Ohio

9 Resorts in Ohio from an Africa-themed Waterpark to a Tuscan-style Winery

Local writer Laura Watilo Blake takes you around the Buckeye State to show off the best resorts in Ohio from Africa-themed Kalahari to a winery resort.

Long after the echoes of joyful giggles at the water’s edge have been replaced by the rhythmic hum of cicadas singing a soothing summer song, my droopy-eyed five-year-old resists bedtime by insisting on roasting one more marshmallow over the dancing flames of the lakeside bonfire. Instead of eating it, she props the stick dripping with the gooey confection against the fire pit and curls up in my arms.

“Can we stay here forever?” she asks just as her tiny eyes close. I’d like to say yes and, in a way, I wouldn’t be lying. This moment will likely fill her young mind with lifelong memories just as the family vacations of my youth have.

Whether memories are made next to a crackling fire in a state park, whooshing through a winding water tube in the state’s waterpark capital or while playing a round of golf on gently rolling hills, these nine resorts in Ohio make it possible to live it up or just relax in the heart of it all.

Cambridge: Stay in Ohio's Largest State Park

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Salt Fork State Park may be Ohio’s largest state park, but it’s best known for being in the heart of Sasquatch country. Many people, whether unsuspecting locals or active Bigfoot hunters, have reported encounters with the mythical beast. When you stay at the Salt Fork Lodge and Conference Center, your only sighting may be the hulking, six-foot-tall wooden statue of the infamous creature in the lobby. Even if you don’t get to see the real thing lurking in the woods, the whole family can have fun sleuthing for evidence in the park, especially around Hosak’s Cave with its 50-foot-high waterfall that cascades over the opening in the spring.

There are plenty of other recreational pursuits just beyond your door, both inside and out. Fond family memories can be forged around the 2,952-acre lake, where the kids can catch their first fish or leap into the refreshing water from a pontoon rented from the marina. Swimming off the boat is permitted in designated areas, including at Ohio’s largest inland beach. The lodge itself has an on-site heated pool, shuffleboard and volleyball courts, hot tub and playground, and a wide variety of children’s activities, including board games, DVD rentals, and a game room.

When the day slips away, get a restful night’s sleep in a lodge room, equipped with bunk beds for the kiddos. You’ll be lulled to sleep by a chorus of wood frogs and spring peepers and, perhaps, the distant howl of a coyote.

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Salt Fork Lodge and Conference Center

8.4 Very good (289 reviews)
Excellent Service 8.9 / 10
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Canton: A Tuscan-style Ohio Winery Resort

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Leafy vines and a picturesque spring-fed lake set the tone for a Tuscan-inspired escape at Gervasi Vineyard, a winery resort located an hour’s drive south of Cleveland. In the last decade since it opened, the family-run property has earned top marks for award-winning wines, upscale dining venues, and luxury villas with fireplaces and walk-out patios.

Gervasi recently added a mission-style boutique hotel with 24 more fireplace suites to meet the growing demand for more overnight lodging. At the same time, the property opened a distillery architecturally inspired by a 16th-century European church. In total 14 buildings, including four restaurants, make up the camera-ready campus that looks more like an Italian village than the Canton neighborhood surrounding it.

While there are a number of activities on the property that involve adult beverages, the younger members of the family can take part in culinary classes, such as the Cooking with Kids series, and play lawn games, including bocce, next to the piazza, The Bistro’s casual al fresco dining venue. Bring bicycles to ride along the 6.4-mile Middle Branch Trail that winds through the property and connects with numerous Stark County and Canton city parks.

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Gervasi Vineyard

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Chardon: An Ohio Resort with a Haunted History

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After staying at the historic Punderson Manor Lodge, you’ll be floating on air like some of the more ghostly visitors who have never checked out. If you believe the rumors, some visitors have never checked out. Staff and guests have reported the sound of children laughing, lights and televisions going on and off, and loud noises coming from unoccupied rooms. While most guests don’t experience, or even seek out, ghostly encounters, telling scary stories around the bonfire can be especially spirited when spending the night at the secluded English-style Tudor mansion (the Windsor Suite is supposedly the most haunted).

After breakfast in the manor’s lake-view dining room (Sunday brunch is a favorite outing among locals), it’s time to go outside for some fresh-air frolicking. Punderson Lake is the place to be for kayaking and fishing. It can just as fun strolling along its waterfront boardwalk, scoping out the resident wildlife, including beavers ducking in and out of their underwater lairs. Play a round of golf in the surrounding green landscape of the 741-acre park or try disc golf, which weaves through the forest under a leafy canopy of tall trees.

Long after the trees have shed their brilliantly hued autumn leaves, Punderson Manor remains an enticing destination. Winter activities abound, including a skating rink and a sledding hill with a chalet that serves Belgian waffles dripping with warm, hot fudge. If that’s not enough to lift your spirits, I don’t know what to tell you.

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Punderson Manor Resort and Conference Center

8.6 Excellent (177 reviews)
Excellent Location 8.8 / 10
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Geneva: An Ohio Resort on the Shores of Lake Erie

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The waterfront town of Geneva-on-the-Lake calls itself “Ohio’s First Summer Resort” because it’s been a coveted summer getaway spot ever since the 19th- and 20th-century elite would visit for some rest, relaxation, and fishing along the Lake Erie shoreline.

The Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake may have only come onto the scene in 2004, but it’s the top pick for waterfront accommodations (including 16 cottages) and its abundance of little extras, such as free bike rental for resort guests.

Bicycles will come in handy to explore GOTL’s historic “Strip”—a mile-long old-school entertainment and dining district just a couple minutes away by bike or a 10-minute walk. Alternatively, bikers can follow a paved path that connects the Lodge with Geneva State Park’s other outdoor adventures, including a zip line and ropes course, marina, and a sandy beach with jet ski rentals.

The resort also has daily wine shuttles that make exploring Ohio’s wine country easy. but even if you don’t go, you can still try the local vintages at Horizon’s Restaurant, a favorite upscale dining venue on property. Its certified wine specialist hand selects pairings to accompany the restaurant’s upscale American cuisine. Try the oven-roasted walleye (a Lake Erie favorite) with the Laurello Pinot Grigio for a uniquely local flavor.

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The Lodge Geneva

Top rated
8.7 Excellent (266 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 9 / 10
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Millersburg: Stay in Amish Country at this Ohio Resort

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Ohio’s Amish Country is within two hours’ drive of both Cleveland and Columbus, yet it’s a world away with a pace that’s a lot slower than the hustle and bustle of big-city life. That’s where you’ll find The Club at Berlin Resort—a relaxing, rural retreat in the heart of Holmes County. You’ll feel the tension start to seep from your soul from the moment the hotel staff greets you with a smile and a warm, fresh-baked cookie.

The grounds are quiet and peaceful, offering several spots to while away the hours, including pitch and putt golf greens, a koi pond with a fish-food dispenser, a lakefront gazebo, a patio fire pit, and a tree-lined walking path winding along Doughty Creek. The kids will love the playground with its pint-sized village complete with a church, a police station, and a general store. The indoor saltwater pool and 26-seat private movie theater keep the whole family occupied day or night, no matter the weather.

The comfortable accommodations, outfitted with locally made furniture, top out with nine luxurious Signature Suites that make you feel as if you’re staying in an opulent mansion. Most rooms have a mini-fridge to store all the Amish cheese you buy during your ramblings (with the exception of the standard room, so bear that in mind).

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Berlin

8.9 Excellent (706 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 9.2 / 10
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Mt. Sterling: A Wooded Oasis at this Ohio Resort

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Deer Creek State Park is a wooded oasis fed by a dammed reservoir surrounded by a patchwork of flat farmland 30 miles southwest of Columbus. At the center of the park, the resort-style Deer Creek Lodge perches on a peninsula, just steps away from the water, where all kinds of wildlife gather daily. While you shouldn’t feed the animals, the raccoons, groundhogs, ducks, Canada geese and deer are fun to watch as they sniff around your lakeside patio or balcony looking for a handout.

The family resort has a relaxed yet fun-filled atmosphere that overflows with activities in the lodge or within the surrounding 2,337-acre outdoor playground. Family favorites include the indoor/outdoor swimming pools, an 18-hole golf course, and the lake itself. Head out with one of the kayaks by the water’s edge or rent all kinds of seaworthy vessels at the marina, including wave runners, fishing boats, pedal boats, aqua cycles, or hydro bikes. If you’re looking for new things to try, Deer Creek State Park has side-by-side pickleball and Gaga ball courts. It’s okay if you’re not familiar with this new generation of games; chances are your kids can show you the ropes.

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Deer Creek

8.0 Very good (292 reviews)
Very good Comfort 8.3 / 10
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Oregon: An Ohio Resorts Surrounded By Natural Beauty

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Located within Maumee Bay State Park, only a 15-minute drive from downtown Toledo, Maumee Bay Lodge is surrounded by the natural beauty of Lake Erie where it meets the edge of an ancient marsh, teeming with wildlife, especially native and migrating birds.

An ideal day starts with a hike along the boardwalk trail and ends with s’mores by the lakeside firepits, where you can watch the flames dance and the final crepuscular rays of sunshine fade away. In between, there’s an endless list of cross-generational recreational activities that keep boredom at bay, whether it’s teeing off on the Scottish-style 18-hole golf course or getting the hang of Wallyball, a hybrid sport that merges the three-dimensional play of racquetball with a game of indoor volleyball.

After a busy day, collapse from exhaustion in a fully equipped cabin next to the golf course or a lodge room with a view of either Lake Erie or the pool. Families will water-loving kids may appreciate the ground-floor poolside rooms with walk-out patios more, though.

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Maumee Bay Resort & Conference Center

8.2 Very good (293 reviews)
Excellent Location 8.8 / 10
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Sandusky: An Africa-themed Ohio Resort

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Families flock to the Kalahari Waterpark Resort like the animals of the Serengeti to a watering hole. The huge African-themed resort boasts the country’s largest waterpark, which fits nicely with Sandusky’s reputation for being Ohio’s waterpark capital.

You could easily spend all day on the rides and slides designed for all ages. Bob up and down in the wave pool, drift away on the Lazy River or hang ten (and subsequently wipeout) on the FlowRider—a stationary surf machine that challenges even experienced surfers. Outside, there are even more water slides, a 77,000-square-foot pool, the Safari Adventure Park—a zip line and ropes course.

Kalahari says their property is designed to bring families together in the African spirit of ubuntu or ‘togetherness.’ Nothing says ubuntu like being trapped together in the resort’s Egyptian-themed escape room. The goal is to get out before the wrath of an ancient god befalls you.

Other activities cater to individual interests (mommy time at the spa, perhaps?). After all is said and done, the family can come back together for meals at the resort’s eateries. For lunch, you can catch up on sports while you eat burgers and shakes at the B-Lux Grill & Bar and for dinner, slip into a booth at the relaxed and quiet Ivory Coast Restaurant for approachable globally inspired dishes from stir-fry to fish tacos. Then, it’s off to get a good night’s sleep in one of several room types ranging from standard doubles that fit 4-6 or off-site villas that will hold an entire herd.

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Kalahari Waterpark Resort

Sandusky, 7.8 miles to Cedar Point
8.0 Very good (448 reviews)
Excellent Location 8.5 / 10
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Warren: An Upscale Resort Next to Avalon Golf and Country Club

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The Avalon Inn has an upscale country-club vibe because, well, it’s located next to the Avalon Golf and Country Club. Even better, you’re automatically a member during your stay, so you can take advantage of the three championship-level golf courses, 17 tennis courts, fitness center, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, the spa and 12 restaurants ranging from casual to fine dining.

But let’s be real. The new Roman bath is the resort’s pièce de résistance and the highlight of your stay no matter the season. In the tradition of ancient Rome, you can soak in a shallow outdoor pool heated to 90 degrees while surrounded by a below-ground terraced seating area that helps retain heat even when the above-ground air is frigid.

If you’re feeling really self-indulgent, a massage will complete the spa-like experience—especially if you’re staying in the Grande Spa Suite. Outfitted with dark wood paneling, granite surfaces, and a modern gas fireplace, the suite has a wet bar, heated Jacuzzi, space for side for side-by-side massage tables and a separate bedroom.

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The avalon Inn

9.1 Excellent (535 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 9.4 / 10
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Featured image courtesy of Kalahari Resorts