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 our family, filling our summer with trips to the beach, nature hikes, park trips, and anything that summer has to offer, is our way to combat the cabin fever that will be creeping in in a few months. We look forward to this time of year, and we get excited about exploring the area and sharing these experiences with our children.
Here are our picks, in no particular order, for the best FREE outdoor family activities in Lake County, Ohio:
1. Headlands Beach State Park & Headlands Dunes State Nature Preserve
Located at 9601 Headlands Road in Mentor, Headlands is one of most kid friendly beaches that we’ve found 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.
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.
You can walk right down to the beach and take a stroll to the lighthouse, collect rocks, or just relax and hang out while watching the waves.
Admission to Headlands Dunes State Nature Preserve is also free.
2. The Water Spray Park at Bellflower Park
A friend of mine recently told me about this place and I can’t believe that I didn’t know about it! It’s located at 7221 Bellflower Road in Mentor and open from Memorial Day through Labor Day. This was an awesome find. It’s a large (3,000 square foot) spray park and our kids had 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 some sort of material that provides a bit of traction so that it isn’t super slippery. The kids had so much fun, it was adorable to watch them run and play, and it was completely free. If you live in an apartment with no yard like we do, this park is an amazing alternative to running through the sprinklers. I wish I had a park like this to go to when I was a little kid.
3. Penitentiary Glen Reservation
Located at 8668 Kirtland-Chardon Road in Kirtland, this is another great place to take the kids. It has 7.5 miles of hiking trails, you can hike down the gorge which is 100 feet deep, and visit the Nature Center. At the Wildlife Center they rescue injured animals and you can walk through the exhibit and see the owls, falcons, vulchers, eagles (sometimes), and other animals that they have rescued and are being rehabilitated. Admission and parking are free.
4. Squire’s Castle at North Chagrin Reservation
What little kid doesn’t want to go run around in an old castle? Squire’s Castle is located in Willoughby Hills in North Chagrin Reservation. We love North Chagrin Reservation. It has 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. We’ve seen several little girls dressed up in princess gear for their trip to Squire’s Castle. Our three year old daughter always gets a big kick out of visiting the castle. Admission and parking at Squire’s Castle and North Chagrin Reservation are free.
5. 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.
6. Daniels Park
One of our favorite local playgrounds is at Daniels Park, located at 38401 Johnnycake Ridge Road in Willougbhy. This park is popular for fishing, birthday parties, family reunions, and the biggest thing we love is the entirely fenced in playground. If you have young kids, like we do, it’s nice to have the security of the fence so that they can run around and play a little more freely.
7. Historic Kirtland Village
If you’d like to experience and share some history with the kids, the Historic Kirtland Village, at 7800 Kirtland-Chardon Road in Kirtland, offers free tours. This restored, 19th century village features an ashery, sawmill, schoolhouse, the Jack Johnson Inn, the Whitney Home, the Newel K. Whitney Store, and a visitor’s center. Everything in Historic Kirtland Village looks the same as it did in the 1830′s. Tours and parking are free. Restrooms and picnic areas are available.
8. Chagrin River Park
I must admit that this is one of my all time favorite parks. 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. The one we typically use is located at 37699 Erie Road in Willoughby.
And here are our picks for summer activities for a small fee:
9. 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 and is a great place for swimming. 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.
10. Willoughby Municipal Pools
We have two pools in our city: the Euclid Avenue Pool, located at 36900 Euclid Ave., and the Osborne Park Pool, located at 38575 Lakeshore Blvd.
Daily rates are: 7 and up-$5.50, and $3.50 if you’re under 7.
The pools offer a Learn-To-Swim Program, as well as different aquatic classes and training classes. More info can be found here. Some days you just need to cool off in a pool and we will definitely be going a lot this summer.
11. Lake Metroparks Farmpark
We had a wonderful experience at the Farmpark for their annual Country Lights event last winter and we can’t wait to experience the Farmpark this summer. It’s located at 8800 Euclid-Chardon Road in Kirtland.
Admission rates are: $6 for adults, $4 for children ages 2 through 11, and $5 for ages 60 and older. Children under two are free. The first Sunday and third Tuesday of each month are Lake County Resident Free Days.
If you want to take the kids out to the country and have them experience the different animals ranging from cows and pigs, to horses and alpacas then this would be a great family activity. Kids can watch and experience milking the cows, and learn about cheese making and old fashioned ice cream making. The Farmpark also has a Plant Science Center, and a Woodland Center. There are always events going on at the Farmpark, and a Farmer’s Market that’s open every Wednesday from 3 to 6 pm. More info on the Farmpark can be found here.
12. The Holden Arboretum
In my opinion, Holden Arboretum is one of the greatest finds in our area. We’ve been twice this Spring and we love it. 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.
13. Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
This is our little splurge, but it’s so worth it! Taking the kids to the zoo builds such great family memories that no one will forget. We only go about once or twice a year, and our latest trip was just last weekend. 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 we were able to hand feed a giraffe for $2. Seeing the giraffe so up close was definitely worth the $2, and my daughter loved feeding him. 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 lots of restrooms, including family restrooms. There were also a couple of playgrounds for the kids located throughout the zoo. We had a great time together, and the total cost of our entire trip (admission, lunch for two adults and two kids, giraffe feeding, camel ride for 2, and ice cream from Ben and Jerry’s) was approximately $62.
Our area of Ohio has a lot to offer, and several fun things for families. I am still relatively new to Northeast Ohio (going on two years) and I when I first moved here I wanted to reach out to other moms and dads to get advice on the area, and find the best places to take my girls. I would love to hear your favorite local spots! Please share your favorite family activities, and add to our list of places to take the kids this summer in the comments section. We are always looking for more places to go with our girls.
Stay tuned for an upcoming post on rainy day activities for kids around the city.
Sources other than personal experience used for this post:
http://willoughbyohio.com/, http://www.lakemetroparks.com/select-park/penitentiaryglen.shtml, http://lakemetroparks.com/select-park/fairport.shtml, http://www.clemetzoo.com/, http://www.lakemetroparks.com/select-park/farmpark.shtml, http://www.lakemetroparks.com/select-park/chagrin-river.shtml, http://www.ohiodnr.com/Coastal_Main_Menu/PublicAccess/La_HeadlandsBeachStatePark/tabid/22802/Default.aspx,, http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/Home/preserves_main/headlands/tabid/892/Default.aspx, http://www.holdenarb.org/about/, http://www.visithistorickirtland.org,/experience-historic-kirtland-village/, http://gocitykids.parentsconnect.com/attraction/bellflower-park-7221-bellflower-road-mentor-oh-44060-us
All photography included in this post was done by Steven Neff.
Amy Neff lives in Willoughby with her husband and two young daughters. She is a stay-at-home-mom and blogger. She loves to write about her family experiences, frugal family tips, community events and activities for kids and families.