Known as the “Buckeye State”, Ohio is a part of the Midwest and sits just to the south of Michigan and Lake Erie. Boasting a varying landscape, the state is most famous for its big cities, corn production, professional sports, music, Amish culture, and natural landmarks.
Most people will head to the three Big C cities: Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus for a good time. However, tourists shouldn’t overlook smaller destinations either. Small towns offer plenty of events just like the big cities and rural Ohio is filled with magnificent lakes, forests, and countryside.
For bigger thrills, tourists can check out two of the most famous attractions in the state: Cedar Point and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Both are icons in the state and the nation. With a nearly endless list of destinations, attractions and activities, tourists can find their happy place in Ohio. No matter the season, you’ll be entertained with the top sights of this Midwest state.
Livin’ La Vida Ohio
History of the “Buckeye State”
Nomadic tribes have been living in Ohio since 13,000 BC. For thousands of years they relied on hunting and gathering until around 1,000 BC, when they began to make permanent settlements. One of the first in the state is the Fort Ancient SunWatch Indian Village, which is just outside of Dayton. Once living in one spot permanently, culture began to evolve with the first being Adena.
The Adena culture were mound builders and are dated prior to Mississippian culture, which is one of the more famous cultures to come from the area (though dated several hundred years later). These early cultures became the Native American tribes that were living in the area at the time of European contact.
Beginning with French trading posts in the 18th century, the early colonial period in Ohio relied heavily on fur trading. During the Treaty of Paris 1763 and the end of the French and Indian War, France gave all of what is now Ohio to Great Britain.
Taking over old French forts, the British weren’t too invested in expanding Ohio. Tensions would build and result with the US gaining control in 1783 after winning the American Revolutionary War.
For a long time, Ohio was a part of the Northwest Territory. The US was very invested in the expansion with thousands moving to the land by the late 1790s. Much of the state’s growth is credited to Rufus Putnam, the “Father of Ohio”. Using new methods of building strong, but portable fortifications, Putnam was focused on developing the land.
The results would pay off with Ohio becoming developed and populated enough to be admitted as the 17th state in February 1803. Being in the north, the state was a Union stronghold and important strategic point because of its access to the Ohio River. In fact, Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, the top two Union generals, were both born in Ohio. After the Civil War, the state relied on oil, steel, and manufacturing to grow its economy.
Capital City of Columbus
In the heart of Ohio is Columbus, the capital and state’s largest city with a population of 905,748 as of 2020. A major tourist destination, the city sits at the confluence of the Scioto and Olentangy Rivers. The name Columbus was taken from explorer Christopher Columbus and was chosen by some of the first settlers who moved to the area in the 1700s.
In recent times, Columbus has found fame with its universities, zoo, and park system. State-of-the-art features make this capital a fun place to explore whether you enjoy spending time indoors or outdoors. Although younger travelers love the city because of its universities, people of all ages will find something to enjoy in Columbus.
Top sights that shouldn’t be missed in this capital are the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, North Market, Ohio Stadium, Center of Science and Industry, Scioto Mile, Columbus Museum of Art, Topiary Park, Huntington Park, Whetstone Park, the Easton Town Center, and Short North Arts District.
Cleveland, “The Forest City”
On the south shore of Lake Erie, Cleveland is a major metropolitan area for the Great Lakes region. Supporting 372,624 people as of 2020, the city is an iconic destination in Ohio and the Midwest. While the city is fairly large, tourists can narrow down their itinerary by visiting the bigger highlights.
Among the most famous attractions is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Designed by I. M. Pei, a Chinese American architect, the museum is dedicated to all things rock and roll. Originally a private institution, the museum now receives plenty of public funding for its future development. From the outside, the stunning architecture certainly catches the eye but within visitors can see thousands of artifacts related to rock and roll.
However, tourism doesn’t end with the tunes. There are dozens of other attractions that keep Cleveland on the list as one of the best places to see in Ohio. The Museum of Contemporary Art, Lake View Cemetery, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, USS Cod submarine, Cleveland Botanical Gardens, West Side Market, Cleveland Museum of Art, East Bank, West Bank, and Greater Cleveland Aquarium are all popular attractions.
Cincinnati, “The Queen City”
Another popular tourist destination called “Cincy” for short is Cincinnati. Although the city itself has a population of 309,317 people as of 2020, when combined with the Cincinnati metropolitan area, the numbers swell to over 2 million residents. The city is particularly famous for its sports teams including the Cincinnati Reds (baseball), Cincinnati Bengals (football), and the FC Cincinnati (soccer).
If sports aren’t quite your thing, there are plenty of alternative attractions to keep you busy. Most visited are the Cincinnati Zoo, Cincinnati History Museum, Findlay Market, riverboat cruises, Downtown Cincinnati, Kings Island, the Krohn Conservatory, Sawyer Point Park, Eden Park, and the Spring Grove Cemetery.
Toledo, “The Glass City”
Once used mostly as a transportation hub for those heading on to Michigan, Toledo has transformed into a tourist destination in its own right. With more and more people spending time in the city, the appeal comes from its waterfront location on the banks of the Maumee River. Historically, the city has been a major producer of glass for various uses like windows, bottles, and light bulbs.
While most people are drawn to the downtown and riverfront areas, visitors shouldn’t ignore the local parts. Altogether, sixteen Metroparks provide green space that livens up the city. Many of these parks are situated around major attractions like the Toledo Museum of Art. Other attractions are the Toledo Zoo, Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo Botanical Gardens, and the canals.
Yellow Springs, A Small Resort Town
For more laid-back and quiet vacations, the small town of Yellow Springs is a picturesque place to check out. Surrounded by the Glen Helen Nature Preserve, Clifton Gorge and John Bryan State Park, tourists won’t have to go far to enjoy hiking, biking, swimming, and camping. The extensive network of trails has paths suited for all experience levels.
In town, the cute main street has a variety of shops and restaurants to cater to tourists.
Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio’s First Resort
Home to a mere 916 as of 2020, Geneva-on-the-Lake is actually one of the top resort destinations on the shores of Lake Erie. The village was the state’s first summer resort dating back more than a hundred years and it still attracts plenty of people during the summer months. The rest of the year, everything stays pretty quiet. Yet during the hot days of summer, Geneva-on-the-Lake springs to life with concerts, special events, crowds, and more.
Sugarcreek, “Gateway to Amish Country”
A lot of land in Ohio is part of Amish Country with 5 counties in the northeast-central region of the state being composed primarily of Amish people. The village of Sugarcreek is often called the “Gateway to Amish Country” or the “Little Switzerland of Ohio”. The second nickname comes from the old settlers who were largely of Swiss heritage.
Sugarcreek is a unique destination where visitors can learn more about both Amish and Swiss culture. Although most events are Swiss related, the village is a great place to stop over before heading deeper into Amish Country. Annual events include the Swiss Festival, which is held at the end of September each year.
Cedar Point Amusement Park
In Sandusky, the Cedar Point Amusement Park is famous for its 18 adrenaline pumping roller coasters. Some of the best out of the bunch are Millennium Force, Gemini, Blue Streak, GateKeeper, and Valravn. The park first opened in 1870 and since then, every summer it continues to bring thrills to millions of tourists. In 2021 alone, 3.327 million people visited the park.
Typically, Cedar Point is open from early May to Labor Day weekend. After September, the park is only open on weekends before closing for the season after Halloween. While many parts of the park are historic, new additions and renovations bring new, family-friendly areas and rides to Cedar Point.
Hocking Hills State Park
In Hocking County, the Hocking Hills State Park is one of the most visited outdoor recreational areas in Ohio. Stunningly beautiful, the park is most known for its caves and cliffs. These include Ash Cave, the Cantwell Cliffs, Cedar Falls, Conkle’s Hollow, Old Man’s Cave, Rock House, and Whispering Cave.
Visitors can hike all throughout the area as they enjoy the various natural features within the park. Also permitted is rock climbing, kayaking, canoeing, swimming, fishing, hunting, and bird watching.
Accommodations can be found at the Hocking Hills State Park Campground, which has 200 sites or at the Hocking Hills State Park Lodge and Conference Center that has 81 guest rooms. With more tourists coming each year, the park has established a shuttle service to give guests easier access from the nearby city of Logan.
Not too far from Hocking Hills are the Ohio Caverns, which are renowned for their bold formations and colorations. Discovered in the 1800s, there are two parts of the caverns that are open to the public. The main feature of the caverns is The Crystal King, which is the largest stalactite formation in the state.
For generations, the caverns have been family owned and they operate as a private business. Public access to the cave is restricted to tours. Guests can book a tour with most options having a duration of 1-2 hours. Tours are given year round with special times offered during the winter season.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
The only national park in Ohio is Cuyahoga Valley. Nestled between Cleveland and Akron, the national park covers 32,572 acres and it consists of dense woodlands and urban areas. Unlike most national parks, many areas within Cleveland including several of the Metroparks are operated by the National Park Service. The close proximity to cities makes it a very popular destination for families.
Beyond the traditional hiking and boating, Cuyahoga is the only national park that has a train service. Running through the park, visitors can take a scenic ride as the tracks run right alongside the Erie Canal. Specific highlights in the park include the Boston Mill Visitor Center, Beaver Marsh, Blue Hen Falls, Tinker’s Creek Aqueduct, Everett Covered Bridge, and the Ledges Trail Hike.
In Ohio, you’ll find a bit of everything. From big city entertainment to small town delights and vast wildernesses. Visitors from far and wide travel to this midwest state to see its icons, but hidden far from the crowds are spectacular landmarks, epic history, and rich culture too. For a fun time, you can’t go wrong with a trip to the Buckeye State.
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