Ohio: The Scenic Route Road Trip

The Scenic Route is one of 10 themed Ohio tours featured at RoadTrips.Ohio.org

Do yourself a favor this year. Whether it’s a drive for a few hours or a long weekend, take a fall road trip in Ohio to relax and soak up the season. To help you do just that, Ohio Find It Here has created The Scenic Route, one in a series of Ohio road trips.

While Ohio’s north coast is most often considered a lakeside destination for boaters, fishing and anything water-related, it takes on a fresh hue in fall. The area offers amazing outdoor options accented by fall foliage, small towns decked out with orange, yellow and red mums, the harvest from local farms, including vineyards, and experiences that are even more enjoyable in cooler weather.

Stop 1: Maumee Bay State Park

Situated on the shores of Lake Erie, Maumee Bay State Park Lodge offers rooms, cabins (some are pet-friendly) and camping for overnights. The lodge’s Water’s Edge restaurant provides stunning views of the lake and can be enjoyed at every meal. Have you ever noticed the incredible depth of blue skies in the fall? Less humidity means bluer skies perfect for capturing camera-worthy sunrises and sunsets from the beach.

One of the main draws (in addition to the beach) at Maumee Bay is 1,300 acres of natural wonders to explore, including a trove of marshes and scenic meadows that are a magnet for birds. The fall migration lasts for months and isn’t as busy as spring, which makes it easier to relax and enjoy the sights and calls of songbirds, waterfowl and even hawks refueling before they cross back over Lake Erie. The Black Swamp Bird Observatory is an excellent resource to find out what birds are in the area. One of the best ways to enjoy the marsh is a relaxing walk on the 2-mile (ADA-accessible) boardwalk where interesting flora and fauna are plentiful.

Golfers won’t want to miss out on the Scottish links-style course. And many summer experiences are still available, sometimes at reduced rates – camping, cycling, boating, fishing and more. You can end the day with a swim in the indoor pool and a mouth-watering meal at the lodge.

Before You Go: Check to see if there are any specials available. Lodging rates may be reduced after summer through packages, rates for seniors, through the Stays for A’s program for kids and more.

Stop 2: Lake Erie Islands

The possibilities are endless on the Lake Erie Islands. Island fun begins the minute you step aboard one of several passenger ferryboats. You know you’re on an island when the main modes of transportation are bicycles, walking and golf carts.

Don’t miss the glacial grooves on Kelleys Island. Carved in rock by glaciers that formed the Great Lakes and Lake Erie Islands thousands of years ago, it is truly amazing to see the power of geologic forces laid bare. The grooves are accessible via a winding series of steps and footbridges that loop around the upper rim.

On South Bass Island, visitors can stand in awe of the world’s largest geode at Crystal Cave in the village of Put-in-Bay. Visit a museum or two and enjoy outdoor patios. The Boardwalk serves up a fantastic bowl of lobster bisque perfect for a little warmth in cooler temperatures. Enjoy an excellent view of Lake Erie and fall foliage all the way to Canada from the top of Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial at 352 feet high. Paddlers will love kayaking around the islands with views of Cedar Point, towering rock formations and even shipwrecks.

Before you go: Be sure to check ferry schedules since they scale back on days and frequency of service starting in September.

Stop 3: Geneva-on-the-Lake

Wine country meets an outdoor paradise in Geneva-on-the-Lake. A drive out among the vineyards during fall harvest season yields a heady aroma of grapes and fresh lake breezes. The Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake offers an Ohio Wine Shuttle to safely sip wines from a host of wineries. If you prefer to chart your path, check out the wine trails and information from the Ohio Wine Producers and Ohio Grape Industries.

When you’re ready to get out into the fall foliage, Lake Erie Canopy Tours provides an adrenalin-inducing zipline adventure with outstanding views. Downtown, the strip is full of vintage fun with arcade games, amusement rides, mini-golf, bumper boats, go-carts, restaurants and more. Consider planning your visit around the Ashtabula County Covered Bridge Festival on Oct. 12. This celebration of the area’s 19 covered bridges, including the longest and shortest covered bridges in the country, is worth the trip. Also, while you’re in the area, be sure to stop at Holden Arboretum in Kirtland. It may be one of the best kept natural secrets in Ohio, and it shines in the autumn. The relatively new Murch Canopy Walk and Kalberer Family Emergent Tower takes adventurers 65 feet up into the treetops on a 500-foot-long walkway while the tower provides an even higher view at 120 feet.

Before You Go: Check the Fall Color Report from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Ohio Find It Here at Ohio.org.

Stop 4: Cuyahoga Valley National Park

A scenic road trip wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The park follows the old Ohio to Erie Canal from Cleveland down to Akron and is steeped in canal boat history in addition to providing more than 125 miles of hiking trails. The Boston Store Visitor Center is a great place to begin your exploration if you haven’t mapped out your visit or want to learn about experiences available in the park. For an immersive experience in canals, the Canal Exploration Center is a must. Both centers are located on the Towpath Trail, which serves as the backbone of the park. The trail once followed by horses and mules pulling canal boats now serves hikers, cyclists and equestrians.

From a natural standpoint, Brandywine Falls is the star here with a moderately strenuous series of stairs and elevations to reach the top about 60 feet above the valley below. Fall foliage around the falls makes this a popular spot for photo-ops. There are plenty more waterfalls to search out on the hiking maps, from Buttermilk Falls to Blue Hen Falls, and each has its own natural beauty.

Browse artsy shops in the very New England-style town of Peninsula and rent bicycles to explore the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail. Catch a ride back on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad or make some stops along the way to explore, including Hale Farm & Village.

Before You Go: Check the train schedule in general and for special events such as fall color tours, wine or beer tasting and more.

Autumn is a stunning time to explore the Buckeye State.

Tamara Brown is a former public relations manager for TourismOhio.


For travel planning assistance, visit your AAA store or AAA.com/travel.