CLEVELAND, Ohio — Finally ready to travel again? The timing is good, at the start of what is predicted to be a terrific fall travel season, with colors peaking across Ohio in mid- to late-October.
But where to go to take in Ohio’s autumnal splendor?
Your choices are many – from islands to forests, Amish country to roller coasters, haunted prisons to covered bridges.
Our suggestions for a dozen close-to-home fall getaways:
Take a scenic drive
The Ohio Department of Transportation has designated 27 drives in the state as Ohio Scenic Byways (five of them are also part of the national America’s Byways program).
For one steeped in history, consider the Historic National Road, which travels 225 miles across Ohio, passing through St. Clairsville and Cambridge, New Concord and Columbus. This route, considered America’s first cross-country highway, extends beyond the state borders, traveling through West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Indiana and Illinois.
Other options: the Lake Erie Coastal Trail, Ohio and Erie Canalway, Amish Country and Hocking Hills. For the complete list: tinyurl.com/ohioscenicbyways
Explore Amish country
Holmes County’s Amish country is scenic in every season, but particularly when the leaves start changing. Among the options here: Visit Yoder’s Amish Home, with a farm, home tour and buggy ride; feed the animals at the Farm at Walnut Creek; learn more about the community’s history at the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center; fill up on cheese, chocolates, pies and other locally-made goods at markets throughout the area. Information: visitamishcountry.com
Or head east from Cleveland to Middlefield and Mesopotamia, in Geauga and Trumbull counties, home to another large Amish community, with shopping, dining, buggy rides and more. Information: destinationgeauga.com, exploretrumbullcounty.com/amish.
Trip back in time
Sauder Village, the recreated historic village in Archbold, recently opened 1920s Main Street, an interactive exhibit meant to evoke the charm of small-town America a century ago. The street, part of Sauder’s Walk Through Time experience, includes a soda fountain, fire station, movie theater, candy story and speakeasy. The Historic Village is open Wednesday through Saturday through Oct. 24. Also here: the Barn Restaurant, Sauder Heritage Inn, shops, craftspeople, a farm, horse-drawn carriage rides and more. Information: saudervillage.org.
Go wine tasting
It’s harvest time at Ohio wineries, which makes fall a great time for a wine-country tour. Some places will even let you help pick the grapes.
There are nearly 300 wineries in Ohio, in every region of the state. Many have outdoor tasting and dining areas, plus afternoon entertainment and other activities. Combine winery hopping with another activity – or just go for the wine. For a list of nearby wineries: ohiowines.org.
If you’re sipping wine in far Northeast Ohio, take time to explore some of Ashtabula County’s gorgeous 19 covered bridges. Most of the bridges are well over a century old, although a few are newer. The county’s annual Covered Bridge Festival has been canceled this year, unfortunately – but you can put together your own touring event.
For a list of bridges: visitashtabulacounty.com/things-to-do/covered-bridges/covered-bridges/
We’ve got at least another month to explore Ohio’s waterways – whether river, inland lake or Lake Erie. North-central Ohio’s Mohican River valley is known as the canoe capital of Ohio (as evidenced by the half-dozen liveries operating in or near Loudonville). Other Northern Ohio options include the Grand (with rentals at Raccoon Run in Harpersfield and Grand River Canoe in Rock Creek) and the Cuyahoga (with rentals at Camp Hi in Hiram, Crooked River Adventures in Burton and Burning River Adventures in Cuyahoga Falls).
Pedal versus paddle
Bicycling is another activity that has exploded in popularity in recent months. Ohio is home to hundreds of miles of dedicated cycling paths, including the 330-mile Ohio to Erie Trail, which links Cincinnati and Cleveland via dozens of interconnected trails. Start with a short trip, or plan a days-long outing and bike the whole thing. See: ohiotoerietrail.org.
Also recommended: the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway, which travels 21 scenic miles through Southeast Ohio’s Athens County. For an added twist: Bike all or part of the Brewed on the Bikeway Tour, which features a number of breweries on or near the trail. See athensbicycle.com/brewed-on-the-bikeway-tour.
Put-in-Bay attracted lots of attention early this summer, due to a Covid-19 outbreak among staff and visitors. The crowds are gone, and you’re likely to have the entire island almost to yourself, especially if you go during the week. Rent a golf car or bicycle and explore the island’s 1,600 acres. Most of the island’s restaurants and shops are open through October. For information: visitputinbay.com.
The Jet Express is traveling to Put-in-Bay on weekends (Friday through Sunday) through Oct. 11; Miller Ferry operates daily through at least late November. And Kelleys Island Ferry offers numerous daily trips to Ohio’s largest Lake Erie island. Go for the day, or stay overnight for a true island getaway.
Cedar Point this month debuted its fall-themed replacement for HalloWeekends, dubbed Tricks and Treats Fall Fest. The festival doesn’t include any of the past event’s popular haunted houses and scare zones, which were deemed too difficult to operate while maintaining social distancing. This year’s event instead includes an emphasis on food, with more than a dozen holiday-themed creations, including Day of the Dead Fries, Toxic Mac and more. Also: lots of entertainment, kids and adult activities, plus the park’s world-famous lineup of coasters. The park’s historic Hotel Breakers is open weekends through October. See cedarpoint.com.
Ohio State Parks Passport
Ohio’s state parks are attracting record attendance this year – but there’s still room for you. The park system this year introduced a new Ohio State Parks Passport to track your travels. The document includes maps, photos and information about all 75 state parks, plus stickers to mark your stops. To order one: tinyurl.com/ohioparkspassport.
Cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer have been profiling Ohio State Parks this summer – see our series at cleveland.com/travel.
Is there any place in the state that’s scarier than the Ohio State Reformatory? The imposing, castle-like structure in Mansfield operated as a prison from 1896 through 1990 and today is a museum. If a daylight, self-guided tour isn’t scary enough (trust us — it is), consider a nighttime visit next month when Escape from Blood Prison opens. The haunted “house” operates Oct. 9 through Nov. 1, Friday through Sunday. Information: bloodprison.com, mrps.org.
Or go ghost hunting at one of Ohio’s many reportedly haunted hotels. Among the options: Punderson Manor Lodge in Geauga County, the Lafayette Hotel in Marietta or the Golden Lamb in Lebanon. See tinyurl.com/ohiohauntedhotels.com.
Capital City stay
Looking for a more urban adventure? Spend the weekend in Columbus, which offers a variety of outdoor fun, including Topiary Garden Park, with its living recreation of Georges Seurat’s famous painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of LaGrande Jatte.”
Other options: Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, which is hosting Boo at the Zoo for three October weekends (Oct. 16-18, Oct. 23-25 and Oct. 30-Nov. 1); Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, with both indoor and outdoor exhibits, including two fall shows, Harvest Blooms and Pumpkins Aglow; and ZipZone Canopy Tours, inside Camp Mary Orton, with two-hour zipline tours through the treetops north of Columbus.
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