Portage Lakes

Tips for Birding

When submitting eBird observations at Portage Lakes, it is most helpful to start a new checklist for each hotspot in the area. Use the general hotspot when you have a checklist that includes multiple locations or if no other hotspot or personal location is appropriate for your sightings.

Birding at any of the Portage Lakes hotspot locations can be extraordinary; however, public access is very hard to find in many of the locations. Pull-offs and peaks through homes and businesses to the water are often the only choice.

The open grasslands, woods, and marshy habitats of Portage Lakes State Park can create outstanding birding opportunities.

About this Location

The Portage Lakes are a group of reservoirs in Northeast Ohio. The name comes from an old Indian portage path that connected the Cuyahoga River flowing north to Lake Erie and the Tuscarawas River, a tributary of the Muskingum River, that flows south to the Ohio River. This proved advantageous for the Indians and early settlers as navigation from Lake Erie to the Ohio River was possible with only an 8 miles portage overland. Portage Lakes State Park lies at one of the highest points of the state and on a major watershed divide in Ohio. Some water from the lakes reaches Lake Erie and some flows to the Ohio River.

In 1825 the Ohio Legislature appropriated funds for the construction of a large network of canals and reservoirs to supply water for the canal system. The Portage Lakes, a series of lakes south of Akron, were created as part of this network of water supply reservoirs. They were formed by the construction of dikes and dams to raise the water levels of some of the swamps and small lakes typical of this heavily glaciated southern part of Summit County.

The use of the Portage Lakes as a water supply for the canal system ceased in 1913 when the canal was abandoned as a means of transportation. However, during this period the rubber industry was expanding in Akron, and the demand for industrial water increased. The Portage Lakes and a portion of the canal system were used to meet the water demands for industrial development along the canal and Summit Lake. During the dry years of the early 1930s, the Portage Lakes were drawn down to such an extent that a new reservoir, Nimisila, was built to direct water from Nimisila Creek into the Portage Lakes.

The Portage Lakes are at three topographical levels. Long Lake, the lowest lake, was formed by flooding a swamp area that had a small pothole lake at its south end. North Reservoir and the middle level were formed by a dike flooding a flat area of land and a small pothole lake known as Hower Lake. At the highest level, and impounding the largest acreage of water, 1,192 acres, are three separate reservoirs: East, West, and Turkeyfoot. Turkeyfoot Lake is connected to West Reservoir by a channel. West Reservoir overflows into North Reservoir and is connected to East Reservoir by a channel. East Reservoir has a control structure from which water is released into a channel that flows into Long Lake.
Turkeyfoot Lake: 483 surface acres – 12.6 feet average depth
West Reservoir: 105 surface acres – 11.3 feet average depth
East Reservoir: 208 surface acres – 14.8 feet average depth
North Reservoir: 165 surface acres – 10.0 feet average depth
Long Lake: 231 surface acres – 16.3 feet average depth

Restrooms are at some locations within the Portage Lakes, and there are gas stations and restaurants nearby.

Notable Trails

Portage Lakes Trails
Three separate locations offer a total of 9 trails for running or hiking:
Rex Lake Area
Planet Walk Trail – 1 mile
Shoreline Trail – 5 miles
Rabbit Hill Trail – 1 mile
Pheasant Run Loop – 1 mile

East Reservoir Area
Knapp Forestview Trail – 0.2 miles
Knapp Lakeview Trail – 0.8 miles
Knapp Walk Trail  – 0.1 miles

Nimisila Reservoir Area
Nimisila Trail – 1.3 mile

A portion of the Buckeye Trail passes along the east shore of the Nimisila Reservoir portion of Portage Lakes.

Content from Susan Carpenter

Last updated October 5, 2023