Picture Ohio! – Lake Erie Bluffs, Lake County

Lake Erie Bluffs, Near Painsville, Ohio
Lake Erie Bluffs, Near Painesville, Ohio

Lake County in northeast Ohio is the smallest county in the state, with a land area of only 227.5 square miles. Attractions include the James A. Garfield Historic Site in Mentor, the Kirtland Temple, Lake Metroparks, and the 4,000-acre Holden Arboretum, one of the largest arboretums in the United States. Lake County is also a great destination for nature and landscape photography, with a diverse mix of forested hills and valleys, wetlands and woodlands, rivers and streams, and some of the best remaining undeveloped sections of the Lake Erie coastline in northern Ohio. Lake County has many scenic parks, and yesterday I enjoyed a morning at Lake Erie Bluffs, one of the crown jewels of the Lake Metroparks system.

Driftwood, Lake Erie Bluffs
Driftwood, Lake Erie Bluffs

The original parcel of 140 acres includes 20 acres of bluffs along Lake Erie, up to 40 feet high, and an adjacent sandy and cobble beach north of Clark Road. This section, which  includes a parking area with rest rooms, was opened last year. The parking area is 6.5 miles northeast of Painesville, reached by driving east on US-20 for 5 miles, then north on Blackmore Road, which turns into Clark Road, for 1.5 miles. The GPS coordinates for the parking area are 41.791537N 81.174059W. An additional parcel of 460 acres west of the Clark Road area was acquired in February, 2013 bringing the total to 600 acres, including more than 1.6 miles of undeveloped Lake Erie shoreline. Grants from foundations and state and federal agencies provided the $11 million needed to purchase the property, which was acquired by Lake Metroparks with help from The Western Reserve Land Conservancy, The Trust for Public Land, and The Nature Conservancy.

A short trail leads from the parking lot down to the beach. The top photograph shows the view looking east, and the photo above shows part of the western section of the bluffs, looking west. My favorite time to visit Lake Erie Bluffs for scenic photography is early or late on a sunny or partly cloudy day, when the beach is mostly in the shade and the lighting contrast is minimal. From mid-morning through mid-afternoon, bright sunshine obliterates the highlight detail in the bleached driftwood that covers many parts of the beach, and the lighting is too harsh for expressive scenic photography.

Driftwood at Lake Erie Bluffs
Driftwood at Lake Erie Bluffs

Many of the driftwood logs on the beach display intricate patterns in the wood, and these provide endless opportunities for creating abstract compositions on a cloudy day or when the driftwood is in shade.

American Cranberry Bush Viburnum, Lake Erie Bluffs
Crabapple, Lake Erie Bluffs

Along the base of the bluffs are many small trees and shrubs, some of which were festooned with yellow, orange, and red berries. Crabapples, dogwoods, viburnums and hawthorns were all loaded with berries in late September, providing food for migrating and resident birds and attractive compositions for visiting photographers.

Milkweed Pods, Lake Erie Bluffs
Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) Pods, Lake Erie Bluffs

Scattered along the beach near the base of the bluffs were numerous Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) plants. This is one of the food plants for caterpillars of the Monarch butterfly, which have been conspicuously absent in northeast Ohio this year. Many of the seed cases or follicles of the milkweed plants were covered in adult Large Milkweed Bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus) and their smaller instars, both bright orange. The milkweed follicles were starting to split, revealing dark brown seeds with long, white flossy hairs. The light green or gray pods and white flossy hair are best photographed against a contrasting darker background. I prefer to use a 150mm or 180mm Sigma macro lens, or my 50-500mm Sigma lens, which have a narrower field of view than 50mm or 100mm macro lenses, and a longer working distance. I find a tripod to be essential for this kind of photography, allowing me to use low ISO settings for better image quality, plus slow shutter speeds, and the ability to carefully examine the composition before taking the photograph. Using a tripod slows you down, and when you take your time you will usually make better photographs.

Oakes' Evening Primrose (Oenothera oakesiana), Lake Erie Bluffs
Oakes’ Evening Primrose (Oenothera oakesiana), Lake Erie Bluffs

As I was walking along the base of the bluffs, I noticed an attractive yellow wildflower with narrow leaves, some of which were turning deep purple. John Pogacnik, a friend and fellow photographer and one of Ohio’s finest field naturalists, lives near Lake Erie Bluffs and has done extensive research there, resulting in the discovery of more than 15 rare or endangered animals and plants so far at Lake Erie Bluffs, including the yellow wildflower, which John identified as Oakes’ Evening Primrose (Oenothera oakesiana).

Greater Fringed Gentian (Gentianopsis crinita), Lake Erie Bluffs
Greater Fringed Gentian (Gentianopsis crinita), Lake Erie Bluffs

Without a doubt, the most spectacular wildflower to be seen at Lake Erie Bluffs in early fall is the Greater Fringed Gentian (Gentianopsis crinita), which blankets large open sections of the clay bluffs with hundreds of deep blue flowers, each of which has a delicate fringe. When Ohio Division of Wildlife botanist Jim McCormac visited Lake Erie Bluffs in early October of 2009, he estimated that there were as many as ten thousand fringed gentian plants flowering along the bluffs. The gentians close up at night, so you’ll need to visit later in the day when they have reopened, from a photography viewpoint.

Greater Fringed Gentian (Gentianopsis crinita), Lake Erie Bluffs
Greater Fringed Gentian (Gentianopsis crinita), Lake Erie Bluffs

The fringed gentians will be flowering for the next week to ten days, so if you would like to view and photograph one of Ohio’s finest botanical displays head up to Lake County and visit Lake Erie Bluffs. For more information visit the Lake Metroparks website: www.lakemetroparks.com 

My thanks to John Pogacnik for sharing his expert knowledge of the plants and animals of Lake County.







This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Ian,

    As always – beautiful images. Thank you for sharing the world through your lens.


  2. Not surprisingly, your photos are absolutely gorgeous. Clearly, I have to go to Lake Erie Bluffs – and soon! Thank you for this beautiful and informative post.

  3. Thank you for the beautiful images! We’d love to get a copy of these for publicity purposes, if you wouldn’t mind.

    Lake County Visitors Bureau

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