose from nine hiking trails that meander around the gorge rim, descend to the bottom and follow the Little Miami River. There are also roughly 10 miles of multiuse trails great for mountain bikers. A quiet campground with plenty of oak-shaded campsites sits out of the way of the main park traffic, but close to the gorge and a few of the trailheads. $19-$23 per night, 3790 state Route 370, Yellow Springs, 866-644-6727, ohiostateparks.org
Kokosing Lake Campground
A 154-acre lake is the focus of this camping destination, so a kayak or canoe should be packed first. A tent-only section juts out of the main campground with grassy sites set in a row following the lake shoreline. Bring a good pair of binoculars also, as wildlife flourishes around the lake throughout the Kokosing Wildlife Area. $23-$27 per night, 18352 Waterford Road, Fredericktown, 740-694-1900, mwcd.org
Mary Jane Thurston State Park
The Maumee River has attracted riverside campers for centuries. Only now, the campsites support recreation instead of sustainment camps utilized by Native Americans. Nearby is Grand Rapids, a small river town with a few shops, a popular ice cream spot and great views of the scenic river rapids. $18-$23 per night, 1466 state Route 65, McClure, 866-644-6727, ohiostateparks.org
That's the appeal of an RV, I realize: choice. From small ones (like letting Parker do his own thing inside the camper) to big decisions (like planning where to camp next), these hulking behemoths on wheels mash up the best parts of vacation — relaxation and freedom — while nixing the bummers. Unlike cabin life, we're not stuck in one place. And unlike tent camping, we're not subject to the elements.
When we're settled into the camper, rented from North Canton's General RV (just $465 a week for a pop-up camper), we turn the air conditioning on. Later, as the evening cools down, we turn it off. Ahh, choices.
We're staying at the Lake because it's close to home, just 15 minutes down the road but 50 years back in time. We spend a lazy, sunny day on the beach of the 6-acre lake, watching kids flip off diving boards rigged to floating rafts and noshing on french fries delivered beach blanket-side from the snack shack. Over on the playground, my son discovers a teeter-totter for the first time and hits golf balls through a windmill on the rickety putt-putt course. Events such as a family board game night (July 16) and an ice cream social (Aug. 1) beckon from the bulletin board outside the camp store.
It's all • easy. With a sleepy campground as our backdrop, a textbook campfire at our feet and a comfortable bed calling my name, vacationing with kids suddenly doesn't seem quite so stressful.
We chose wisely.
// Amber Matheson
$45 per night, 2678 S. Hametown Road, Norton, 330-825-4343, thelakecampground.com
3 RV SpotsCedarlane RV Park
Visitors are surrounded by water — the park is a mile from Lake Erie and has three heated swimming pools. The nearby Jet Express also offers guests a narrated ferry tour of several islands. $48 per night, 2926 NE Catawba Road, Port Clinton, 419-797-9907,cedarlanervpark.comIndian Springs Campground
Situated right off Interstate 275, guests can fish on the 16-acre lake, work out at the indoor gym or get a quick haircut at the on-site barbershop. $40-$45 per night, 3306 State Line Road, North Bend, 513-353-9244, indianspringscampground.comWolfie's Campground
With 54 sites for recreational vehicles, guests can enjoy the ground's heated swimming pool or take a quick trip to the on-site grocery store. $30-$35 per night, 101 Buckeye Drive, Zanesville, 740-454-0925, wolfiescampground.com
Embrace the elements frontier-style in an authentic teepee.
As my girlfriend Courtney and I are driving to Hocking Hills for our overnight stay in a teepee, Mother Nature greets us with three hours of rain that would have sent Noah searching for a bigger boat.
We start second-guessing our choice of lodging. But once we get to At Boulders Edge Cabin & Tipi Retreat, the rain subsides.
One of the three teepees on the sleepy, wooded year-round property, Red-Tail Hawk stands nearly 30-feet tall — wrapped in canvas and decorated with Native American-style depictions of animals — bigger than I'd expected.
Although there's a wooden floor, the planks have slits wide enough for creepy crawlers to get through and wage war on unsuspecting guests.
As we unload all of our gear — an air mattress, blankets, pillows, a battery-powered lantern, junk food, an iPad and a Kindle (with some rechargeable battery packs for both, of course), and Barney, our 5-year-old puggle — the sun shines down and dries up all the rain. It's long enough for us to build a fire, roast some hot dogs and corn on the cob, and relax.
But someone isn't done with us. As light drops of rain start pinging us, Courtney and I look at each other and play out the next few minutes telepathically. Should we run all our gear inside the teepee only to bring it back out if it's a short shower, or wait it out and risk everything getting drenched?
We all end up soaked. Mother Nature claims this day.
Thankfully, the rain falling through the hole at the top of the teepee manages to stay in the center, though the same can't be said for those pesky spiders.
When morning breaks, the view through the top of the teepee shines bright blue. We set off to explore the nearby Ash Cave, the largest recess cave in Ohio, before heading home rested and weather-tested against a cloudless sky.
// Jason Brill
$65-$85 per night, 11470 Dalton Road, Rockbridge, 740-385-0707, atbouldersedge.com
Teepees and Yurts
The yurt at Beechwood Acres, which comfortably sleeps five, is as luxurious as camping gets. A flat-screen TV and an air-conditioning unit provide comforts some campers may scoff at. Not to worry, you'll still have plenty of opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors while sitting on the wooden patio or swimming in the outdoor pool. $60-$80 per night, 855 Yankee Road, Wilmington, 937-289-2202, beechwoodacres.com
A live disc jockey and a free water park create a unique camping experience at Clay•s Park Resort. The custom-built canvas yurts remove any semblance of roughin' it with beds for five, hardwood floors and full electricity. Come on the right weekend and catch music festivals such as the Midwest Reggae Fest or the Country Fest. $138 per night, 13190 Patterson St. NW, North Lawrence, 330-854-6691, clayspark.com
For an authentic camping experience, take a journey to Native American grounds at the Indian Trail Campground. Wake up in one of two traditional teepees, which sleep two to three people, and find solace in the 15-minute hike to the ancient, turtle-shaped worship mound. Other attractions include live bands and a game room. $29 per night, 1400 state Route 2505, New London, 419-929-1135
Pymatuning Lake's 14,000 acres has some of the best walleye and muskellunge fishing in the state. So why waste time pitching a tent? Yurt rentals sleep up to six on comfortable futons and come with a large wooden deck, fire ring and picnic table for a convenient camping experience. $45 per night, 6100 Pymatuning Lake Road, Andover, 866-644-6727, ohiostateparks.org
Nestled deep in the woods of Hocking Hills, a traditional Sioux-style teepee offers a primitive camping experience. The site, which sits on a 40-acre property, offers no running water or electricity and is ideal for experienced campers. The new teepee is adorned with a queen bed, wood floor and indoor chimenea. $65-$85 per night, 32147 Anthony Road, Logan, 740-380-1119, secludedsanctuaries.com
Enjoy the lush outdoors and the comforts of home with a stay in a luxury cabin.
It's a sad fact of life: Real camping isn't for everyone. Don't get me wrong; I enjoy a bit of hardscrabble tent pitching as much as the next guy. It's my significant other that balks at the very mention of a single night outdoors. She prefers the comforts of modernity — the cool ease of a fully stocked refrigerator and a bed that doesn't double as the ground. Until now, many a rural getaway has been left to die on the girlfriend-approval altar.
But finally, at the Murphin Ridge Inn about an hour outside of Cincinnati, we've found a place welcoming to indoor- and outdoor-inclined alike. The spacious Frolic Cabin, one of nine on the property's 142 acres, offers vaulted ceilings, bare-wood decor and windows with a view of the grove of trees outside. I begrudgingly admit, through gritted tentpoles, it provides the spirit of rural adventure without the bother of roughing it. Complete with a luxurious jet-equipped tub, fireplace and air conditioning, our cabin manages to straddle the line between rustic and refined.
Checking in late on a sticky June afternoon, we stroll through a rolling field blazing in the setting sun to the Dining House and a three-course dinner topped off with a decadent chocolate torte. Afterward, we attempt to walk off our meal with a hike on the inn's trails, but quickly gravitate toward the pool; if only our suits weren't lingering thanklessly at home. Instead, undistracted by the intrusions of Wi-Fi or television, we wile the evening away reading on the cabin's back patio and planning the next morning's outing to Serpent Mound.
After sleeping through a storm that crashes and wails beautifully outside, we emerge the next morning thankful for shelter and the light breakfast awaiting us. Our only regret, stomachs full and spirits replenished, is climbing in the car to drive away.
// Sheehan Hannan
$130-$265, 750 Murphin Ridge Road, West Union, 877-687-7446, murphinridgeinn.com
5 More Cabins and Cottages
If you love being out on the water, opt to stay in one of these lakefront cabins at Atwood Lake Park. You can launch your boat from the complementary dock near the cluster of 10 cabins or cast your rod from the lake's fishing pier during the day and kayak at midnight when there's a full moon. $84.56 per night (two-night minimum), 9500 Lakeview Road NE, Mineral City, 330-343-6780, mwcd.orgBig Red's Lodges
The 25 wooded acres that surround the eight Arts and Crafts-style cabins of Big Red's Lodges make it hard to remember you're in Columbus. Relax in front of the cabin's fireplace or explore the property's wetlands from the 1.25-mile walking path. In a few minutes' drive, you'll reach downtown, Ohio State University and other big-city attractions. From $139 per night, 3773 Olentangy River Road, Columbus, 614-566-2447, bigredslodges.comBuffalo Lodging Co.
While the 20 rustic cabins of Buffalo Lodging Co. range in size, they have all either recently been built or renovated. Nestled in Hocking Hills, you'll easily be able to explore the nearby caves and waterfalls. Varying prices, 24825 Miller Road, Rockbridge, 740-385-6263, buffalolodgingcompany.comA Cabin on the Hill
Originally a mid-19th century log church, A Cabin on the Hill still has classic charm. Sit on the porch that overlooks the 90-acre property, situated in Wayne National Forest. Bring binoculars and venture onto the private trails that lend to bird-watching. Walk less than a mile to reach the banks of the Ohio River. From $229 per night, 325 N. Fork Road, Matamoras, 740-228-1099, a-cabin-on-the-hill.comRock Ledge Inn Cottages
A staircase leads you from the five cottages into the waist-deep water of Lake Erie. Located on Catawba Island, the fully equipped cottages are a short drive from Sandusky and ferries to nearby Put-in-Bay and Kelleys Island. Charter a boat to fish for the region's famous walleye and make it back to your cottage by dusk to enjoy the sunset from the porch. $160-$480 per night, 2772 E. Sand Road, Port Clinton, 419-734-3265, scenicrockledgeinn.com
Bring the whole family to one of Ohio's state lodges for a weekend full of fun.
It's a last-gasp weekend. With summer about to fade below the horizon, there hasn't even been time for our family to pitch a tent in the backyard between ballgames, camps and deadlines. So, this is it — two nights at Salt Fork Lodge & Conference Center in Cambridge with a goal of traveling light and packing in enough fun to carry us through the fall.
Tucked into its wooded surroundings like a baby bird, the 148-room stone and pine-beam structure is modeled after the grand park lodges of the early 1900s.
Although we've chosen a bunk room for the extra beds, the math doesn't quite work — three kids, two bunks — sparking the weekend's first clash. As a distraction, we point out the pool, and everyone agrees to make it our first stop. But after a few hours, the kids borrow tennis equipment from the front desk for some lackluster doubles on the resort's court. As ball boy, I get more activity than anyone, including the nosy deer.
Despite the threat of rain the next day, we rent a 24-foot pontoon boat from the Salt Fork Marina for an afternoon of tubing on the 2,970-acre lake. For hours, we cruise each finger of the ski zone as everyone takes turns. Only an overboard towel and an almost-lost swimsuit blemish the otherwise perfect day.
Back at the lodge for the evening, we head out to the large campfire area where families are cooking s'mores and roasting hot dogs. Yet, our time on the water has worn us out, and we turn in for the night. We spend our final day by the pool, hiking to the lake and playing pingpong. In one last act of summer, the girls paint their palms and leave their colorful marks on the game room wall with the other handprints to let everyone know we were here.
// Steve Gleydura
$153-$222, 4755 Cadiz Road, Lore City, 740-435-9000, saltforkstateparklodge.com
3 More Lodges
It makes a great home base for a tour of the nearby wineries or kitschy downtown boardwalk. $220-$320 per night, 866-806-8066, 4888 N. Broadway Ave., Geneva-on-the-Lake, thelodgeatgeneva.comMaumee Bay lodge and conference center
With a rec center indoors and options to golf, bike, swim and more, this is an all-weather destination. $159-$250 per night, 419-836-1466, 1750 State Park Road No. 2, Oregon, maumeebaystateparklodge.comPunderson Manor Lodge and Conference Center
It's on a lake and historic, not haunted (unless you're into that). $190-$250 per night, 440-564-9144, 11755 Kinsman Road, Newbury, pundersonmanorstateparklodge.com
Spending time in the wild is so much more enjoyable with modern-day conveniences at your fingertips.
Give me a sleeping bag, a tent and a fire and I'm good to go. But every once in a while a girl just wants to be pampered while becoming one with nature.
That's why I'm camped out at Nomad Ridge, a collection of five adult-only yurts that dot the landscape of the Wilds, a 10,000-acre nonprofit conservation center filled with hundreds of animals wandering freely.
It's my first time glamping — shorthand for glamour camping — a national trend that has campgrounds sprucing up their accommodations with indulgent touches such as queen-size mattresses, air conditioning, Keurigs and full bathrooms.
I have all that in my spacious abode and more — there's plush Asian-inspired decor, bamboo flooring, a private deck, catered meals and most importantly, a 24-hour concierge.
After soaking up the posh setting and teetering on staying inside all day long, I decide to get back to basics. It's as easy as opening my door, seeing the lush rolling hills and deep green valleys and taking it all in.
Of course, I'm not content with just looking at all those animals from afar. Lucky for me, another added bonus of staying here is a complimentary open-air safari ride through the grounds. I pile on the bus with other eager tourists who ventured to southeastern Ohio to get an up-close look at zebras, rhinos, camels and one unruly ostrich that pecks at the side of the vehicle.
But for me, I am bursting with anticipation as we round a hill. I can see five long, lanky necks in the distance — giraffes. The sight of my favorite animals roaming carelessly is so breathtaking that I forget about thread-count and Wi-Fi. This is the real luxury.
// Kim Schneider
$325-$425 per night, 14000 International Road, Cumberland, 740-638-5030, thewilds.org
3 More Glamour Camps
Three all-wood, luxury cabins perched 22-feet in the air and adorned with a stone Jacuzzi, fireplace and fully equipped kitchen provide a unique lodging experience in Ohio's Amish Country. $145-$249 per night, 5492 County Road 201, Berlin, 330-893-1001, amishcountrylodging.comThe Mohicans
Two spacious, fully stocked treehouses, built by expert treehouse designer Pete Nelson, from the Animal Planet show Treehouse Masters, deliver gorgeous views of the Mohican Valley. $220-$290 per night, 22650 Vess Road, Glenmont, 440-799-3419, themohicancabins.comSimon Kenton Inn
This historic 4.5-acre farm, formerly belonging to famed American frontiersman Simon Kenton, offers luxury treehouse rentals with all the amenities and an on-site restaurant and pub. $99-$149 per night, 4690 Urbana Road, Springfield, 937-399-9950, simonkentoninn.com