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11 Fantastic Recreational Lakes near Columbus, OH

Columbus has an excellent selection of lakes and reservoirs, many of which offer waterskiing, camping, and swimming, not to mention more common kayaking and fishing. These lakes are less than 45 minutes away.
ItIsWild.com Best Lakes near Columbus Ohio

Most of the lakes around Columbus are storage reservoirs supplying the city with water. They offer excellent recreational opportunities, and many allow swimming, waterskiing, and paddleboarding, in addition to traditional fishing and kayaking.

The lakes on the list are within 45 minutes from downtown, making them excellent day-trip options, although many have campgrounds, too.

In summer, the beaches get packed with visitors, and boats zoom across the lakes. And in winter, the fun doesn’t stop either, as many allow ice fishing, ice sailing, and ice skating.

Check out what Columbus has to offer!

Lakes near Columbus:

  1. Griggs Reservoir
  2. O’Shaughnessy Reservoir
  3. Alum Creek Lake
  4. Hoover Reservoir
  5. Prairie Oaks Metro Park
  6. Delaware Lake
  7. Buckeye Lake
  8. Deer Creek Lake
  9. Hargus Lake
  10. Madison Lake
  11. Clarence J. Brown Reservoir
Lakes near Columbus Ohio Comparison Table
Comparison Table

1. Griggs Reservoir

Hayden Falls Park Columbus Ohio
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Griggs Reservoir
  • Distance from Columbus: 7 miles (15 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing

Located northwest of downtown Columbus along an impounded section of the Scioto River, Griggs Reservoir took shape after the construction of a dam in 1904. Dedicated in 1905, the narrow, six-mile-long lake became an early drinking water source for the city. 

Most of this body of water has a depth of less than 15 feet. The city currently maintains approximately 521 acres along the waterfront as a popular city park – Griggs Reservoir Park – with a trail and roadway that runs alongside many picnic areas, a disc golf course, and a public boat dock. 

Another popular place to visit is Hayden Falls Park on the western shore. It features a gorgeous waterfall with boardwalks and a viewing platform.

Griggs Reservoir accommodates vessels up to 22 feet in length, without horsepower restrictions. Although swimming, tubing, and jet skis are not allowed, wakeboarding is permitted along this narrow, long lake. 

The northern boundary of the reservoir was redefined with the construction of the O’Shaughnessy Dam a few miles upriver. Located on the west side of the reservoir, Griggs Boathouse offers a popular, city-owned location for special events. 

The reservoir has a stable fish population. Common species include bass, crappie, bluegill, and saugeye.

2. O’Shaughnessy Reservoir

O'Shaughnessy Reservoir in Columbus Ohio
Source: unsplash
  • Website: O’Shaughnessy Reservoir
  • Distance from Columbus: 21 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing

Columbus city authorities planned for the development of O’Shaughnessy Reservoir in the early 1920s. Crews finished the dam in 1925, creating a 912-acre reservoir that has over 18 miles of shoreline along this section of the impounded Scioto River. 

This second dam created another reservoir for the growing city, with the same vessel access and water-use restrictions that Griggs Reservoir has immediately to the south. Seasonal watercraft rentals are available. 

O’Shaughnessy Reservoir Park, a community gathering place with family-friendly activities, offers facilities for boating, picnic areas, and wooded areas for wildlife viewing. 

The fish found in this reservoir are similar to Griggs, though the white and black crappie populations are especially abundant, along with hybrid striped bass that are also present in these waters. 

3. Alum Creek Lake

Alum Creek Lake in Ohio
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Alum Creek Lake
  • Distance from Columbus: 20 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Tubing

Located approximately 20 miles north of downtown, Alum Creek Lake was designed by the US Army Corps of Engineers to address flooding concerns. Work began on a dam along Alum Creek in 1970 and impounding began even before the dam opened in 1975. 

Although built to prevent floods, Alum Creek Lake has also provided recreation opportunities and another reliable freshwater source for Columbus. 

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has leased much of the lake and created Alum Creek State Park, a popular camping and boating destination in central Ohio. 

A great place for summertime swimming, jet skiing, paddling, and boating, this 3,387-acre reservoir has multiple boat launching ramps. 

Unlimited horsepower is permitted on the southern portion of the lake, with the northern area set aside as a no-wake zone better suited to those who enjoy a slower flow of water. 

Alum Creek State Park offers an escape from the urban frontier. The park has campgrounds, including an equestrian camp, along with learn-to-sail programs available through the Alum Creek Sailing Association

Winter activities include sledding, cross-country skiing, ice fishing, ice boating and sailing, and snowmobiling. 

Muskie, saugeye, and bass are the top catches in the lake, though crappie, sunfish, and bluegill are also regularly reeled-in.

4. Hoover Reservoir

hoover reservoir marina in ohio
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Hoover Reservoir
  • Distance from Columbus: 15 miles (20 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Sailing, Picnics, Hiking, Biking

A few miles east of Alum Creek Lake, Hoover Reservoir is an impoundment north of Columbus that also offers numerous recreation opportunities. 

The reservoir and adjacent parklands have areas set aside for picnicking, hiking, biking, bird and nature watching, fishing, and boating. 

Hoover Reservoir was built in 1955 to serve as an additional source of water for Columbus. Although human contact with the water is not permitted, boating, sailing, canoeing, and kayaking are allowed. 

The size of the reservoir varies, depending on the drawdowns required to meet the city’s needs. The surface acreage could span anywhere from 2,800 acres to over 4,000. A pipeline from Alum Creek also allows that reservoir to supplement Hoover during periods of high demand. 

Anglers enjoy the sport-fishing environment at Hoover Reservoir. Considered by locals as one of the best places for catfishing in Ohio, the waters also yield large amounts of crappie and stable populations of saugeye, bass, and bluegill. 

The state record catch of buffalo occurred here in 1999, when a fish slightly heavier than 46 lbs. was caught. 

5. Prairie Oaks Metro Park

Prairie Oaks Metro Park
Source: flickr/CC BY 2.0
  • Website: Prairie Oaks Metro Park
  • Distance from Columbus: 17 miles (20 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Hiking, Biking

Small lakes, grasslands, and flowering prairies along a twisting section of Big Darby Creek located 15 miles west of downtown are found at Prairie Oaks Metro Park. This park has hiking trails, places for families to congregate and children to play, and waterways for fishing and boating. 

Many of the native prairie plants found in the Darby Plains have been restored and cultivated at Prairie Oaks Metro Park. 

Four lakes and a few smaller ponds dot the parkscape, with the creek meandering through the property. Beaver Lake sits at the north end of Prairie Oaks, with three other bodies of water – Darby Bend Lakes 1 through 3 – south of it. 

Kayaks, canoes, and small boats in the water offer a relaxing view of this scenic area.

Fly fishing is a popular pastime at Prairie Oaks. Fish found in the lakes, ponds, and creeks include rock bass, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, bluegill, yellow perch, and crappie. 

6. Delaware Lake

Delaware Lake State Park Ohio
Source: flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Website: Delaware Lake
  • Distance from Columbus: 33 miles (40 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Tubing

A little more than 30 miles north of downtown Columbus, the US Army Corps of Engineers created Delaware Lake after building a flood control dam in 1951 along the Olentangy River, a tributary of the Scioto River. 

The state established Delaware State Park shortly thereafter, offering another popular recreation destination north of the city. 

Beech-maple forests once covered this area. The park preserves forested areas, meadows, and woodlands near the 1,300-acre Delaware Lake reservoir. 

Five hiking trails, a shorefront beach, a dog park and swimming area, sports fields, campgrounds, and picnic areas attract visitors throughout the year. 

Bird watching, especially for bluebirds, is popular. Sledding, ice fishing, and cross-country skiing take place in winter. 

Delaware Lake is well-known as a destination to catch crappie, muskie, and bass. Bluegills are also frequently found in these waters. One pond close to the marina offers a fishing area for children. 

7. Buckeye Lake

  • Website: Buckeye Lake
  • Distance from Columbus: 30 miles (35 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Tubing, Jet Skiing

Located 30 miles east of downtown, Buckeye Lake was once an area with kettles, small natural lakes created by Ice Age glaciers. The shallow marshes and bogs early settlers saw became part of a canal system in the early 1800s. Buckeye Lake was created during the 1820s. 

Originally known as Licking Summit Reservoir, the 3,100-acre lake was given its current name in 1894. Fish found in Buckeye Lake include bluegill, bass, catfish, and crappie. 

Buckeye Lake State Park opened along a portion of the lake in 1949. The oldest state park in Ohio, this park features a variety of waterfront activities throughout the year. 

Boating and fishing are top reasons people visit this state park, along with the beach area open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. 

A 50-acre tract on the northern shore of Buckeye Lake is a place that developed as a bog mat as the waters originally rose in the reservoir. Known as Cranberry Bog State Nature Reserve, this fragile area preserves unique terrain. 

8. Deer Creek Lake

Popular recreational lake and state park
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Deer Creek Lake
  • Distance from Columbus: 33 miles (40 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Tubing

Deer Creek Lake is located approximately 30 miles southwest of downtown, a few miles beyond Mount Sterling. A dam built along Deer Creek created this lake in 1968. 

Deer Creek State Park opened on land surrounding this 1,277-acre reservoir in 1974. With the Deer Creek Lodge & Conference Center, campsites, cabins, a golf course, a marina, and a cabin that has historical connections to President Warren G. Harding, this year-round park is highly regarded throughout the state.

Deer Creek Lake is a popular place for anglers to visit. Crappie, catfish, and largemouth bass are frequently found in this body of water. 

The Ohio records for rock bass and hybrid striped bass are from this lake, with the rock bass caught in 1932 and the striped bass pulled from the lake in 2015.

9. Hargus Lake

A.W. Marion State Park
Source: flickr/public domain
  • Website: Hargus Lake
  • Distance from Columbus: 31 miles (35 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking

Hargus Lake is a 145-acre impoundment approximately 30 miles south-southeast of downtown. Workers prepared an earthen dam site along the creek in 1948, with the state creating a park around the lake in 1950. 

This site, known as A.W. Marion State Park since 1962, offers a boat launch, a small campground that is pet-friendly, hiking trails, and year-round access to its plains, woodlands, and prairies. One trail takes guests on a five-mile journey around the lake. 

Fishing or ice fishing is a reason many come to this reservoir. Anglers will find that Hargus Lake is well-stocked throughout the year. Common catches include channel catfish, crappie, bass, and bluegill. 

10. Madison Lake

Two fishing kayaks
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Madison Lake
  • Distance from Columbus: 28 miles (35 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Hiking, Biking

Madison Lake took shape after the state received a tract of land in 1946 and impounded another section of Deer Creek. 

Situated 28 miles southwest of downtown and a few miles east of London, the lake is the centerpiece of Madison Lake State Park

This shallow, 106-acre reservoir occupies part of Ohio’s Darby Plains, offering opportunities for anglers, boaters, and those with kayaks, canoes, and pontoons to experience the lake. 

Park visitors have access to numerous picnic areas, a mile-long hiking trail, a sandy beach, and opportunities to venture into the woodlands or cast a line along the lakeshore. 

Bass, bullhead, crappie, channel catfish, and bluegill swim within Madison Lake. 

11. Clarence J. Brown Reservoir

Buck Creek State Park
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Clarence J. Brown Reservoir
  • Distance from Columbus: 43 miles (45 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Tubing

Clarence J. Brown Reservoir came into existence after the US Army Corps of Engineers impounded a section of Buck Creek to control flooding. 

After the dam’s completion in 1975, this 2,120-acre reservoir 43 miles west of downtown Columbus and on the northeastern outskirts of Springfield attracted a great deal of interest among those who enjoy outdoor recreation. 

Fishing within the reservoir allows guests to catch walleye, bass, crappie, muskie, bluegill, and catfish. 

The federal C.J. Brown Dam and Reservoir day-use area has picnic shelters. South of the dam, the 60-acre Old Reid Park offers sports fields and courts, along with a fishing area in Buck Creek immediately beyond the dam. 

Buck Creek State Park provides lake access for those who wish to bring their vessels to the reservoir, along with opportunities for hiking, biking, camping, horse-riding, and other outdoor activities. 

Snowmobiling, ice fishing, sledding, and cross-country skiing are popular during the winter. 

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