Splashdown in Atwood Lake
Enjoy Outdoor Fun & Small Town Charm
By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler – Your Tour Guide to Fun!
Summertime and Atwood Lake have combined to bring families, friends, and blossoming romances an escape that will one day beckon a grin and the question: “Remember when…?”
Every visitor leaves as a storyteller, whether they are a kid, teen, young adult, parent, or grandparent. It doesn’t matter if they’ve been here once or dozens of times; the world just seems to brighten up. Along these shores, there doesn’t seem to be a worry in the world. The only pressure here is in a beach ball.
Activities on the water, in the water, or next to the water are just a few of the attractions. Whether it’s boating, fishing, swimming, dining, wine tasting, shopping, touring, or sleeping, the possibilities are as endless as the pebbles of sand at the beach.
For those looking to pitch a tent, park an RV, unpack a cabin, or check in at a bed and breakfast, there’s more to explore beyond the shores of Atwood Lake. Just a skip of a rock away is one of Ohio’s most adorable small towns: Carrollton. It’s where people go to spend a day away from their getaway. Here, people can enjoy tasty, fresh, home-cooked meals at the kind of eateries bloggers love to share. To top it off, the little shops around the picturesque town square are bound to offer up that one-of-a-kind keepsake that you just can’t leave without.
There’s a lot to unpack, so before diving in, let’s dip our feet into how Atwood Lake came to be such a great escape.
You’d never guess that an earlier community known as Atwood sits at the bottom of this manmade lake, somewhere within its 28 miles of shoreline and under 1,540 acres of surface water. In 1936, the Atwood Dam was used to flood the area. Hints of an old railroad station can even be seen when the water level is drawn down from time to time. The dam, stretching 65 feet high, is a great place for anglers to drop anchor and cast a hook. Saugeye are stocked annually, and other great catches include largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill and channel catfish.
This man made reservoir is now home to some of the best recreation and wildlife opportunities, year-round.
All along the lakeshore are gorgeous trees and grassy hills creating an endless supply of photogenic opportunities. There are also all kinds of private lagoons and bays where pontoons often anchor for an afternoon swim with family, friends, and friends in the making.
There are sailboats that cut across the water as if floating in air. The scene can be mesmerizing for quite some time. After all, this is home to the Atwood Yacht Club and the Atwood Cup Regatta.
“Being around the water helps to center you. It relaxes and then re-energizes you,” said Amy Rutledge, the Executive Director at the Carroll County Convention & Visitors Bureau. “You can drift away an afternoon just by watching the boats come and go.”
Stare long enough, and it’s like studying a painting. The water is streaked with shades of blue and aquamarine in the foreground, rolling swaths of green grass and trees in the mid-ground, and blue skies splashed with fluffy white clouds in the high ground. Don’t be surprised if your meditation runs long and you welcome the moon in two places: overhead and reflecting on the water.
Water skiing and tubing is a pastime – or fastime, albeit with a 25-horsepower limit on the lake – which never yields its fun. Kids hang on for dear life as the waves and wake of the boat try their darndest to wrestle them off. Bodies catch air when the tube bounces off of the water and white knuckles are the only thing still connected – until those bodies find gravity, even if for a split second, and then the routine starts all over. This repeats until finally someone plunges below the surface. There’s usually a dad at the captain’s wheel grinning as he turns into a wave and a mom saying – maybe yelling – go easy.
For more relaxed group outings on the lake, there’s the Atwood Queen Cruise Boat. This large pontoon hosts between 20 and 50 guests. Standard cruises are about an hour long, but private charters are also available. Any function may be catered with hors-d’oeuvres or a full dinner party by The Lighthouse Bistro. Whether someone heads to Atwood Lake for a company outing, group meeting, bus tour, party, or just to sit back and sip a cold beverage while soaking in the scenery, they can hop aboard this party pontoon and surely find what they’re looking for.
Whether aboard a fishing boat, sailboat, or the Atwood Queen, people never tire of waving hello to friends they have yet to meet.
Eventually, all of these vessels navigate their way back to the boat ramps or the marinas, east and west. So too do the pontoons, houseboats, kayaks, jet skis and paddle boards. All of which, except sailboats and jet skis, are for rent from May to September at the marinas. Public boat launch ramps are also at the marinas and at the dam. For those who prefer shore fishing or pier fishing, Atwood Lake is good for that, too. The pier near the beach is also accessible for those with disabilities.
The two marinas offer a wide array of things from boat rentals and sales (new and used) to fuel, parts, and accessories, everything needed to enjoy a day out on the water. There’s even a gift shop featuring marine merchandise by names such as YETI, Sperry and Tommy Bahama at the West Marina.
The West Marina in Mineral City is Ohio’s largest inland marina. It features a lighthouse at the end of the restaurant aptly named Lighthouse Bistro.
This lakefront dining is upscale and often comes with live entertainment. It is open daily except Tuesdays from April to the end of the year. Visitors can enjoy a delicious steak, pasta dish, or fresh seafood dinner, dining either inside or out. Those who choose out can sit along a spacious deck overlooking deep blues and greens as a backdrop to the sails hoisted throughout the harbor. Afterward, they can walk barefoot in the grass and replenish that inner spirit.
The East Marina in Dellroy is where people will want to go for casual dining at the Atwood Dock Marina & Grill, which is also It is open daily except Tuesdays from April to the end of the year.
This lunchtime eatery and full bar puts guests right over the water on its outdoor patio, allowing patrons to either soak in the rays or enjoy the shade. Something about a menu written on a chalkboard brings that vacation feeling to life. Visitors should be sure to download the ChowNow App and order a variety of delicious American fare to dine-in or take-out, like flatbread pizza, seafood tacos, and burgers, including the signature Dam Buster.
Anyone walking along the patio is likely to hear someone say aloud, “This is the best dam burger I ever tried,” followed by laughter on the queue.
There are also plenty of other places to grab a bite. After all, it isn’t a vacation unless an ice cream run is declared.
Atwood Lake has a few places for this, from the beachfront concession stand, to the traditional ice cream shop (The Dari-Bar), and to the Dellroy Drive-In Restaurant. The Dellroy is a classic resort town eatery. Just look for the purple building with bright green trim. In addition to their tasty ice cream, guests should try their popular fish dinners.
Other dining options include Dave’s Diner, The Gyro Shack, and J-Pa’s Pizzeria & Grill, which has tasty Stromboli and more. Stop by the Carrollton Farmers Market to take fresh produce back to camp. For a cup of coffee with a side of alpacas, vacationers can wander over to the Coffee Pot Farm.
There is something for everyone at Atwood Lake. One of the main reasons to choose an escape like this is the fun in the sun, and there’s no place better than the beach to cross that off the vacation list.
At the beach, visitors can sink their toes into the soft sand and nibble on that treat from the concession stand while watching the kids have a riot on the inflatable obstacle course out in the water. They should make sure they have sunscreen on because they’ll be out there for a while, and they won’t hear anything over the screams of summer freedom that hit the shore in sound waves. They can climb, slide and jump from different levels of the inflatable and race their friends while trying to keep their balance on the long, slippery straightaway.
There’s also a floating volleyball net and spray fountain for rafters to get refreshed before returning to more leisure time in the sun. Moms can keep a bird’s eye view of the aqua cycles, bumper boats, and pedal boats from the grassy hillside under the big shade trees. There’s also plenty of green space for picnics, naps or tossing the Frisbee.
There are a couple of different vantage points of the lake that vacationers often enjoy. One is on the courtesy dock, where they can take a seat and relax, and the other is on the observation tower, where they can overlook everything.
Motorists driving around the lake may have their attention diverted to the other side of the road, where a wine barrel is suspended in the air announcing Al-Bi Winery. Inside is a cozy little wine bar and a sincere conversationalist by the name of Charlene Raines. This winery started merely as a hobby between her and a friend, both with a passion for making wine and touring other wineries. Today, they are still known for their personable touch. This quaint little place is housed inside an old bait shop with about 30 wine choices ranging from traditional to fruit flavors. These include dandelion, blueberry, and their very own Four Play. That’s as in four (not fore) blends of wine mixed together.
Whether it’s for couples or families, lodging comes with a variety of options: RV or tent camping, cabins, and hotels.
Atwood Lake features Ohio’s largest inland campground. Campers may choose from primitive sites to full hookups. But no matter where they’re pitching their sleeping accommodations, at some point they’ll be gathered around the fire ring roasting weenies or S’mores. Grills will be sizzling with barbecue that makes everyone in wafting distance lick their lips as hunger suddenly overcomes them.
Like any good community, there are places to gather and socialize. It may be at the game courts, playground, doing laundry, or settling in the pavilion with its built-in fire pit. And if anything was forgotten, the camp store offers essentials such as charcoal, bug spray, sunscreen, light groceries, and other supplies. The park office can also exchange propane tanks.
For those who don’t have an RV or want more than a tent can provide, there are two types of cabins available: vacation cabins and rustic patio cabins.
One comes with the comforts of home, and the other one, not so much. The vacation cabins are spoilers because they come equipped with a big-screen television, a small kitchen with cooking supplies, and a full bathroom. There’s even a dock available to use. Just about the only thing they don’t have is linen. These cabins on lakeside lots can house up to six guests with two bedrooms and a pullout couch.
On the other hand, the rustic patio cabins come with no added amenities, restrooms, or running water. However, they do have heat, air conditioning, and a refrigerator. Shower and restroom facilities are nearby. These cabins also have lake views, offering photo ops of the sun setting or rising.
“When you come here, you relax and enjoy and leave everything from home at home,” said Adria Bergeron, the Recreation Marketing Coordinator at the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District. “You can unplug, build a bonfire, watch movies under the stars, and go swimming with the kids.”
On top of these activities, for those who are more of a townie and like the shopping and restaurant scene, there are hotels in nearby Carrollton.
On the way into town, no matter which way is taken, it’s the scenic route. People who enjoy traveling by motorcycle will love rural Carroll County and its ribbons of country roads meandering through the foothills of Ohio’s Eastern Appalachian Country. Motorcyclists also shouldn’t miss The Best Dam Motorcycle Poker Run. This scenic tour lets participants play their poker hand at five different dams.
A good whistle stop on the short ride into town is at the historic Algonquin Mill. It was built in the mid-1820s and is in full working production during the annual Algonquin Mill Fall Festival. In addition to the operational flouring mill and sawmill, it features a railroad depot, schoolhouse, other staples of a pioneer village – and lots of steam.
Carrollton is very walkable, and encompasses everything envisioned when thinking about small-town charm. Smiling pedestrians and welcoming shop owners dot the main streets that weave up and down the hill, where architectural styles come together to create a sense of timelessness. From its shingles to its facades, the streetscapes sweep folks into bustling stores and eateries. The history is worn on the wood floors and tin-stamped ceilings.
One store, Betty Kaye Bakery, has been open for 75 years.
Eyes glaze over while staring through the large glass case that displays a wide variety of fresh-made, mouth-watering pastries and baked goods. The chocolate cake rolls are to die for, and so are the warm homemade apple pies, of course. Carrollton is that kind of all-American small town.
The building that looks like it could use a coat of paint is meant to look as vintage as the wares inside. Trunks & Treasures antique store is really “that place” where people find “that thing” they must have because it’s like nothing they have ever seen before.
Another gem is Bud’s Farm Toys.
This old hardware store is now a novelty shop, expressing Bud’s love for farming in every toy tractor and piece of die-cast farm equipment that’s for sale.
Inside Ashton’s five and dime store, which has been running since 1932, a historic Toledo Scale can be seen weighing bags of candy that are bound to bring smiles to a group of vacationers no matter what their age. When the scale’s big bowl fills with a concoction of timeless favorites and the needle reaches tilt, that’s when customers know it’s enough to last until morning.
Just a few blocks away sits John and Evelyn Ashton’s home, now known as the Ashton House Museum. Talk about conversation pieces; these rooms are steeped in them. Visitors can take a close look at the wonders behind a movie camera built in 1900, a wood flip-up box revealing a turntable to play old folk songs, stylish ladies’ hats, and show collections. There’s even a series of old Pez dispensers adorned with all the favorite Star Wars characters from the 1970’s movies. To top it off, veterans are admitted for free.
Nestled at the top of the town square is the 1830 home of the famous Fighting McCooks. This home turned museum features the story of their lives and a collection of fascinating swords and rifles from their time.
The town is full of amiable mom and pop shops and restaurants.
Donna’s Deli is a farm to fork restaurant where everything is made from scratch. Even the pumpkin pie is made from pumpkins that they grew themselves. Lil Brown Dog Café is a coffee shop serving deli sandwiches and homemade muffins. Many of the helpful folks wandering the sidewalks in front of these adorable storefronts will recommend Virginia’s for breakfast or lunch, and Archer’s for dinner. In a town this personable, visitors get to know merchants on a first-name basis before leaving.
A favorite spot to relax with some takeout is on the town square. It’s designed to be a gathering place. Some just sit in the gazebo and people-watch. This long, green island of open space is central to panoramic views of the surrounding streetscapes that make the place so comfortable. Its why there are a variety of special events that take place here, such as the imaginative Scarecrows on the Square.
On top of this, there are also ongoing activities for guests to do at their leisure.
“A fun way to explore the area is by geocaching,” said Kara Musser, the Program Coordinator at the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District. “All you need is a phone and GPS coordinates to Explore the Shores Geotrail.”
There is a series of 10 different caches around the lake, each providing interesting lake facts and a code word. People who get all 10 codes will win a special geocoin commemorating the experience and achievement. Even that has a code, but you’ll have to see what it is for yourself.
Geocaching is one way to explore the natural world at Atwood Lake. Another is to venture along its seven miles of hiking trails where wildlife is plentiful both on the ground and overhead. Back out on the water, guided nature kayaking tours are very popular. The moonlit kayaking tour is a special event that often sells out.
The calendar is full of these kinds of special events, big and small.
One of the biggest is the ALIVE Festival held every July at the lake’s amphitheater. It’s a Christian music festival attended by thousands of concert-goers. It features top Christian music artists and speakers.
There are also events featuring fireworks, a car show, and a Native American Pow-Wow to name a few more. However, the one that truly marks the end of another fun season on the lake is the Atwood Area Fall Festival. With early autumn turning nights into perfect camping weather, weekenders flock to the lake for food and festivities. These festivities feature Civil War demonstrations, a primitive weapons club, an antique engine show, classic car displays, and even a haunted hayride.
There are many things to do at Atwood Lake and in Carrollton during any season, but none more than summer. So come, wave hello to Atwood Lake, and splashdown for outdoor fun and small-town charm. See all that awaits you at CarrollCountyOhio.com.
By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler – Your Tour Guide to Fun!