Kayak craze

Whether for fun or exercise, relaxation or a different way to see wildlife and meet new people, kayaking on Ohio’s lakes is a perfect way to get out and enjoy nature.

Ohio has a delightful abundance of lakes and rivers to explore, and a kayak is the perfect way to do it. A happy thing about lakes: There are no worries about paddling upstream or needing an extra car and a pickup place downstream. Just relax and enjoy the view, or make it aerobic and paddle hard.

If fishing is your fancy, wet a line and see what’s biting. Like birding or nature watching? Take binoculars and a camera. From your kayak, you can spot that elusive bird flitting in the treetops, get close to the turtles sunning on rocks, and watch the fish swimming beneath you.

Plenty of Ohio’s state parks have lakes, many rent kayaks, and all are worth investigating. “Most of our state parks have a water feature,” says Susie Vance, spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Parks and Watercraft. “With the increased popularity in paddling and the availability for accommodations, we’ve been able to put ADA-accessible kayak launches into many of our lakes.” Keep in mind that if you have your own kayak, rather than a rental, you must have a registration for it — just like a boat — available through ODNR.

In mid- to late summer, the lotus flowers are blooming at Cowan Lake in Wilmington. It’s an absolute profusion. In August or September, visit Adams County to see the freshwater jellies in pristine Mineral Springs Lake. The operators charge a small launch fee at this privately owned lake.

Kathy Jett likes being outside and has made some great friends kayaking. She helps to head up the weekly Tri-State Kayakers Meetup paddles at East Fork Lake.

“In the evenings when it’s calm at dusk, the water can be like a sheet of glass,” she says. “We’ve seen deer, owls, eagles and their nests, all the birds, turtles, fish. I’ve had two fish jump in my kayak!”

Clendening Lake in Harrison County is a whopping 1,702 acres, mostly long, narrow, and — with a 9.9 horsepower limit — quiet. “It is incredibly scenic,” says Curtis Wagner, ODNR Division of Wildlife. “You feel transported to the Great North!”

Mogadore and La Due Reservoirs, near Akron, are also both still waters and popular for kayaking; La Due, in fact, is a hot spot for shorebird and waterfowl watching, Wagner says.

Mike Mainhart is an Ohio State Park naturalist and certified kayak instructor. He leads kayaking expeditions at Mosquito, Guilford, and Milton state parks.

“Mosquito Lake is awesome because it’s big,” he says. “There are so many different opportunities, depending on where the wind blows, plus it is such a huge fishing lake — great for kayak fishing. Big motors are allowed, but I like to kayak the shoreline because that’s where you see all of the cool stuff.”

Mosquito also is home to lots of bald eagles and osprey, and there are nesting boxes for prothonotary warblers. While Mainhart never paddles close enough to disturb the birds, it’s a great viewing opportunity, he says.

“It is awesome to paddle up and see these warblers from the water,” he says. “We also get a lot of migrating waterfowl in the spring. You can get close to the animals in a kayak. It’s great for photography.”

Mainhart is an avid kayak fisherman, and his free time often finds him casting a line at Pymatuning or Mosquito Lakes. “They are the best inland lakes for walleye fishing,” he says. “In the spring, we also do a lot of crappie fishing. Kayaks are great for getting to places that you can’t get to from the shore or in a boat.”

For info, visit the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website and pick your park. Be safe — go with a friend, or tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll return, and don’t forget your lifejacket!