Every March for 40 years, Paul Ravelli has driven an hour to wait in line for pancakes at the firehouse in Burton, a sleepy town 40 miles east of Cleveland. Over a steaming short stack, he makes a confession: “The pancakes are good, but the maple syrup is why I come.”
That liquid gold lures a lot of people to this corner of Ohio. As winter loosens its grip, sap starts to flow, and the Ohio Maple Producers coordinate the Maple Madness Driving Tour, a self-guided extravaganza that includes 32 stops in 14 counties of northeast Ohio. At farms, shops and community sugarhouses (where sap is boiled into syrup), visitors learn about syrup making and sample maple treats, often stomping through the woods to reach the sweet stuff.
The hub for Maple Madness is Geauga County, Ohio’s largest maple syrup producing region. And in Geauga County, the place to go is Burton. On the village square, steam rises from a log cabin where you can buy syrup and pick up tour maps, and the village hosts a five-week fest called Pancake Town USA that coincides with Maple Madness. On Saturdays and Sundays, volunteers madly flip flapjacks at cafeteria-style breakfasts all over town. The tradition started as a fund-raiser at the firehouse in 1950, and since then, 25,000 gallons of locally made syrup have been poured over 1.6 million pancakes—a tall stack, indeed!
The Maple Madness tour covers a lot of ground. For a more compact excursion, start with pancakes in Burton, then hit the stops in Geauga County. Here are three we like.
1 Sugar Valley Maple Chat with the friendly Amish owners, and shop for syrup (closed Sundays).
2 Swine Creek Reservation During the tour, displays at this county park show how Native Americans and pioneers harvested sap and produced syrup.
3 Chardon town square For $1, order a maple stir (a bowl of hot syrup that has hardened into candy).
Maple Madness Driving Tour Dress warmly, and bring cash for shopping at smaller businesses. March 14-15 and 21-22, 2015. (440) 834-1415; ohiomaple.org
Pancake Town USA Burton will host weekend pancake feeds in March. (440) 834-4204; burtonchamberofcommerce.org
Blazin Bills This family-friendly restaurant serves tasty barbecue. (440) 834-1111; blazinbillsribs.com
Welshfield Inn In a historic dining room, oil lamps cast a glow over lobster mac ’n’ cheese and ever-popular pot roast. (440) 834-0190; welshfielddining.com
Red Maple Inn Rural charm blends with upscale touches like plush robes and jetted tubs in this 18-room inn. (440) 834-8334; redmapleinn.com
(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® January/February 2013. Prices, dates, and other details are subject to change, so please check specifics before making travel plans.)