Ohio might have a reputation for being mostly cornfields... and for being home to the Mistake on the Lake (don't worry, Cleveland, we love you). But that's okay! It just means that the insane natural beauty hidden in Ohio's state and national parks is a lot less crowded than it might otherwise be. Start in the Northeastern corner of the state, in the charming, one-of-a-kind landscapes of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and then meander south through the bucolic small towns and parks until you hit Hocking Hills. This state park is a drop-dead gorgeous stunner, with caves, waterfalls, stone footbridges, twisting gorges, and loads more to explore. It really does feel like something out of an ancient myth!
Just about a half an hour south of Cleveland's hustle and bustle is a gem that perhaps many have not heard of: Cuyahoga National Park. Cuyahoga is truly a haven where you can escape from everyday life and feel as if you're a whole lot further away from reality than you actually are! The park is perfect for a day trip or a full weekend escape. Over 100 miles of hiking are available for anyone. Check out overlooks with views stretching for miles and miles, striking waterfalls, mossy gorges with hidden caves, and meadows of wildflowers. Hiking not your scene? Hop on a vintage train and experience both nostalgia and endless nature on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, where you'll learn some fascinating history and get to experience the area in its entirety! Cuyahoga Valley is unlike any other national park, and that makes it well worth exploring.
187 State Route 303, Streetsboro, OH, US
A quick, 20-minute drive from the park will land you in yet another peaceful, fun-filled location for relaxing and unwinding: the Streetsboro / Cleveland SE KOA. Fishing, swimming, outdoor games, and more will suit any age... oh, and did we mention that they make their own fudge at the gift shop, which is housed in a 19th-century-era general store? It's a nice touch that really adds to the charming, pastoral atmosphere all around Cuyahoga Valley National Park. At the Streetsboro / Cleveland SE KOA, you have the opportunity to tent camp, RV, or get cozy in a cabin, so there's no need to worry if sleeping indoors suits more of your fancy.
5550 Christman Rd., Green, OH, US
A historic landmark of the War of 1812, and a significant area rich in Native American and settler history, Portage Lakes State Park is a gem containing thousands of acres for all kinds of activities. The eight Portage Lakes are a fisherman's dream, with plenty of room for swimming and boat paddling. There are a handful of kayak, paddle board and pontoon rental places to check out if you want to spend a full day of fun on the water. If boating on a lake isn't your cup of tea, four trails allow you to spread out and explore the area; one even encompasses part of the Buckeye Trail. Portage Lakes State Park features a dog park as well, so no need to worry if your furry friend is tagging along on the trip! With loads of activities for everyone, Portage Lakes is a great stop on your adventure.
100 Reformatory Rd, Mansfield, OH, US
Looking to get a little spooked? Into being immersed in history? Want to experience some cool architecture? Or maybe you're just a total film buff. In any case, the Ohio State Reformatory is a must-visit. The popular film The Shawshank Redemption was filmed here, and pop culture has since used the reformatory on many occasions. Walk around and explore on your own, or take one of the many interesting guided tours offered. Ghost hunting classes, creepy Halloween "Blood Prison" events, and even a Shawshank Trail will allow those visiting to get the exact experience they want. Once the site of a Civil War training camp, the prison shut its doors in 1990, and has served as a tourist attraction since. The castle-esque building itself is enough to lure you inside to reveal its mysterious contents!
4059 Bromfield Road, Lucas, OH, US
A visit to Malabar Farm State Park may seem like something straight out of a novel set in simpler times, and that's because it is! Louis Bromfield, a Pulitzer Prize winner, founded the 900-acre slice of heaven and used it as inspiration for many pieces of literature. Since his death in 1956, the farm has been a place for visitors to hike, see demonstrations, attend festivals throughout the year, and experience the magic of the Ohio countryside. Classic Hollywood stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were even married right here on the farm! Taking a tour through the house or a tractor ride around allows for the full experience, or simply pack a picnic and enjoy the gorgeous property and fresh air. Malabar Farm State Park is a destination you definitely do not want to miss, whether you're into history, animals and farm life, or perhaps even visiting the restaurant or farmers’ market on-site!
8644 Porter Central Rd, Sunbury, OH, US
Less than an hour down the road from Malabar is a KOA that has a homey feel, with 40 wooded acres. Kampgrounds of America takes care of any kind of camper, whether you dig cabins, tents, or want to hook up your RV! The Sunbury / Columbus North KOA location is no different, and this location additionally has countless features, such as a workout room, a jump pad for the kids, and loads of events, put on by the welcoming campground hosts, occurring on a regular basis. While there are many opportunities for nonstop fun here, you may also choose to visit the Autumn Day Spa for a well-deserved afternoon of relaxation. Food options are plentiful here, so you won't have to leave during your stay. Keep the fun going and allow KOA to take care of you for a night or two while you're exploring Ohio's many treasures. You'll be sure to gain memory after memory.
5265 Dillon Hills Drive, Nashport, OH, US
Encompassing over 2,000 acres, the strikingly scenic Dillon State Park offers an endless array of outdoor activities for anyone stopping through. A large lake allows you to boat or fish as you please, or you can even rent a paddleboard or canoe! Aside from miles and miles of hiking and biking options, Dillon State Park invites visitors to try out shooting and archery as well. Just about anything you would want to do outdoors can be found here, and what a better way to enjoy a beautiful Ohio summer night than with a sunset hike or kayak adventure? The scenery itself is enough to make you want to pull out your camera and savor the moment. It's places like this that make you take a deep breath and appreciate the simple things in life.
532 McIntire Ave, Zanesville, OH, US
Tom's Ice Cream Bowl is a piece of Zanesville history that will make you glad you stopped. Around since 1948, the classic ice cream parlor hasn't changed a bit. The nostalgia of this place is oh-so-real; at Tom's, they make their own ice cream, roast their own nuts, and even process all of their toppings themselves by hand, including the decadent peanut butter! Huge bowls of original flavors and funky combinations make this place a unique Ohio experience that you won't want to miss. It's not often that you come across old-fashioned gems that have remained the same since their beginning, but Tom's is a one-of-a-kind hot spot that people have enjoyed through the generations-- and will continue to savor for many to come.
13178 State Route 664 South, Logan, OH, US
Indulge the quirky side we all secretly have, with a visit to the Paul A. Johnson Pencil Sharpener Museum. Places like this are a perfect way to spend a little time learning and experiencing something new. Paul began building his collection of over 3,000 pencil sharpeners in 1989, and after his death in 2010, his collection was shared with the Hocking Hills Tourism Association, so his well-known hobby might live on for others to experience. The museum is located inside the Hocking Hills Welcome Center, and is free to the public. The offbeat displays of different kinds of sharpeners are entertaining and something you definitely won't experience elsewhere!
29150 Pattor Rd, Logan, OH, US
The Hocking Hills region in its entirety is a place you'll want to return to again and again. The amount of beauty packed into this area of the state will have you wanting to explore and stay as long as possible, so a stay at the Logan / Hocking Hills KOA Holiday® is a definite must. With plenty of lodging options, mining and gold-panning for the kids, a dog park, and even a remote control car race track, you'll never get bored during your stay. After a day of hiking, there's nothing better than returning to a nice shower, a dip in the pool, and a beautiful place to rest your head. This KOA location is a perfect home base for checking out the huge number of things to do around the area. Whether you're into antiquing, nature, or just exploring this side of the state, this family-friendly spot is great for any kind of traveler.
24858 Big Pine Rd, Logan, OH, US
Conkle's Hollow State Nature Preserve is one of Hocking Hill's most well-known features. The gorge’s sandstone cliffs rise 200 feet high, and its waterfalls create striking scenery you simply need to see with your own eyes. Trails make for some great hiking, including the strenuous rim trail. While this 2.5-mile trail will give you a workout, being above the gorge and taking in the beauty is worth the effort. The lower trail is paved and very easily accessible, so the preserve welcomes anyone and everyone to enjoy all of its natural beauty. The colors of each season create a different experience with each visit, and smaller crowds make Conkle's the place to be.
Caves, gorges, and waterfalls all packed into one state park? Yes, please! Hocking Hills State Park is a nature lover's dream. Thousands of acres of natural splendor will captivate the outdoorsman in anyone; the park is definitely worth multiple days of adventure. Old Man's Cave alone draws visitors from all around, and is made up of twisting, eroded sandstone and waterfalls within the gorge. Hocking Hills is also rich in Native American history, and contains wildlife unique to the area. It all makes for an interesting place to learn about, for those wanting to gain some insight into this world of its own. For those with the cornfield stereotype of Ohio still in their head, Hocking Hills will leave you speechless. The dramatic picturesque views go on for miles, and will complete anyone's trip through the underrated nature-filled state.
Ohio’s beauty doesn't get as much praise as it deserves. The span of the state can be traversed in under a handful of hours, making traveling manageable and allowing you to see a variety of attractions in every direction more easily than in other states. The beauty of Ohio's parks ranks up there with the best of the best, and unique hidden gems along the way make your travels fun and interesting. If you haven't given Ohio a chance to wow you, definitely take the time to soon. It won't disappoint!
Banner Photo Credit: Shutterstock