20 Top Things to Do in Ohio
Top attractions in Ohio
An Eastern attitude comes naturally to this Midwest state, settled by Yankees when the rest of the region was a frontier. Beyond a trio of very different big cities, New England-like villages scatter the countryside, and resorts line the Lake Erie shore.
Click ahead for 20 of our favorite things to do in Ohio, from hiking in the Hocking Hills to exploring Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland. Want to share your favorites? Leave a comment below.
Pictured: Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal.
Shore and island getaways
The Lake Erie shore is one of Ohio's top travel destinations–in particular the 100-mile stretch of golden sand and resort towns from Toledo east to Cleveland. Ferries cruise to South Bass, Middle Bass and Kelleys islands; ashore, tiny Vermilion, Huron and Port Clinton open around manicured beaches. Thrill-seekers head to Sandusky's Cedar Point Amusement Park (next slide), while bird-watchers seek quieter surroundings at eight nearby state parks and a national wildlife refuge. (800) 255-3743; shoresandislands.com
- Photo courtesy of Cedar Point
Cedar Point Amusement Park
Sandusky's Cedar Point Amusement Park, the largest in the world, has a great mix of modern thrill rides and old carnival classics such as a Ferris wheel and carousels. Several of the park's 17 roller coasters offer lovely lake views–until you start screaming, that is! Daredevils who find the roller coasters too tame head to the adjacent Challenge Park. (419) 627-2350; cedarpoint.com
This region attracts outdoor enthusiasts with its trails that lead through forests to caves and rock formations. At Hocking Hills State Park (55 miles southeast of Columbus), hikers find sweeping overlooks, fern-filled valleys and shelf caves. explorehockinghills.com
Adventuresome visitors can strap into a harness for in-the-trees sightseeing using zip lines and skybridges at Hocking Hills Canopy Tours. hockinghillscanopytours.com
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
Since opening in 1995 on the shore of Lake Erie, the $92 million glass pyramid designed by I.M. Pei has brought fans to Cleveland (population: 444,000) from all over the world, giving the city a new energy and cementing its identity as one of rock's birthplaces. Iconic music artifacts fill the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Look for Michael Jackson's "Thriller" mask, John Lennon's report cards, Bono's first guitar and much more. (216) 781-7625; rockhall.com
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
A half-hour south of Cleveland, the 33,000-acre Cuyahoga Valley National Park includes spectacular rock formations and waterfalls, 160 miles of trails, golf courses and a living-history settlement. Established as a recreation area in the 1970s to battle urban sprawl, Cuyahoga is now one of the nation's most accessible national parks. (330) 657-2752; nps.gov/cuva
The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad travels through the park. (800) 468-4070; cvsr.com
The Amish in Holmes County
More than 19,000 Amish live in this rural central Ohio county. On some roads, buggies outnumber cars. Think of the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center in Berlin as Amish 101, featuring accessible exhibits about the local culture. (877) 858-4634; behalt.com
Explore Amish history and customs further in Millersburg at Yoder's Amish Home, where guides offer tours of a 116-acre farm. (330) 893-2541; yodersamishhome.com
Shops and restaurants throughout the region specialize in Amish products. (877) 643-8824; visitamishcountry.com
Pro Football Hall of Fame
Check out the bronzed busts of football legends along with state-of-the-art exhibits inside the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. Artifacts include famous helmets, shoes and game balls; and replica Super Bowl Rings, along with an area for visitors to design their own rings. (330) 456-8207; profootballhof.com
Northeast Ohio's wine country
Some 45 miles east of Cleveland, nearly two dozen wineries—many of them award-winning—thrive along Lake Erie and in the nearby region, hiding amid old-fashioned covered bridges and shore towns trapped in time. The wineries add a cosmopolitan flair to northeast Ohio's long-established resort scene in towns such as Geneva-on-the-Lake.
Ashtabula County's covered bridges
Seventeen historic and reconstructed bridges span the Ashtabula River in northeast Ohio's Ashtabula County. Take a driving tour to explore the bridges as well as the county's pretty lake towns, orchards and vineyards (previous slide). In the fall, the Ashtabula County Covered Bridge Festival offers tours of the bridges plus country music, a parade and other entertainment.
Cincinnati Museum Center
The striking Union Terminal—a mosaic-filled, Art Deco jewel built in 1933—houses history, science and children's museums. Costumed interpreters help visitors make a connection with the past at the Cincinnati History Museum; kids can explore areas such as the Energy Zone, Little Sprouts Farm and Kid's Town at Duke Energy Children's Museum; and you can step back 19,000 years into the Ice Age of the Ohio Valley at the Museum of Natural History and Science. (513) 287-7000; cincymuseum.org
Aviation history in Dayton
Imagination takes flight in Dayton, a midsize city where aviation history rules. At the Wright Cycle Company Complex (pictured), rangers and displays answer questions about Dayton's aviation history, and you'll find an overview of the Wright brothers' lives (nps.gov/daav). Acres of hangars with more than 300 planes and missiles await at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, the world's largest military aviation museum (nationalmuseum.af.mil).
- Photo Courtesy of COSI Columbus
Family attractions in Columbus
Ohio's biggest city (population: 755,000) offers an appealing variety of family-friendly attractions, including Center of Science and Industry (COSI) (pictured), which fuses playground and museum, with more than 300 interactive exhibits and a movie theater. cosi.org
Among other favorites: Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, home to more than 700 species and the Polar Frontier, columbuszoo.org; and Franklin Park Conservatory, featuring plants of the Himalayan mountains, the rainforest and other climates as well as a collection of work by glass artist Dale Chihuly. fpconservatory.org
- Photo Courtesy of CincinnatiUSA.com
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Even from the outside, Cincinnati's National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is stirring. Its wavy architecture mirrors the Ohio River, which slaves crossed to enter the North. One of the most powerful of the center's state-of-the-art exhibits is a slave pen moved here from a Kentucky farm. (877) 648-4838; freedomcenter.org
- Photo Courtesy of Ohio Tourism Division/www.DiscoverOhio.com
Rhinos, giraffes and other exotic animals roam a 10,000-acre wildlife conservation center in Cumberland (70 miles east of Columbus). The Wilds is home to rare and endangered species from around the world as well as hundreds of indigenous species. Hop on an open-air safari transport or a closed, air-conditioned vehicle to see cheetahs, zebras, trumpeter swans, American bison and more. Stop and explore areas such as the Carnivore Conservation Center, the Wetlands, the Lake Trail and the Outpost. (740) 638-5030; thewilds.org
- Photo Courtesy of Toledo Museum of Art
Toledo Museum of Art
More than 35 galleries, a sculpture garden and the Glass Pavilion showcase the Toledo Museum of Art's collection of more than 30,000 paintings, sculptures and other works of art. Be sure to see the demonstrations in the Glass Pavilion (left), where glassblowers deftly twirl, twist, stretch and snip fiery globs of molten glass into animals and vases. (419) 255-8000; toledomuseum.org
Ohio and Erie Canalway
Follow the Ohio and Erie Canal into the past—and through an unexpected national park outside Cleveland. A weekend here could include visiting the Canal Exploration Center, biking along the Towpath Trail, hiking in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, floating on a mule-drawn boat and riding the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.
Hueston Woods State Park
This action-packed resort park on Acton Lake (35 miles northwest of Cincinnati) offers canoe, pontoon and mountain bike rentals; horseback riding; an 18-hole golf course; archery -- even paintball! The amenities at Hueston Woods State Park turn what might be a quite ordinary lake-and-woods vacation into an adventure. (513) 523-6347; parks.ohiodnr.gov
Adams County's Appalachian beauty
Hiking trails, country inns, covered bridges and Amish shops reward casual explorers in Adams County, which rests on the edge of the Appalachian foothills, 60 miles southeast of Cincinnati.
Among the highlights: Great Serpent Mound, where a quarter-mile trail loops around a fascinating ancient Native American effigy mound, (800) 752-2757; greatserpentmound.com; Edge of Appalachia, a sprawling nature preserve, (614) 717-2770; nature.org/wherewework; and Clothesline of Quilts, a self-guided tour of barns painted with quilt designs. Contact the Adams County Travel and Visitors Bureau. (937) 544-5639; adamscountytravel.org
Zoar's historic charm
In 1817, German immigrants founded this communal village. To pay for their land—5,500 acres—the Zoarites hand-dug a seven-mile stretch of the Ohio and Erie Canal near their village. Today, Zoar (population: 193; 75 miles south of Cleveland) has evolved into a tranquil Middle America town with busy residents and a strong historical character. Visitors can take a guided tour of the village, stroll among quality antiques shops and historical homes, and sleep in simple, classic-style B&Bs. (330) 874-3011; historiczoarvillage.com
- Photo Courtesy of Vinton County Convention and Visitors Bureau
Lake Hope State Park
Wooded hills surround Lake Hope (70 miles southeast of Columbus), where kayakers can paddle through fields of pink water lilies. The atmosphere at Lake Hope State Park is decidedly kid-friendly (Disney movies in the campground), but there are grown-up touches, too, like a rent-a-tent program for newbie campers. If you stay in a cabin, try to snag one of the historic Forest Cottages, named for trees. (740) 596-4938; parks.ohiodnr.gov