23 engaging stops along St. Rt. 23 from Columbus to the Ohio River

23 engaging stops along St. Rt. 23 from Columbus to the Ohio River


With every twist and bend throughout southern Ohio’s Appalachian hills and valleys, St. Rte. 23 takes you past some of the best attractions, restaurants and shops in southern Ohio. Here are 23 engaging stops that’ll make the trip from Columbus to the Ohio River (and back) an alluring adventure.

PICKAWAY COUNTY

1. Learn quirky facts about the village of Ashville at Ohio’s Small-Town Museum. Check out the futuristic traffic light designed by a local inventor in the 1930s.

2. Pick your way through Pickaway County at a cornucopia of pick-your-own produce farms and roadside stands. Watch for blueberries and tomatoes in summer, and gourds and pumpkins in fall.

3. See pumpkins, parades and lots of people at the annual Circleville Pumpkin Show, featuring four days of free fun, beginning the third Wednesday in October.

4. Discover an entertainment legend at the Ted Lewis Museum in downtown Circleville. The early 20th-century jazz clarinetist was known for his top hat, cane and the remark, “Is everybody happy?”

Lindsey’s Bakery5. Savor a pumpkin doughnut every day of the year at Lindsey’s Bakery, home of the 400-pound pumpkin pie found annually at the Circleville Pumpkin Show.

ROSS COUNTY

6. Sit beneath the stars in Chillicothe as more than 100 “Tecumseh!” cast members tell the story of a legendary Shawnee leader’s struggles to defend his homeland during the late 1700s.

7. Stoke your sense of adventure by exploring Ross County’s five state parks. Follow hiking, biking and bridle paths, go boating and fishing, and stay in a cabin or tent and stargaze at night.

8. Visit the rustic landscape that inspired the Great Seal of the State of Ohio at the Adena Mansion & Gardens in Chillicothe. Stroll through the 1800’s mansion, once home to Ohio’s sixth governor, Thomas Washington.

9. Rekindle yesteryear inside dozens of antique shops on the Ross County Antique Trail. The treasure hunt meanders through Chillicothe, Bainbridge and Kingston.

10. Lose your head at Chillicothe’s Haunted Mountain, a family-friendly, Halloween experience that puts guests on a trail visited by the Headless Horseman.

11. Take yourself out to a Chillicothe Paints ballgame and feel the nostalgia of collegiate baseball in the 1954-built V.A. Memorial Stadium.

12. Enjoy a movie or live performance at Chillicothe’s Majestic Theatre, the oldest continuously operating theater in America. Built in 1853, it’s welcomed legends such as Bob Hope and Sophie Tucker.

13. Uncover the history behind the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park in Chillicothe, where visitors can find a dozen mounds and earthworks dating to A.D. 500 within a 21-mile radius.

14. Rediscover the vibrancy of downtown Chillicothe, Ohio’s first capital. Explore historic buildings, shop at independent boutiques and dine at local culinary standouts.

15. Experience the thrill of auto racing at Waverly’s Atomic Speedway, billed as “the fastest 3/8-mile dirt track in the country” that’s entertained fans for more than six decades.

16. Tune into Prussia Valley Dulcimers in Waverly for a major selection of acoustic instruments, including locally-crafted mountain dulcimers, guitars, banjos and Native American flutes.

17. Step into the Old West at Dogwood Pass, a replica town in Beaver complete with a saloon, jail, general store and many other tributes to the Wild West.

18. Reserve a spot on the U.S. Department of Energy’s popular, guided tour of a former uranium enrichment plant housed on more than 1,200 acres in Piketon.

19. Pop up a tent at a primitive site or sleep in an appointed cabin, at the 400-plus-acre Long’s Retreat Family Resort in Latham. Canoe or swim in a spring-fed lake or speed around the go-kart track.

SCIOTO COUNTY

Portsmouth by Wendy Pramik20. Reap the rewards of Main Street Portsmouth, a collaboration of independent business owners and community leaders who’ve both preserved and revitalized this historic city along the Ohio River.

21. Celebrate Independence Day in historic downtown Portsmouth with live music and an annual fireworks display that beautifully reflects upon the Ohio River.

22. View 2,000 years of history depicted on Portsmouth’s floodwall murals, from Native American earth mounds to “King of the Cowboys” actor Roy Rogers.

23. Attend a gallery opening or catch a musical show at the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts on the campus of Shawnee State University in historic Portsmouth.

Portsmouth Floodwall by Wendy Pramik

Circleville Pumpkin Show

(This story, written by Wendy Pramik for Great Lakes Publishing, printed in the Ross County Visitors Guide.)

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2020 Ohio Travel Guide

Get your copy today


We had the pleasure of writing the Southeast Ohio section of the 2020 Ohio Travel Guide. The free publication, produced by Tourism Ohio, is packed with inspirational travel ideas and calendars of events. Get your 2020 Ohio Travel Guide.

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Find cold-weather fun in Mansfield area


We’re on top of a snowy mountain, poised to plummet 1,100 feet down on a rubber inner tube.

With a push, we’re off and rushing toward the bottom, laughing all the way.

It’s Ohio, where the weather can fluctuate like the wind. Today it’s sunny and 50 degrees. But here, at the family-owned Snow Trails resort, we’re surrounded by snow.

Winter is no reason to hibernate in Columbus. We ventured to the Mansfield area, about 45 minutes north of Columbus, for a weekend adventure. We slid down the slippery slope, sought out waterfalls in a hemlock-filled forest and took a spin around a whimsical carrousel in a historic downtown.

Weather in these parts doesn’t hinder the experience. It only enhances it.

Snow Trails

Feel adrenaline of racing down a hill at this resort and lodge, which opened in 1961 and features skiing, snowboarding and tubing. If it’s not snowing, the owners of Snow Trails create it and spread it around using high-powered machines on the slopes.

Snow Trails offers six tubing lanes and a carpeted conveyor belt to transport you up the hill. Go Glow Tubing after dark Thursday through Sunday, when you can slide under a series of illuminated arches.

Warm up by a fire pit and grab some snacks indoors. No experience is needed, and all ages are welcomed, they told us. It’s fun to slide solo or grab onto your mates to form a chain.

We paid $25 per person for two hours of tubing, which was plenty of time. The cost included the use of a tube and transportation on the conveyor belt. Arrive early to avoid evening crowds.

Snow Trails is located at 3100 Possum Run Rd., Mansfield, and is open December through March. Learn more and make a reservation.

Mohican State Park

We pulled into the Mohican Lodge and Conference Center just in time for some games in the lively lobby before dinner. Mike taught Max how to play pool while Rosie and I played ping pong. Others played board games or sat in chairs that formed a circle around a fireplace.

The lodge is rustic and could use a facelift in some places. But what it lacked in style, it made up in its outdoor surroundings.

It’s situated in the 1,110-acre Mohican State Park, which is adjacent to the 4,525-acre Mohican-Memorial State Forest. Peaks and valleys formed here 12,000 years ago by glaciers define what is known today as the Clear Fork Gorge. This land was once explored by the Delaware Indians and frequented by John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, a pioneer who introduced apple trees to Ohio and neighboring states.

Mike and I set out on our own to explore the outdoors. We started at Pleasant Hill Lake, where we walked on a bridge at the Pleasant Hill Dam. We then took a two-mile looping path to investigate two waterfalls that jutted from sandstone cliffs. The Little Lyons Falls is visible from an overhead bridge. It drops 25 feet into a narrow gorge. The 80-foot Big Lyons Falls is more impressive and viewed beneath in a recess cave. We also visited a covered bridge that spans the Clear Fork River.

Mohican Lodge and Conference Center is located at 1098 Ashland County Rd., 3006, Perrysville, Ohio. Learn more.

Richland Carrousel Park

To a child, the only thrill greater than seeing an old-fashioned carousel is climbing aboard one of its shiny, majestic creatures. One of the best places for children of all ages to do just that in Ohio is in Mansfield.

The city pays homage to the amusement-park ride in its downtown Carrousel District, which features several blocks of unique shops and restaurants in beautifully restored Victorian buildings. There are restaurants on every block, seemingly. We enjoyed some good burgers and a couple pints of Guinness at Uncle John’s Place on Main Street.

At the heart of the area is the Richland Carrousel Park, where guests can ride an old-fashioned roundabout for $1. It has 52 animal figures, each carved and painted in a 1900s style by Carousel Works in Mansfield. Among the menagerie are 30 horses, several bears and ostriches, a zebra and a goat. The company also restored the rounding boards, mirrors and mural frames, which depict past and present attractions in Mansfield.

The ride is housed in a heated pavilion that contains the carousel and a gift shop featuring musical figurines and other playful items.

The Richland Carrousel Park is located at 75 N. Main St., Mansfield. It’s open seven days a week, except major holidays. Learn more.


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Artful adventure in Lancaster: Explore creative pursuits in historic downtown

Explore creative pursuits in historic downtown

Artful adventure in Lancaster: Explore creative pursuits in historic downtown

Lancaster’s history is steeped in creativity. It’s the home of the Anchor Hocking Company, once the world’s largest maker of glass tableware. Today, artistic enclaves can be found throughout “Glass City,” near the Hocking River, just 30 minutes southeast of Columbus.

We found a bounty of opportunities for budding artists at businesses along Main Street in Lancaster’s historic downtown. We painted ornaments in a paint-your-own pottery studio, gazed at glass in a museum and toured an art exhibit at another. In between, we admired the unusual murals that decorate the alleys and parking lots.

All the while, we appreciated a slower pace and individualized attention at the businesses we visited, not to mention an absence of traffic and ease of parking.

Art & Clay On Main
150 W. Main St., Lancaster

Artful adventure in Lancaster: Explore creative pursuits in historic downtown

We started our adventure at Art & Clay On Main, located within a cheery, sea-foam green building in the heart of downtown. Here, you can order an espresso from the onsite Square Seven Coffee House and pick a piece of unpainted pottery from the shelves.

There’s no need to make a reservation, and the process is simple. We arrived at Christmastime, so among the plates, bowls, mugs and vases, we chose ornaments.

We filled our plastic palettes with paints, then sat at paint-splattered tables. The kids went freestyle with their designs, while I examined finished pieces for inspiration.

I took my time painting a cupcake design, enjoying the serenity of smearing on layer upon layer of dull glaze. An instructor helped me add bits of color that would later resemble sprinkles.

I saw on the calendar that local musicians periodically play for patrons and thought what a joy it would be to paint and listen to live music.

We left our pieces on a tray to be glazed and fired, and retrieved them the following Saturday, pleased as punch.

Ohio Glass Museum and Glass Blowing Studio
124 W. Main St., Lancaster

Artful adventure in Lancaster: Explore creative pursuits in historic downtown

Get a handle on Lancaster’s glass-making history and even blow glass yourself at the Ohio Glass Museum and Glass Blowing Studio, one of four museums in the downtown area. Others are the Sherman House Museum, Georgian Museum and the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio, mentioned below.

I visited the glass museum on my own, after retrieving our family’s painted pottery next door, thinking that maybe a place that’s protecting precious glass isn’t the best spot for children. Au contraire!

The glass museum is a wondrous setting, filled with colorful glass collections that pay homage to Ohio’s once-booming glass industry. They include examples of vaseline glass, which contains uranium and glows under a black light. What kid wouldn’t like that?

I also learned that abundant supplies of natural gas and sandstone in this nook of Fairfield County made it a logical choice for the establishment of the glassmaking industry.

Visitors can produce glass pieces at the on-site glass-blowing studio. Classes, starting at $27, cover how make ornaments, flowers, paperweights and Pandora-like beads for a bracelet. Also be sure to check out the gift shop that’s chock full of locally made merchandise.

Decorative Arts Center of Ohio
145 E. Main St., Lancaster

Artful adventure in Lancaster: Explore creative pursuits in historic downtown

See an art exhibit at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio, located in the 1835-built Reese-Peters House adjacent to the Sherman House. The museum, open Tuesday through Sunday, is free to visit.

I popped in while the artwork of Nelly Toll was on display, and was impressed by the magnitude of the exhibit, which included more than 40 prints of her childhood paintings. When Toll was eight years old, she and her mother went into hiding for two years from Nazis occupying Poland in 1943. Amid tragedy, young Toll envisioned a brighter life through her watercolor paintings.

Besides thoughtful exhibits, check out the onsite Wendel Center for Art Education for equally thoughtful classes such as the Adult and Child Watercolor Workshop and the Art of Manners, where kids ages 8 through 17 can learn about table manners and cell phone etiquette.

While you’re in town, have lunch at JB’s Downtown Grill, 111 N. Columbus St. They’ve got kid’s entrees for less than $3, juke boxes on every table and tasty homemade ice cream cookie sandwiches.


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Merry-Go-Round Museum: There’s motion in this Sandusky menagerie

There’s motion in this Sandusky menagerie

Merry-Go-Round Museum: There’s motion in this Sandusky menagerie

Think of a merry-go-round, and the image of horses leaps to mind. But organizers at the Merry-Go-Round Museum, along the shores of Lake Erie, want you to know there are more to carousel critters than just painted ponies.

The museum, which opened in 1990 near Cedar Point in Sandusky, displays a mixed breed of figures and provides an opportunity to ride one aboard a restored 1939 Allan Herschell carousel, the main attraction of the museum.

Besides horses, visitors will find a rabbit, camel, goat, chicken, dragon and a menacing wolf. All are masterfully carved from wooden boards and painted in realistic detail. Some come from France, built around the turn of the 20th century.

Merry-Go-Round Museum: There’s motion in this Sandusky menagerie

The museum also offers an opportunity to see and chat with a carver at work. During a recent visit, I learned that non-horse figures are called menagerie pieces. Some of the old ones are on loan from private collections. Others were recently carved or restored and soon will be installed on working carousels throughout the country. Just 200 original wooden carousels are still in operation across the United States today.

The first thing you’ll notice, though, is the building that houses the museum. Built in 1927 as a post office, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places, thanks in part to its unique, round shape.

It became a carousel museum in 1990, two years after the Postal Service issued four commemorative carousel stamps. Sales of the stamps drew thousands of people to the odd duck of a building. Carousel enthusiasts put two and two together and decided what better place to house a round ride than a round building in the center of town.

The Merry-Go-Round Museum is located at 301 Jackson St., Sandusky. Admission is $6 for adults; $5 for seniors ages 60 and up; and $4 for children ages 4-14. For more information, call 419-626-6111 or visit www.merrygoroundmuseum.org.


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Newport Aquarium: One of the nation’s finest fishy exhibits

One of the nation’s finest fishy exhibits


Newport Aquarium: One of the nation’s finest fishy exhibits

During our recent visit to Cincinnati, we made sure we crossed the Ohio River into Kentucky and scheduled a visit to the Newport Aquarium, billed as one of the top aquariums in the country.

We were glad we did. After spending a few hours making our way through the winding subterranean seascape, we felt it was perhaps the best aquarium we’ve ever visited.

As its name suggests, the aquarium is located in Newport, just across the Newport Southbank Bridge from Cincinnati. This is the “Purple People Bridge,” so named because it’s pedestrian-only and (you guessed it) is lighted purple at night. Of course, there are plenty of other bridges to drive across from Cincinnati to Kentucky if you prefer, the closest being highway I-471, known as the Daniel Carter Beard Bridge.

Parking was readily available (and affordable) outside the aquarium. The attraction is part of Newport on the Levee, a shopping and dining attraction that has lots of restaurants and stores, a movie theater, a bowling alley and even a “fish spa” called Garra.

Newport Aquarium: One of the nation’s finest fishy exhibits

Why did we like Newport Aquarium so much? Let’s start out with what you can see – more than 65 exhibits containing hundreds of aquatic species in 1 million gallons of salt and fresh water. The aquarium felt almost like a museum, albeit a crowded one.

We liked the clever reuse of the shark tank, allowing visitors to first go through it via a long tunnel, then ending the aquarium’s circuitous trek by walking over the open tank on a daredevilish bridge (that was fully netted).

Maybe it was the opportunity to see things we hadn’t seen before – like a white alligator that apparently gets along with turtles, and a giant Pacific octopus, which has the ability to camouflage itself and change its shape.

Newport Aquarium: One of the nation’s finest fishy exhibits

We also enjoyed the huge arapaima, one of the world’s largest freshwater fishes, which trolls the Amazon River. Visitors also can view seahorses in a large tank and go eye-to-eye with a penguin swimming under water.

Rosie and Max got a thrill by interacting with some of the sea life. They were able to touch a sea anemone, a horseshoe crab and a baby shark, then pop their heads through a porthole to see stingrays swimming around them.

It was these collective experiences that made Newport Aquarium memorable.

We did find that the passageways were sometimes a bit narrow for all the people there. This is one popular attraction, so if you can, try to visit during the week. There’s plenty of opportunity – Newport Aquarium is open to the public 365 days a year. We’re already looking forward to our next visit.

The Newport Aquarium is located at One Aquarium Way, Newport, Ky. Learn more at www.newportaquarium.com.


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Set a course for adventure in southeastern Ohio

The Hocking Hills area in southeastern Ohio offers more than a picturesque walk through the woods. It affords unique opportunities to explore every angle of these stunning surroundings while providing some welcome surprises.

During a trip to the Hocking Hills and the nearby regions, you can hear a beaver slapping its tail on the water as you kayak on a lake under a rising moon. You can spy the majesty of the Appalachians as you glide through a canopy of trees on a zip line. You can even observe the rings of Saturn – 746 million miles up – at an astronomy park where professional and amateur astronomers converge.

We experienced a handful of rewarding outdoor pursuits during a summer weekend adventure in the Hocking Hills, about an hour’s drive from Columbus. Here’s a sampling of what you can do, too.

• Kayak Under the Moon

On a warm evening I eased into a kayak at the nearly 3,000-acre Lake Hope in McArthur. Lake Hope State Park lies within the Zaleski State Forest, about 20 miles southeast of Hocking Hills.

Hocking Hills: Set a course for adventure in southeastern OhioI teamed up with Mimi Morrison, owner of Touch the Earth Adventures. She inspired me to unwind and tune into the environment. As we glided across the lake, Morrison indicated the lack of mosquitos thanks to the overhead yellow warblers. I quieted and listened to their sweet whistling as the full moon rose over the horizon.

Ramp up the experience by visiting the nature center at Lake Hope State Park to hand-feed hummingbirds during the summer months.

Hocking Hills: Set a course for adventure in southeastern OhioAt specified times park rangers remove the hung feeders and hand out plastic planter plugs full of sugar water. Each has a red pipe cleaner attached to attract the little birds, as well as a hole for them to poke their pointy beaks into the liquid.

I felt a thrill as bird after bird visited my feeder. As they hovered over my hand, I admired their delicate features and their vibrant blue and green feathers.

• Zip Through the Trees

Hocking Hills: Set a course for adventure in southeastern Ohio

You can get in touch (literally) with the trees at Hocking Hills Canopy Tours in Rockbridge, which offers several zip-lining adventures. Max and I hopped on the Canopy Tour. For about three hours we zipped between trees and covered several sky bridges.

Hocking Hills: Set a course for adventure in southeastern OhioThe company offers various other tours, including some shorter ones, as well as Segway adventures and hikes. What impressed me was the attention to detail at the departure destination. The touring company made sure to give us a training session before we embarked. They follow Association for Challenge Course Technology standards, so we always felt safe while we got our thrills.

Along the way, our guides pointed out interesting trees, such as the American sycamore, with bark that resembles military camouflage, and the indigenous pawpaw tree, which produces a papaya-like fruit. Our guides also took our pictures as we zipped through the course, making it unnecessary to carry mobile phones or cameras.

Ramp up the experience by spending the night in a treehouse at Among the Trees Lodging, only about a mile or so away from the zip lining adventure. We stayed in the Buckeye Barn Treehouse, meticulously constructed from reclaimed barn wood.

Hocking Hills: Set a course for adventure in southeastern OhioThe cozy confines sleeps four and contains everything for a comfortable stay, including a hot tub. You enter the treehouse via a swaying ramp that’s illuminated at night. The height provides a unique perspective of the woods. Mike liked hanging out beneath the treehouse, studying its impressive construction.

• Gaze at the Rings of Saturn

Hocking Hills: Set a course for adventure in southeastern Ohio

We visited John Glenn Astronomy Park in Logan, a short drive from Hocking Hills State Park, joining dozens of others gathering on a warm Friday evening. The crowd included expert and amateur astronomers and many inquisitive visitors like us.

The park, operated by a non-profit organization called Friends of the Hocking Hills State Park, is open Friday and Saturday nights at sunset from the beginning of March through early November. It doesn’t cost anything to visit.

We were invited to study the stars through several telescopes set up on a rectangular, paved surface. We caught a glimpse of the rings of Saturn, the moons of Jupiter and the craters of our moon. As the night quickened, the views improved. The site’s main tool is a huge, 28-inch telescope in the rolling-roofed observatory. During our visit it was trained on the Crab Nebula.

Hocking Hills: Set a course for adventure in southeastern OhioRamp up the experience with dinner at Kindred Spirits, the new restaurant at the Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls in Logan. Dining here is not roughing it. The food and surroundings are top-notch. Step up to the rooftop bar for a breath of fresh air, filtered through pretty flowers.

Learn more about the Hocking Hills area.

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Hartman Rock Garden: Springfield back yard radiates with Depression-era folk art

Springfield back yard radiates with Depression-era folk art

Hartman Rock Garden: Springfield back yard radiates with Depression-era folk art

A monarch flutters through a window in a castle made of stones. It hovers over a village of miniature stone cabins and past three seated Indian chiefs made of clay while on its way to a patch of coneflowers.

The more I follow the butterfly, the more I see at the Hartman Rock Garden, a restored folk-art sensation that’s located in an otherwise typical back yard in Springfield, Ohio.

The stone sculptures, about 50 in all, are worth driving an hour west of Columbus to see. We did just that one summer afternoon, pairing our adventure with a couple of beers at Mother Stewart’s Brewing in Springfield, and a couple of ice cream cones at Young’s Jersey Dairy on the drive back to Columbus.

Hartman Rock Garden: Springfield back yard radiates with Depression-era folk art

The story of the Hartman Rock Garden begins in 1932, when a 48-year-old man named Ben Hartman got laid off from his job as a mold-maker during the Great Depression. Bored, the self-taught artist started shaping cement and hundreds of thousands of rocks into recognizable structures, like houses, churches and castles.

Some structures resemble famous landmarks, like the White House and Mount Vernon. Others are just pleasantly odd, such as a patriotic cactus with an eagle on top.

Ben worked on his rock garden for a dozen years before he passed away in 1944. His wife, Mary, looked after the garden for 53 years after his death, and even gave tours.

But when she died in 1997, the garden went into despair. Weeds grew. Wind, rain and snow eroded delicate features.

In 2008, the Wisconsin-based Kohler Foundation restored the garden and gifted it to a nonprofit organization called Friends of Hartman Rock Garden. The gesture was part of the plumbing product manufacturer’s longstanding commitment to folk architecture and art environments.

One walk along the garden’s path tells you the restoration was well worth it.

The Hartman Rock Garden is located at 1905 Russell Ave., Springfield, Ohio. It’s open daily, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.


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