Winter Guide: Lake Erie is Fun Year-round, Even When It's a Desolate Frozen Landscape

Winter Guide: Lake Erie is Fun Year-round, Even When It's a Desolate Frozen Landscape
Photo courtesy of Michael Sutadji

Remember two years ago, when nearly every inch of Lake Erie water froze? It was delightful, and the phenomenon spurred plenty of Instagram photos from adventurous treks onto the ice. For better or worse, it's looking more and more like a revival this winter: Things aren't so bad right now, and January should be a breeze — but soon enough, by February, the snow will really be falling and Lake Erie waves will freeze into monolith imagery until their springtime thaw. Bundle up.

Here's the first thing to know: Keep up to date with the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Those agencies provide the most accurate data about Lake Erie ice cover (and plenty of local news outlets will be linking to their stuff). The last thing you need to be doing is walking onto a partially frozen lake and stumbling headfirst into a sudden crevasse.

That being said, if and when Lake Erie freezes over, there are plenty of ways to take advantage.

Go For a Walk

There's nothing like a peaceful walk on a lake in winter. This is the simplest way to experience our frozen lake, and the Snapchat cred is immediate. Bring some friends, and be careful out there.

Keep an eye on the ice ahead of you, and beware the darker areas that may indicate water flowing beneath a thin sheet of ice.

Make sure someone knows where you're going.

Bring a ski pole and a pair of snowshoes for the best results. If you need some pointers, get in touch with Cleveland Metroparks' hiking and walking corps. They offer a number of pleasant snowshoeing events throughout the winter. Registration for many of those activities begins this week. For instance, people may register for a Jan. 15 event at Squire's Castle in the North Chagrin Reservation. The cost is $7, and you'll get in a good 2 or 3 miles of snowshoe fun among the gently sloping hills behind the castle. (If there's no snow that day, it'll just be a nice hike. The nuances of weather affect all our winter fun.)

Catch Some Fish

Maybe you're a diehard, or maybe you're a casual once-a-summer-with-your-cousins type of fisher. Maybe you've never waded into those waters. Either way, ice fishing opens up a whole world of possibilities each winter. Perch and walleye are still available for the catching, as they continue to swim through the lake, right beneath what is hopefully a fairly thick sheet of ice.

Capt. Tony Muscioni runs ice-fishing charters at Air1Airboats over at West Catawba State Park, just a stone's throw down Route 2. His enclosed airboats — warm and safe, he notes — hit the ice from January to March. With some cold weather tearing up Minnesota right now, it looks like that 4 to 5 inches of ice that Muscioni looks for before setting off will be here in no time.

"No ice is safe ice," Muscioni says, cautioning the wayward ice fisher. "It's a learning experience out there for everybody."

He adds that a lot of customers are diehards, and they will fly in from distant locales like Alaska and Canada; Lake Erie, you know, is the walleye capital of the world. "It's the best freshwater fish in the world," Muscioni says.

His charters roll out from 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and Muscioni joins ice fishing crews for the duration. Check for the details.

Set Sail, Surf's Up

If you're feeling a bit more extreme, there are other options that necessitate super cold weather.

The Toledo Ice Yacht Club, the "largest iceboating club in the lower Great Lakes," hosts its annual Winterfest sometime in the early months of each calendar year on Maumee Bay. (Like we keep saying, it's tough to plan ice-based events in advance.)

The iceboats themselves are pretty impressive engineering-wise: like a jury-rigged skiff with a sail that simply glides across ice (known as "hard water" in the iceboating scene). Toledo Ice Yacht Club's Winterfest is a hoot for participants, who often build their own iceboats, and observers alike. The event includes live music and excellent food and drink well into the evening.

And, closer to Cleveland, on the right days you can find groups of people surfing Lake Erie in the winter. The time is perfect right now, on the far edge of an Indian Summer; jolly gusts of wind are bringing waves to the North Shore, and the freezing, icy temperatures of Cleveland's winter months have yet to arrive. Brave the threat of hypothermia and join our city's unique tribe of freshwater surfers.

Pitch a Tent

You may have noticed this from time to time in recent winters: Adventurous souls pitching tents about a quarter-mile offshore in the coldest months of the year. From Port Clinton to Presque Isle, the North Shore affords ample public parkland from which to embark onto the ice.

Quick note: One Cleveland man who camped on Lake Erie during the 2015 freeze told us, "I would rather not encourage others to do this kind of activity because of how dangerous it can be." So do please be careful in whatever winter fun you pursue. Be adventurous, but not stupid.

Still, if you've got camping experience at, say, Allegheny National Park or Bonnaroo, then you can safely modify your rig to suit the cold, cold temperatures. Keep something between your tent and the ice (much like the tarp you use on the forest floor), and bring your boots inside before you hit the hay.

Even better: You won't need to bring your old Coleman. Stick your Bud Lights right in the snow for optimal results.

About The Author

Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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