The Midwest is often called “America’s Heatland,” and for good reason. This semi-agrarian, semi-urban region of the country was instrumental to the nation’s development as an industrial superpower in the 20th century and helped make companies like Ford and Chrysler household names around the world. Though no longer the manufacturing center it was, what the Midwest does have these days is down-home charm. States like Ohio have a near endless supply of endearing small towns perfect for a weekend getaway, for the whole family and solo travelers alike.
Sporting a nostalgic 18th century feel and a distinct New England influence, visitors to Peninsula may feel they have traveled back in time somehow on their short drive south from Cleveland. Thankfully, no time machine is required to reach this lovely town with its striking colonial-era architecture dating back to the time when a portion of northeast Ohio was actually part of Connecticut. Cuyahoga Valley National Park borders the town and is one of the most visited parks in the country. Hiking, biking, kayaking, golfing, and fishing are all possible within the park. Try the Towpath Trail which traces the historic path of the Ohio and Erie Canal. Peninsula also has another option to experience the park: by train. Hop aboard a vintage rail car via the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad while it travels for two hours through the park for your viewing pleasure.
Casual, funky, and eclectic. All words which have been used to describe the vibe of Yellow Springs, a town which has always marched to the beat of its own drum. There is a thriving arts scene in Yellow Springs from flea markets to live music festivals. Events to showcase local artists are a regular occurrence and comedian Dave Chapelle would likely agree since he has owned a farm nearby since the early 2000s. There are some of the best trails in the state as well in Yellow Springs. John Bryan State Park, Glen Helen Nature Preserve and Clifton Gorge Nature Preserve nearby offer wonderful opportunities to deload from the stresses of urban life. Clifton Gorge especially comes highly recommended for its amazing views, though it is not pet friendly. Lastly, swing by Young’s Jersey Dairy for some delicious small-batch ice cream and a good ol’ fashioned corn maze.
To call the town of Loveland lovely would be, well, an understatement. Its architecture dates back to the 1800s and has a wonderful downtown core where one can often catch farmers markets and live events. Blooms and Berries allows for U-Pick year round and even has a beer garden on the premises. To let you know how seriously the town takes its moniker, there is a yearly “Valentine Program” where Valentine cards are hand stamped with a special postmark. There is even a designated Valentine Lady! The Loveland Bike Trail has outdoor enthusiasts head over heels as well. The Little Miami Scenic Bike Trail is over 70 miles of paved path popular with cyclists and runners. Rent a bike or bring your own and travel to Milford or Springfield at either end. Stop by the Loveland Castle before leaving. This labour of love was hand built by one man, using rocks pulled by the Little Miami River.
This town has been long considered a Midwestern gem. Geneva-on-the-Lake is a small waterfront town in Ohio wine country which has been a beloved vacation spot for many years. The town of 1,500 swells during the summer months as people flock to Geneva to beat the heat and cool off in the water. This town seems almost frozen in the 1950s and absolutely radiates charm. Do not fix what is not broken, and the town seems to have taken that old adage to heart. Lake Erie awaits and is just minutes away from nearly any spot, shop, or stop in town. Drop a few quarters at a retro arcade with all the classic mid-century games. Rent a boat and paddle to your heart’s content or relax on the sandy shores the way visitors to the town have done for decades. The nearby state park also has great hiking and fishing opportunities.
Nestled along the Ohio River, Marietta is an old port town with an incredible history which is sure to be a big hit with anthropology enthusiasts. The prehistoric Hopewell and Adena Indian mounds cover 95 acres and have been carefully preserved for continued viewing. Some of these mounds are estimated to have been made as far back as 100 A.D. For a more modern touch, ride a steamboat along the Ohio River the way the townsfolk did in 1820 or stop by the Ohio River Sternwheel Festival to see an entire herd traveling down the river together. There are excellent outdoor opportunities as well in Marietta. The Muskingum River Water Trail can be paddled down and the Wayne National Forest has plenty of trails for hiking.
Rightfully called one of Ohio’s best hometowns, Granville is a quaint island of small town charm in a sea of rolling wooded hills adjoining the Appalachian Plateau. This east-central Ohio town has plenty of its own New England flavour and intriguing colonial-era architecture. The Bryn Du mansion and Episcopal Church are two standouts and lend plenty of personal style to this town of 5,700. The town’s main square is beautifully appointed with shady trees and boutique shops. Stop by the 14-mile TJ Evans trail and walk, bike, or run through the hills which give Granville its secluded village character. Granville’s Alligator Mound is a 200-foot-long burial mound similar to that found in Marietta which overlooks Raccoon Creek Valley.
The town of Millersburg is deep in the heart of Ohio Amish country, home of the largest population of Ahmish in the world. Visit the pastoral countryside, pick apples at a nearby orchard and take home a handmade quilt while exploring Millersburg and the surrounding areas. Best of all, the nearby Amish communities are all connected, making travel quick and easy. Visitors to the town are certain to hear the trademark clopping of hooves which have been so central to the area’s development. For a more modern mode of travel, bike the Holmes County Trail, nearly 16 miles of fun between Fredericksburg and Killbuck. Stop by the Holmes County Historical Society and Museum to learn about how this unique religious minority arrived and maintained their traditions through the centuries.
Challenging to get to but certainly worth the effort, this Ohio island is a summertime favourite thanks to the crystal waters of Lake Erie surrounding it. Catch a ferry from Port Clinton to get to this fan-favorite hideaway. Rent a golf cart and drive up to the white cliffs of South Bass Island State Park, a perfect picnic and camping spot. Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center has eight amazing attractions to see such as Perry’s Cave, which is 52 feet underground and has its own underground freshwater lake, and a rock wall for climbers of all skill levels. Put-in-Bay still has a colossal monument to the town’s contribution to the war of 1812 which is open to the public. The town also has the worl’s longest bar! Drop by the Beer Barrel Saloon to see this modern architectural wonder.
This popular town located in southwest Ohio is known as the “antiques capital of the Midwest,” and for good reason: the town is older than the state itself! Brass Lantern Antiques is a cornerstone of the town’s antique collectible community. Stop by the annual Sauerkraut Festival where over 460 craft vendors from 25 states converge on Waynesville for a scrumptious weekend full of tasty eats. After chowing down on some cabbage in all its forms, a visit to Ceasar Creek State Park may be in order with its 43 miles of hiking trails. In the wintertime, a snow-blanketed Waynesville can even be traversed by horse-drawn carriage which is just one reason why it is so beloved by Ohioans.
Nearly every corner of Ohio is full of charming, lively small towns that have managed to keep Midwestern hospitality alive and well for centuries. From swimming the magnificent waters of Lake Erie to hiking through misty mountain towns along the Appalachian Mountains, Ohio has unforgettable adventures for its visitors hidden at every turn. Visit some of the town’s mentioned above on your next expedition through the Buckeye State for a memorable stay in the American heartland.