Headlands Beach State Park

9601 Headlands Road, Mentor, Ohio 44060
Park Office Phone: (440) 466-8400
Email: OhioStateParks@dnr.state.oh.us

Headlands Beach State Park Map View

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.

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You can find more information about each of the following activities below.

Nature Of The Area

The Lake Erie shoreline of Ohio shows the dynamic effects the lake has had on our changing landscape. The lake has shaped 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’s beginning can be traced to the glacial era of Ohio's geologic history when the state was covered by ice over a mile thick. During the Pleistocene (Ice Age), continental glaciers advanced and receded from Ohio at least four times. The scouring action of the ice sheets widened and deepened an existing river valley and created the Lake Erie basin, which slowly filled with meltwater as the ice receded northeastward to Canada. Over the next several thousand years, changes in the climate caused the ice front to recede during warmer periods and remain stationary when it was colder. When the ice receded, the meltwater lake would drop in altitude, and when the ice was stationary, the lake would form a shoreline with sandy beaches, dunes and sand bars. The earliest and highest phase of meltwater lake, called Lake Maumee, flooded much of northern Ohio and drained to the southwest towards the Mississippi River. Later phases drained across the Michigan peninsula. U.S. Route 20, 3 miles south of Headlands Beach, is built on a ridge of sand that is the former shoreline of one such lake. When the glaciers made their final retreat from the basin (near present-day Buffalo, New York), a new outlet was exposed via the Niagara River. A torrent of water escaped, draining the lake basin. This created a new lake phase that was much lower than today’s Lake Erie and several miles north of the site that would become Headlands Beach. Twelve thousand years ago, the outlet of this lake phase was 100 feet lower than today due to the massive weight of the mile-thick ice that had recently depressed the land surface. Slow rebound of the bedrock allowed the lake to gradually refill the basin, creating the Lake Erie we recognize today (along with Niagara Falls). The Grand River empties into Lake Erie just east of Headlands Beach, but up until several hundred years ago, the Grand River’s outlet was four miles to the west. Eventually, the river found a shorter outlet to the lake. When it did, the old channel began to fill in with silt and vegetation, forming Mentor Marsh. Starting in the 19th century, jetties were built at the present-day mouth of the Grand River keep to sand from blocking the river’s mouth. Sand that normally would drift along in the lake’s swash became trapped at those jetties until they formed a beach over a quarter of a mile wide. The huge cottonwood trees in the wooded parts of the park grow in the oldest accumulations of sand. Plants more common to the Atlantic coastal plain region can also be found growing in the sand dunes. Sea rocket, beach pea, seaside spurge, beach grass and purple sand grass persist on the dunes.


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Fishing & Swimming

Fishing: 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. A valid Ohio fishing license is required.

Swimming: As the largest natural sand beach in Ohio, Headlands offers recreation for swimmers and sunbathers. During summer season lifeguards are present and a concession stand is open near parking lot 12. Six restroom facilities and several dumpsters are provided between the parking lot and beach area. Please carry out all trash to dumpsters near parking area to help keep Headlands Beach beautiful. Glass, alcohol, and pets are prohibited on the beach. Swimming is permitted in designated areas. Please exercise caution while swimming at the beach.

Hiking Trails

Two trails run through the park with additional trails found in the adjacent nature preserve.
Buckeye Trail - 1.5 Miles - Easy, Handicap accessible, pet friendly (trail only)
Fishing Trail - 0.4 Miles - Moderate


A scenic picnic area with tables and grills is provided. The picnic shelter may be reserved by calling, the main office at Cleveland Lakefront State Park at (216) 881-8141.

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 shape of underwater sandbars created dangerous currents. 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. Headlands Beach was listed among CNN’s top 20 U.S. beaches nominated by readers of “CNN Travel.”

Other 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. Call 440-205-DOCK, or visit www.cityofmentor.com. 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.