Headlands Beach State Park - Ohio

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Park Overview

The trademark of Headlands Beach State Park is its mile-long natural sand beach, the largest in the state. In addition to its popularity during the summer season with picnickers and swimmers, the area is home to many plant species typically found only along the Atlantic Coast.

Nature of the Area

The northern shoreline of Ohio displays the dynamic effects Lake Erie has on our changing landscape. The lake has been a dominant force, shaping Ohio's natural and cultural development for thousands of years. Erie, meaning wildcat ("it is long-tailed") is derived from the tribal name of the Indian culture who inhabited this area until 1655.

Lake Erie was originally much larger than it is today. As an eastern outlet opened via the Niagara River, the lake drained down to its present size. Sand beaches from the former lake are still found along the northern shore. The swamp lands adjacent to the beaches were once part of the lake itself.

Plants more common to the Atlantic coastal plain region can be found growing in the surrounding sand dunes. Sea rocket, beach pea, seaside spurge, beach grass and purple sand grass persist on the dunes.

History of the Area

Lake Erie was a principal avenue of transportation for Indians and frontiersmen alike. The Lake Trail, a heavily used Indian path, ran along the south shore of the lake. Originally, the trail was used by the Iroquois. Later other Indians and settlers found it provided access to the Ohio country.

Northeastern Ohio was given to Connecticut in an agreement by which that state gave up claim to all other land running west to the Pacific Ocean. Connecticut named the 3.8 million acres the "Western Reserve." Proceeds from the sale of this land were to benefit Connecticut schools. The Connecticut Land Company purchased the land for roughly 35 cents an acre and began selling tracts of land. Easterners moved west, and by 1800 the population of the Reserve was approximately 1,300.

Nearby Fairport attracted Finns and Hungarians, later Slovenians and Slovaks, who came to fish and unload coal and ore from boats onto railroad cars by hand. The lake influenced development, and the harbor was a gateway for settlers and trade. Fairport Harbor is one of the best located on the lake with access possible when other harbors are closed.

Lake County, Ohio's smallest county, covers 231 square miles. With the lake's effect on the weather, the county developed a substantial nursery and fruit growing industry utilizing the prolonged growing season. The county claims one of the highest points in the Western Reserve. Known as Little Mountain, it is located about seven miles south of Painesville and offers excellent views of the surrounding area and Lake Erie.

In 1951-52, the state of Ohio began acquiring land west of Fairport to create a state park. Originally opened in 1953 as Painesville Beach State Park, the name was changed to Headlands Beach two years later. Its large beach has attracted huge crowds consistently since the opening. In 1957, the beach was closed when Lake Erie's waves and the undertow created safety problems. For a while, the public enjoyed swimming in the creek until the area was filled in. Capital improvement projects started in 1967 created numerous parking lots, concession buildings, restrooms, change booths and a treatment plant. Headlands Beach State Park remains very popular with swimmers and sunbathers.


A scenic picnic area with tables and grills is provided. -- The picnic shelter may be reserved.


As the largest natural sand beach in Ohio, Headlands offers recreation for swimmers and sunbathers. -- Change booths, concession areas and restrooms are provided.


HIking Trails

Buckeye Trail • 1.5 Miles • Easy, Handicap accessible -- Fishing Trail • 0.4 Miles • Moderate -- More hiking trails are available in the adjacent state nature preserve


A federal breakwall is located at the east end of the park offering fishing opportunities for smallmouth, largemouth and rock bass; yellow perch; bluegill; walleye; coho salmon and carp. -- In addition, crappie, steelhead trout, sucker, catfish and bullhead are common catches

More To Do

A children's playground is available in the picnic area. -- The sand beach is ideal for beach volleyball games.

Area Attractions

Headlands Dunes State Nature Preserve, located at the east end of the park, is one of the last and finest remaining examples of Lake Erie beach and dune communities in Ohio. Many plant species not found in northeastern Ohio grow abundantly along the dunes, including sand-dropseed, Canada wild-rye, wafer-ash and wild bean. The preserve is open to the public during daylight hours.

Bordering the southside of the park is Mentor Marsh State Nature Preserve, a National Natural Landmark. The 644-acre, marsh-swamp forest is jointly owned and managed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Natural Areas and Preserves and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Open during daylight hours only, the preserve is home to varied plant and animal life. A five-mile hiking trail, the Zimmerman trail, provides access to the area.

Adjacent to the Mentor Marsh State Nature Preserve is the 450-acre Mentor Lagoons Nature Preserve & Marina owned and operated by the City of Mentor.

The newest nature preserve in Ohio, it boasts over five miles of nature trails and 1-1/2 miles of wild beach. The city offers tours by foot, boat, and bike. Electric carts are also available so the physically challenged can explore.

Punderson State Park is located within a half-hour drive. This resort park includes a lodge, cabins, campground, golf course and winter recreation area.

Nearby Fairport Harbor is the site of the Fairport Harbor Marine Museum. The museum is housed in the former lightkeeper's dwelling adjacent to the 1871 lighthouse tower.

Within a short drive of the park is the community of Mentor. Holden Arboretum, east of town, includes walking trails, visitor center, reference library and picnic area. The 3,100-acre site is especially colorful when spring flowers are blooming. Lawnfield, the restored home of President James A. Garfield, is also open to the public. Tours highlight a museum, original furnishings, the 1880 campaign office and a carriage house.


Location: 9601 Headlands Road, Mentor, OH 44060

Contact: Cleveland Lakefront State Park, 8701 Lakeshore Boulevard, NE, Cleveland, OH 44108-1069 -- (216) 881-8141

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