It’s easy to get caught up in the beauty of Portage Lakes. As you navigate the collection of eight lakes and reservoirs that anchor the small Summit County communities surrounding them, you can’t help but envision yourself living the ultimate #lakelife at one of the many homes dotting the shores. Oh, the lazy mornings spent kayaking, the cool evenings hanging out at our Tiki bar. Maybe I can afford that house. I’ll start saving for a boat tomorrow. Originally created in 1825 to help supply water for the Ohio Canal, these bodies of water have attracted a close-knit group of lifelong residents and tourists eager to explore its splendor. Together they make up this tribe who celebrate the uncomplicated world of breezy boat rides, fishing expeditions and sandy beach days — and you’ll want to be a part of it.
Average depth: 9.18 feet
Deepest point: 60 feet
The Water: For advice on how to jump into these lakes, head to Pier 619 Pontoon Rentals, just south of the West Reservoir off West Turkeyfoot Lake Road. The little navy blue and white stand rents pontoons for those looking for a leisurely four-hour tour. But opt for one of the spot’s kayaks for a more intimate encounter with nature — geese gliding through the water in flocks — and a little house hunting. Paddle your way south toward Turkeyfoot Lake through twists and turns as the channels curve past homes decked out with lawn chairs, beach towels and wind chimes. “We are right smack-dab in the middle,” says Pier 619 owner Dylan Hinkle. “So it’s easy to navigate back and forth between the different lakes.”
The Land: No need to let Fido miss out on all the fun. The Portage Lakes State Park opened a dog park in 2008 near the Bay Side Picnic Area. The 2-acre, fenced-in area remains popular today with a mix of small and large dogs romping on the beach and taking a dip. Pro tip: Once outside the dog park, make sure to properly leash your dog. Park rangers are known to hand out tickets for roaming pets.
Where to Stay: Airbnb can be your best friend here. Find a handful of houses for rent — from a cozy lakefront cottage to a spacious modern home great for up to nine guests. Even Hinkle rents out a two-story, three-bedroom home called the Nautical House. “We saw the need for something to make this area a destination,” he says. “We get people from all over the world like Brazil, California, Washington, D.C., and Arizona.”
Where to Eat: Waterfront restaurants and bars abound throughout Portage Lakes. But locals belly up to Howie’s on the Lake. With ample room for docking your pontoon boat, the 66-year-old spot on Turkeyfoot Lake’s southern edge is tucked off a small resident street and doesn’t get the same rush of tourists as some of its counterparts. Once you find this hidden gem, order a bucket drink (with plenty of straws for sharing) such as the Monkey Juice ($10) made with Malibu Coconut Rum, pineapple juice and banana liqueur to sip while perusing the menu of tacos, burgers and wings. The open-air patio boasts wooden picnic tables and umbrellas, but seek out the cornhole boards. They’re a great way to wager who’s buying the next round of drinks.
Expert Take: Winter doesn’t slow down life here. When the lakes freeze — more than 10 inches thick in most cases — you’ll see snowmobiles and four-wheelers replace pontoon boats. “Even a few years ago, people were taking their cars and trucks out there and zipping along the lake,” Hinkle says.