City/State: Garrettesville, OH
Season: Mid-April through October 15
Rates (as of 2014): Tent site with water and electric: $25/night; full-hookup sites: $30/night.
Since the first camping trip of the season needs to be close to home in order to test the R.V. systems, we chose Kool Lakes Family Campground. And, as it turns out, it was a great choice. It is just 40 minutes away from our home in Cleveland and came recommended by a friend who belongs to a camping club. She assured me that Kool Lakes was a nice family campground with a big playground and other amenities for the kids. She wasn’t kidding.
We were, however, a little disappointed that Kool Lakes wasn’t fully operational by mid-May. The past winter was long, and, because I live just 40 minutes away from Kool Lakes, I have some sympathy and forgiveness for its owners. Sure, I’m really disappointed we didn’t get to take the boys out on a boat and that the arcade games weren’t all plugged in yet, but that just meant we spent an extra day hiking at Nelson Kennedy Ledges.
Kool Lakes Family Campground was easy to find, just minutes off of Route 422 in Garrettesville. The main office/store is upfront and the staff was friendly. We received a key code for the main gate that got us into the campground for the duration of our stay. Through that gate, we passed a pavilion and the large playground on the left, with the swimming lake behind it. The dirt round followed around the side of the lake. We noticed a small beach between the lake and the playground, big enough for a few sandcastles, but not sunbathing. Past that, there was another, larger lake for fishing and boating, and then a small bridge over a thin, shallow creek.
We were impressed by the size of our campsite (E-23). Even with the picnic table, fire ring and our fully extended awning, we didn’t feel like our neighbor was part of our site. I have been to campgrounds where you feel a little gross eating so close to someone else’s sewer hookups, but we didn’t even come close to our neighbor’s at Kool Lakes.
I have two gripes about Kool Lakes. The first, of course, was that the boats weren’t ready to row. The second gripe: the Wi-Fi service was terrible. I could barely check my email. Since we were camping and enjoying other activities most of the time, it really only mattered in the evening when the kids were sleeping and I wanted to post some pictures to my social network. I know that’s a first-world problem, but techno-junkies may want to prepare for a little withdrawal. I had to wait until we were back home to post my pictures, but I survived.
Kool Lakes has a big ball field just waiting for a game of baseball, kickball or football. We took our football over and played with the boys. The field was a little soggy from the previous rainy week, but we had a lot of space to play.
There’s a shower house with toilets right at the edge of the field for those who don’t want to run all the way back to their sites. I went in to get pictures, but we were parked right across the dirty road, so I didn’t use these facilities. They were average. I’ve certainly been in worse at campgrounds, but some better, too. Inside the main office/store, the ladies room was in pretty bad shape: an overflowing bucket under the sink and dank walls. But the new small restroom near the large pavilion, playground and beach was brand new and beautiful.
Back by the playground later in the day, my preschooler broke down social barriers by asking an older boy on the basketball court if he could play, too. Both boys bounced and giggled around the large playground, up both climbing structures and down all the slides. There was a large swingset with six or so swings, monkey bars and rocking animals, too. My boys did it all twice a day, at least.
What the boys appreciated most of all at Kool Lakes, however, were the tadpoles and snails in the swimming lake. Upon waking up, they asked if we were going to catch tadpoles today. They’d ask again sometime right after dinner. And, we did. It was a great learning experience and this proud momma loved seeing her boys explore the natural world.
Although we didn’t get to take the boats out because the lake and boats weren’t ready, Kool Lakes does offer them for $2 per hour. The snack bar, located inside the store, has a simple menu and dining area. On warm days, you’ll appreciate a few scoops of ice cream, which the girl behind the counter told us was new this summer. She also let us know about the cardboard boat race later this summer, but we’ll probably be trying out some new campgrounds. There’s no reason you can’t check the events calendar if you’re interested in fishing contests, yard sales, holiday parties and similar events.
One of the appeals of Kool Lakes Family Campground is its remote location. It’s close enough to a main road in case you need something, but it’s far enough away from the city to reap the benefits of nature. That means there wasn’t much more to do than catch tadpoles and snails, and, sometimes, that’s just what you need.
The tadpoles weren’t our only connection to nature. Nelson Kennedy Ledges is a literal two minutes down the road. I had never been to Nelson Ledges (as I’ve always heard of it), but I do enjoy family walks. My memory of every mention of Nelson Ledges involves some great party that had once taken place there. And, Ledges? I wasn’t sure what to expect with two young boys in tow. We parked our truck and strolled across the street into the woods. A sign provided path color-coding: white was toddler-friendly and red would be the worst parents in the world throwing their baby over a gorge. That’s how I interpreted it, anyway.
Although we stumbled onto the blue and red paths here and there, we had a wonderful walk.We trekked through some muddy muck from yesterday’s rain and found a little waterfall or two. We looked down across little wooden bridges with no railings. The guys picked out walking sticks and we walked and climbed and talked and took pictures.
We heard a bigger waterfall and could see it from above. It certainly looked like we could make our way to the bottom, so we tried to backtrack to where we climbed up. We stopped paying attention to the paint on the trees because none of it seemed especially hard for us. My husband and I took turns with the baby on sketchy paths, sometimes handing him up or down or across (they were not wide gorges, I tell you). We walked through small, cool caverns and down rocky hillsides toward the sound. A little wood deck took us out to the bottom of the waterfall, where we took a family photo.
Our second day at Nelson Kennedy Ledges was even better. We were already familiar with the terrain and took some different paths. We played with leaves and sticks and moss, we looked at bugs, and we looked at the trees growing down the sides of the ledges. We collected a couple rocks. We went to see the waterfall again. The boys loved it.
Kool Lakes, although a little behind on its season set up, provided an attractive campground with spacious sites, relatively clean restrooms and shower houses, and planned activities. Its big playground, lakes and local state park made it a great place to spend a few days with the family.