YOU’LL BEGIN your 433-mile traverse across the Buckeye State by crossing the Ohio River on a car ferry, heading into the wild Northwest Territory. That’s your first clue that Ohio is nothing like a flat, monotonous cornfield. The route winds through the Hocking Hills, graced with waterfalls and towering hemlocks, and passes through the farms of Amish country rich in buggies, bonnets and butterfat. Such pastoral landscapes contrast to the buzz in the state’s “Three Cs,” the cities of Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland. The journey ends on the shores of Lake Erie, perhaps joining thousands of others at Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s summer concert series—a fitting celebration of Ohio driven toe to top. A few navigational notes: Unexpected detours, horse-drawn Amish buggies and poorly marked country roads can be expected. GPS or paper maps prove handy. Call ahead, especially smaller venues. Ohio is open, but the pandemic can still surprise.
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Day 1: Cincinnati to Logan
From the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport rental lot, travel back in time via KY-20 East. Follow signs to the Anderson Ferry. A hair-pinned road leads you down to Kentucky’s Ohio River bank, where for $5 (plus $1 tip) a ferry operating since 1817 will float your car over to Ohio pioneer-style. Head east to downtown Cincinnati on US-50. Enervated vinyl-sided houses and warehouses punctuate the drive, but your destination, Over-the-Rhine, is fizzing. The neighborhood’s 19th-century corniced tenements, originally crammed with German immigrants, form the country’s largest collection of Italianate Revival architecture. Neglected for years, OTR is now coated in creamy paint and optimism, and restocked with bright young things and craft breweries. Busy Washington Park is fun to explore.
Leave Cincy via US-52, paralleling the great river east to Ripley. This antebellum town was an important Underground Railway terminus commemorated by an abolitionist monument and the restored home of John P. Parker, a former slave. At Portsmouth take OH-104 North to Chillicothe for a salad at Paper City, a sunny coffeehouse on South Paint Street (papercitycoffee.com).
Head north on OH-159 then east on OH-180 into the Hocking Hills. Possessing deep gorges and mossy waterfalls, it’s arguably Ohio’s most scenic real estate, a deciduous Kauai. The topography makes GPS navigation spotty here. Nab a map from the Hocking Hills Welcome Center in Logan and overnight in one of the Hocking Hills Tiny Houses. Hand-built, these three “Zen dens” on pretty Lake Logan exude Nordic simplicity (from $119 a night, hockinghillstinyhouses.com).
Glenlaurel Scottish Inn’s six-course dinner (prix fixe from $65; 72-hour advance reservation encouraged; glenlaurel.com) fortifies a postprandial moth hunt conducted by lepidopterist Chris Kline at his Butterfly Ridge Conservation Center. The safaris are 9 p.m. to midnight most summer Saturday nights (butterfly-ridge.com). If the moths are unavailable, the John Glenn Astronomy Park, named for Ohio’s famous astronaut, offers star-gazing and the occasional lecture instead (jgap.info).