A lot of the Midwestern states are overlooked when one is planning a trip to the U.S., and most people don’t consider spending time in a place like Ohio. However, they’d be missing out because Ohio has a lot to offer travelers from all walks of life. From bustling metropolitan areas like Cincinnati and Cleveland, to the lakefront of Lake Erie or the peaks of the Appalachians, there is something for everyone, whether they’re interested in urban settings or getting back in touch with nature.
Give the Buckeye State a change and check out our recommendations for the best hidden gems in Ohio!
1. The Chateau Laroche (Loveland)
Chateau Laroche is located on the banks of the Little Miami River just north of Loveland, and is often called “Loveland Castle” because of the town name. Medieval enthusiast and former Boy Scout Troop Leader Harry Andrews was inspired by ancient European castles and modeled the architectural design with that in mind, bringing Old World grandeur to the New World. He started construction in 1929 and gradually built it with stones hauled from the river. It took several years to build Chateau Laroche, (“Rock Castle” in French after the hospital where he was stationed during WWI), and Andrews passed away before he could finish. It was left it to the Knights of the Golden Trail Boy Scout Troop who still guard it to this day. Isn’t it sweet that he left something for the future generations?
Chateau Laroche has undergone extensive renovations after his death and has now been mostly completed. Come visit this remarkable and eco-friendly castle on the gorgeous riverbank. You’ll feel like you stepped back in time to a European Castle as you wander the interior and the outside gardens and green house. The Boy Scouts are committed to leaving a small carbon footprint, so you will be contributing to a good cause when you are here! Just leave before sundown as there are rumors that ghosts haunt the halls, reported by some of the castle’s own volunteer knights. It just adds an extra touch of mystique to this medieval castle.
2. American Sign Museum (Cincinnati)
The American Sign Museum is located in Cincinnati and has been open to the public since 2005. Ever looked up to big advertisement panels and wonder how they came to be? This place can give you all the answers and a greater appreciation for signs! It’s a curious and fascinating assortment of signs that are preserved, archived, and displayed, as well as an exhibit featuring the equipment used to manufacture said signs.
It was founded by Tod Swormstedt, whose family has owned a signage industry trade journal that has been in circulation since 1906. Tod himself worked at the journal and was inspired to start a museum to preserve sign history! Over 200 signs and objects are displayed here, with an additional 3,800 items cataloged. You can see collections that walk you through the history of signs and advertising, starting at the late nineteenth century and up to the 1970s. See Las Vegas showcards and even an arch from a McDonalds. It’s an educational and fun space to learn about a part of life to which we’re so accustomed: seeing signs and advertising without understanding the process or strategy of grabbing our attention.
3. Mike’s Place (Kent)
Mike’s Place is located in the town of Kent and probably one of the more offbeat restaurants you’ll come across in your lifetime. It’s an odd mixture of restaurant, hangout, visitor destination and mish-mash of crazy pieces stuck together to form a wild and unique restaurant space. Stop by when you’re in the area, you can’t miss it – there is a giant Star Wars X-Wing replica out front, and that is just the beginning!
Once you walk past the space craft, Mike’s Place itself is welded together from many different parts, like a castle, buses and a boat that is now a seating area. It’s a veritable maze of a restaurant with signs that attempt to guide you to the themed seating areas or bathroom. Visit for yourself to get an idea of the mazes awaiting you. Even the menus are crazy huge and full of humorous anecdotes courtesy of the staff. Enjoy a drink and see how long it takes you to pick out a food selection from the menu!
4. The Wilds
The Wilds is located in Cumberland and is one of the few safari experiences you can visit in the U.S. It is a non-profit safari park and conservation center that funds conservation science and educational programs, and combines them with providing visitors adventure and real-life experience with the animals. It stretches over 9,150 acres and is covered with exotic and endangered species, as well as hiking trails and mountain bike trails.
Go on safari here and appreciate the land on which The Wilds stands was reclaimed from strip mining and devoted to animals. It’s a wildlife immersion experience complete with zip line tours, horseback riding, fishing and so many wildlife viewing opportunities! You can stay overnight at Nomad Ridge in rooms with a great view of rhinos! It’s an unforgettable experience and a true gem worth your time when you find yourself in Ohio.
5. Ravenwood Castle (New Plymouth)
Growing up, many of us dreamed of living in a castle with all the luxuries and grandeur of kings and queens from centuries ago. Ravenwood Castle is a real-life replica of these castles and can make this dream become reality, even if just for a night or two! It was opened as a hotel by 1997 and designed with English and Welsh castle architecture in mind.
You can have your pick of old-fashioned experience in this medieval complex: stay in a decadent castle room, a house in the medieval town, or a rustic creekside or gypsy themed cabin. Feel like you’ve walked back in time here with dungeons and King Arthur themed features. It’s a perfect blend of old with new, stone walls and antique furniture complete with whirlpool hot tubs. What more could you ask for?!
6. Hartman Rock Garden (Springfield)
Located in Springfield, Hartman Rock Garden was originally created in 1932 by Ben Hartman, an unemployed local during the Great Depression who decided to keep himself busy. He poured concrete to build a stone concrete fish pond, but was so inspired by his first attempt that he continued expanding, scavenging for stones in construction sites, breaking them down and building little stone houses, cathedrals and parapets.
Stop in to appreciate his hard work and vision when you come to the Rock Garden. There are replicas of Independence Hall, the White House, and Mount Vernon! There is also a large castle with a drawbridge and moat. The family had maintained the gardens for public visits until the last son, named Ben himself, ultimately died in 2007, at which point the property was maintained by the Kohler Foundation who continued maintaining the space. Explore this hidden gem to absorb Hartman’s creativity and use of leftover construction materials to create this fascinating rock garden.
7. Beer Barrel Saloon (Put-In-Bay)
Beer Barrel Saloon is a popular local watering hole in Put-In-Bay, a town located on South Bass Island. Well known for its large seating capacity and the “world’s longest bar”, the bar rose from the ashes of the beloved Colonial building that disappeared in flames in 1988. Stop in and grab a seat at the seemingly never ending bar and enjoy a drink or two.
While it is especially busy on weekends, there should be room for you along the 405 foot bar. Try any of the 56 beers on tap and enjoy some of the island’s best entertainment. Sit outside on the patio for a great lake view. The bar also serves delicious burgers, fries, and pizza to help you pace yourself as you sample some of the great beer offered here.
8. Healing Chapel (Coolville)
Coolville is home to Ohio’s smallest church, the Healing Chapel. It is only 10 by 14 feet, and seats just 8 people total in its four pews. Possibly the smallest church in the state, it is open 24 hours a day to anyone who wishes some time to reflect, as intended by its founder, Lloyd Middleton. His wife has maintained it since his death in 2006.
An open space for those of any faith, it is meant to provide a corner available at any time to anyone. The inside is a bit kitschy in its decor, and the guest book’s previous entries prove to be especially entertaining. Enjoy the gardens during the day and take some quiet time for reflection or meditation if you need it.
9. Lustron Houses (Whitehall)
Whitehall, Ohio was home to houses that were thought to be the futuristic answer to the post-WWII housing shortage for returning GIs. These Lustron Houses were manufactured in nearby Columbus and transported all over the country because they were made from durable materials and with the intent to take them apart and put them together somewhere halfway across the country. While the idea did not ultimately catch on, the area was well-known for a time for their production of said houses.
Given its closeness to the factory that manufactured and shipped these houses nationally, the Whitehall Historical Society recognized the historical importance of this housing idea and that specific time of extreme change and transition in the U.S., and decided to disassemble one still-standing home and transfer it to the local park. Stop in and tour this well-known prefabricated home, and learn more about a little known part of post-WWII U.S history.
10. Piatt Castles
Nestled in the countryside of Logan County, Piatt Castles has been around for over 100 years and is awaiting your visit. The land was owned by Benjamin and Elizabeth Piatt who moved there with their children from Cincinnati. They had a great respect for nature and the valley in which Piatt Castles is located, much as the original Ohio inhabitants had, and made the relocation permanent. The two Piatt homes were modeled after castles and lived in by two of their children who stayed on at the family estate, and are now open to the public as a museum.
The museum has been operating as a private, family-owned museum that works to interpret and preserve over 200 years of history of the Ohio people and land. Take a self-guided tour of these 19th century buildings to appreciate the architecture and history of the local area. The idyllic Ohio countryside provides the perfect backdrop for this museum, and makes it a true Ohio gem.
11. Glacial grooves (Kelleys Island)
On the north side of Kelleys Island are visible glacial grooves that were carved into the rock over 18,000 years ago by the great ice sheet that covered this part of North America. Now, these grooves are some of the most easily accessible and largest glacial grooves in the world, spanning a trough of 400 feet long and 35 feet wide. It’s a perfect destination for a geologist or evolutionary theory enthusiast.
While a good section is fenced off to protect this National Natural Landmark, a walkway and stairs have been designated to allow visitors a good up-close view of the rocks. Much of it contains marine fossils that are hundreds of millions of years old! Take a ferry to the island and rent a golf cart to have an easy means of transportation to move around and soak in all the sights! It will be hard to imagine this land being covered in ice when you see how green it is today.
12. Topiary Park (Columbus)
Topiary Park is located in Columbus and is a true historic gem. The park’s history has been long connected to the Ohio School for the Deaf, and was originally founded by James and Elaine Mason, who dreamed of opening this garden and creating a visual experience that lacks no sound. Make some time to tour this haven for living sculptures, boasting plants artistically cut to reflect Georges Seurat’s famous painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte.
The Topiary Park is the only landscaped plant interpretation of a painting currently in existence, and consists of 50 people, 8 boats, and animals shaped from plants and flowers that surround a real pond and trees. Both the entrance and docent tours are free and open to the public from dawn to dusk all year round. Enjoy this homage to a gorgeous painting that manages to capture its essence using nature. It’s a real treat for the eyes.
13. The Mohicans (Glenmont)
Are you a nature lover who also loves some of the more modern comforts of home? You wish you could spend more time in nature but that hot shower and coffee maker can’t always be taken with you in a backpack. The Mohicans Treehouses located just outside Loudonville provide the perfect answer – glamping! It’s a bit of having your cake and eating it too, with three different treehouses to choose from that all are eco-friendly and made from reused and repurposed materials, so you don’t even have to feel guilty!
Enjoy modern day luxuries like heating, hot water, coffee maker, a mini bar and much more! Relax and kick back as you live in luxury high up in the trees! Enjoy the peaceful night times so far removed from noisy cities, and soak in the views of the Mohican Valley. It’s a perfect place to disconnect but still stay comfortable.
14. Ghost lore in Peninsula, Ohio
Formerly known as the Boston Mills region, this area has been notorious in recent years for the folklore and rumors that surround the region. The town was originally founded in 1806 but abandoned by the residents when President Gerald Ford ordered the land turned into a park and started acquiring houses through eminent domain. The government hit some delays after acquiring the land and the town has sat abandoned ever since then.
Because it was abandoned so suddenly and without warning, the empty town has created fodder for ghost stories, conspiracy theories of chemical spills, and even the rumor that Satanist cults were involved in the building of the Presbyterian church. A gigantic mutant snake is also said to roam the town, and a bus to be haunted by lingering ghosts of supposedly murdered townspeople. While these theories have never been substantiated, it is still an intriguing and slightly eerie place to spend the afternoon. Just don’t let your imagination get to the best of you as you explore abandoned streets.
15. Hocking Hills State Park
Hocking Hills State Park is located in Logan off of State Route 664. It’s a beautiful natural paradise to visit during any season, and ideal for hikers, cyclists, campers and the casual day visitor. Nestled in the hills of the sandstone region in Southeastern Ohio, it is home to some of the most scenic natural attractions in the state! Visit this gem of a natural getaway to appreciate the rugged cliffs and intriguing gorges.
Hike or bring your mountain bike, or binoculars if you are a bird watcher. You can explore any of the 6 different hiking areas, and camp or stay at the cabins if you want to spend some quality time here and explore more. Discover the waterfalls, deep caves and lush green forestlands and bring your camera to capture photos because this is one place you won’t want to forget.
16. Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad operates excursion trips through Peninsula in the Cuyahoga Valley and Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The railroad starting running in 1880, and transported both coal and passengers across the valley. It went into decline until being revived in 1972 with the renewed interest in the track as a scenic excursion route through the beautiful Cuyahoga Valley.
Now, you can take a variety of excursions through the beautiful Ohio countryside. The railroad operates on weekends only except for the months of June to August and October, when it runs Wednesdays to Sundays. Some trains come complete with Dining Cars and Sleeping Lounges for longer trips and to make a whole event out of traveling the rails like people used to do so long ago.
17. Crystal Cave, Put-In-Bay
Crystal Cave is located in Put-In-Bay on South Bass Island in Lake Erie. It’s a limestone cave that was discovered by Gustav Heineman, an immigrant who moved to Ohio and established a winery. He was digging a well underneath his winery in 1897 when he discovered this cave. Initially he mined the limestone cave for celestine, used in fireworks, until he decided it was better served to open it up to tourists.
Come visit this impressive cave, filled with what remains of the celestine tabular crystals. It actually kept the Heineman winery open during Prohibition due to visitor revenue. Check out the crystals that can stand up to 3 feet tall and line the limestone walls of the Crystal Cave, which is over 30 feet deep! When you’re done exploring, pop back up to the top and enjoy a glass of wine at Heineman Winery to add the finishing touch to this day!
18. The Cincinnati Subway
The Cincinnati Subway is a system of incomplete tunnels and stations that were supposed to be used for a rapid transit system that never got off the ground. Originally started to upgrade the streetcars, it was abandoned during the economic crisis of the Great Depression and is the largest abandoned subway system in the United States.
All four of the original stations have been kept intact along with long, winding tunnels. It should be noted that while the city used to offer tours of this neglected project, they no longer open the subway maze to the public, and most people are unaware that beneath their feet lies a network of forgotten passageways. Most entrances are gated off, so use caution if you decide to explore. The only people who venture down here are urban explorers and city workers, but you’ll see some street art as well.
19. Oak Openings
Oak Openings Preserve Metropark is located between Whitehouse and Swanton, and is the largest of the Toledo Area Metroparks. It has been referred to by the Nature Conservancy as one of the “Last Great Places on Earth”, and is home to 180 rare species of plants and animals. Come explore this extensive region filled with curiosities for both botanists and animal lovers.
Wear comfortable shoes because there are over fifty miles of trails in the preserve, as well as sand dunes. Spend some time at the Beuhner Center, an interactive nature center filled with useful information about the local ecosystem. You’ll love the oak trees that tower over you and in between the dunes and wetlands. It will feel like walking through a mystical forest!
20. Haserot Angel in Cleveland
Usually people don’t want hang around cemeteries because it’s a little creepy. However, the Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland actually has many famous graves of fallen greats like presidents and business moguls, and more importantly, a mesmerizing statue known as Haserot’s Angel. If you’re in the mood for something different and don’t mind being around graves, this angel is worth the visit.
Named for the grave it marks, the angel stands watch over Francis Haserot. It is made of bronze and is life-sized, holding an extinguished torch upside down, signaling the spark of life extinguished. While artistic, that’s not the interesting part – the angel also appears to weep black tears. Over time and with the elements, the bronze has aged in such a way that black tears appear to pour down the angel’s face. Check it out in section 9, lot 14. It might be eerie, but is also sort of beautiful in an unusual way.
21. Nelson Kennedy Ledge State Park
Nelson Kennedy Ledges State Park is located in Nelson Township in Portage County. The state of Ohio created the park in 1949 in an effort to preserve the area, which had long been a popular local get-away spot. If you’re an avid hiker, then this is the place for you! It offers a full range of moderately easy to extremely difficult hiking trails just begging to be explored.
The trails are color coded per the level of difficulty, with yellow being the easiest and red the most challenging. You’ll hike under a lush leafy canopy filled with songbirds serenading you and through a beech-maple forest. Enjoy the up-close view of the sandstone cliff formations. On the more challenging hikes, some rock climbing is always required. Get a workout in at the best gym ever – nature herself.
22. Mound City at Hopewell Culture National Historic Park
Hopewell is a national historical park that preserves earthworks and burial mounds of the Hopewell culture. The Hopewell lived in the area from 200 BC to 500 AD, and six of their sites are encompassed in this national historic park. Come visit these historic mounds and archeological site to learn more about this advanced Native American culture.
These mound sites contain earthworks in many shapes: circles, squares, and many other geometric shapes. Appreciate the craftsmanship that went into them – the Hopewell knew how to mix the earth to create the most stable structures. Covered by bright green grass, these mounds teach us a lot and are visually very interesting. There is also a visitor’s center and museum with artifacts that were excavated and a lot of information about their history. Come visit to soak in the ancient history that seems so far removed from us now. It’s well worth the time investment.
23. Temple of Tolerance
This maze of rocks and art is hidden in owner and creator Jim Bowsher’s backyard in Wapakoneta. It took him 18 years to build, and features a Temple and some satellite shrines from rocks that Jim salvaged and hauled himself. It’s meant to be a retreat in which any and every person is accepted, and features rocks with some pretty colorful history: there is a stone countertop that outlaw John Dillinger jumped over, or the rock that used to mark the headquarters of the KKK in Wapakoneta. Who knew rocks could be so interesting?
Come visit for a free, full tour by Jim, who will walk you through his story and theory of karma and tolerance that he has poured into this garden. His pride and joy, the Temple of Tolerance, is maintained for visitors and open at any time. Have an afternoon chat with this unique man and appreciate the vision and creativity that went into building this rock temple and garden.
24. Dysart Woods
Dysart Woods is a 50 acre old-growth oak forest in Belmont Count, and the largest remaining section of Southeastern Ohio’s original forest. It is located in a picturesque, hilly area that stands in sharp contrast to the glaciated, flat part of the state. Come visit this beautiful mixed deciduous forest, filled trees that line the lush ravines and slopes that have literally stood the test of time to flourish to this day.
The Dysart Woods present a rare opportunity to visit undisturbed forests of mixed old oaks. The woods are protected and never touched to preserve the old-growth environment. Follow the trails to admire but not injure the surrounding nature. You’ll get the chance to see towering, tall oak trees that are over 4 feet in diameter and 140 feet high. It’s a truly majestic gem that you shouldn’t miss.