This holiday season, take a detour from big cities like Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati and venture into Ohio’s backcountry to discover the charming rural fabric of the Buckeye State. From small Amish Country villages with a unique New England Vibe to isolated towns with hidden historical treasures, these underrated locations promise exciting experiences missing in the more famous destinations in the state.
Picturesque natural landscapes, down-to-earth communities, inimitable cultural attractions, and limitless outdoor adventures await. The stage is set for you to embark on an entertaining getaway and make nostalgic memories with loved ones. So, if you are planning an itinerary in this beautiful Midwestern state, here are the most underrated towns in Buckeye State.
Yellow Springs delights with a laid-back aura and a nice mix of rural and urban. This idyllic town in Greene County has a small population of just under 4,000 but boasts diverse tourist attractions. Top among them is the Glen Helen Nature Preserve, which hosts gorgeous waterfalls, hidden caves, and curative hot springs. Some of the best hiking opportunities are at the John Bryan State Park, a 752-acre expanse of natural space with a stunning limestone gorge and scenic trails.
The town also charms visitors with a culturally diverse atmosphere, which you will feel when you check out the exhibits inside Yellow Springs Pottery to find a cute handcrafted souvenir or stop by Young’s Jersey Dairy to enjoy a sweet ice-cold treat. When it’s time to call it a day, the Mills Park Hotel is conveniently located in the middle of downtown.
Marietta sits where the Ohio River intersects with the Muskingum River, which is why it is sometimes called “Riverboat Town.” The locality has a long history dating back to 1788, established as the maiden settlement in Northwest territory. History buffs can explore this rich past at the Ohio River and Campus Martius Museums by browsing an interesting collection of exhibits and artifacts. There are more historical gems to discover in the town, highlighted by the Gothic Revival style "The Castle," which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
If you fancy exploring the outdoors, the Muskingum River Water Trail offers an array of recreational opportunities, ranging from swimming and boating to fishing. Lastly, one of the best times in Marietta is during the Ohio River Sternwheel Festival, which features old-fashioned sternwheel races, parades, and other forms of family-friendly fun. But remember to make reservations at The Lafayette in advance since many tourists will be in town.
Granville, which sits 35 miles from Columbus, is home to Denison University and hosts a considerable youthful population that gives the town an upbeat vibe. However, exploring the adorable little village introduces you to various historic buildings offering a glimpse into the area’s past, including the 19th-century St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and Robbins Hunter Museum. For a deeper dive into Granville’s history, you can stop by the Granville Historical Society Museum to check out its archives and a vast collection of artifacts.
To perfect your swing, head to the manicured lawns of the Denison Golf Club. While there are numerous B&Bs to choose from in the town, consider staying at the Historic Buxton Inn, which has accommodated tourists for over two centuries.
Experience the charm and unique culture of the Amish in this little village located in the heart of Ohio’s Amish Country. Millersburg houses a quaint community of just over 3,000. There is so much to see and do in the town, but you can start at Yoder’s Amish Home, where buggy rides, narrated school house tours, and animal barn visits offer a taste of Amish tradition and history.
One of the best ways to experience Millersburg is to try homemade Amish pastries at Hershberger’s Farm and Bakery. The venue also sells handmade crafts that make cute souvenirs and hosts a petting zoo if you do not mind close animal encounters. Meanwhile, you can have a cozy night’s sleep at Hotel Millersburg while soaking in the historic charm of the town’s oldest structure.
Geneva-on-the-Lake is a historic resort village along the shores of Lake Erie and one of the prettiest small towns in Ohio. Little has changed since its 50s-era glory days, when it treated holidaymakers to unforgettable vacations. Geneva State Park houses the best beaches on Lake Erie, and tourists flock for different recreational activities, such as swimming, boating, hiking, and camping.
Meanwhile, the Geneva Township Park offers a shaded alternative with breathtaking lake views and a serene atmosphere ideal for a lazy walk with your furry friend. Furthermore, Sportsterz Bar & Grill is a popular gathering spot for visitors, where you can enjoy some of the best food and entertainment in the area. Lodging options abound, from lodges and cottages to campgrounds, but you should check into The Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake to be close to the water.
This small village in Warren County hosts approximately 2,700 residents and boasts a rich history dating back to the 1790s when it was founded. One of the best sites for outdoor lovers is the over 3,700-acre Caesar Creek State Park, a hub for diverse recreational activities like fishing, camping, and boating. For history buffs, the Museum at the Friends House is a small but lovely facility offering a look into the town’s past through a collection of interesting exhibits spread across 20 rooms.
Waynesville also houses several antique stores, earning the nickname "Antiques Capital of the Midwest." This means you can hunt for a cute souvenir when exploring the quaint downtown in venues like Waynesville Antique Mall. Meanwhile, one of the best times to visit the town is during the annual Sauerkraut Festival for a weekend of family-friendly entertainment featuring crafts exhibitions and good food. But before you go, book a reservation at the Hammel House Inn for a comfortable stay in the town.
Renowned American inventor and public icon Thomas Edison was born and spent his childhood in this sleepy community of about 1,300. Milan takes pride in preserving and promoting Edison’s heritage, and you will come across several tributes to him throughout the town. Fans can tour the Thomas Edison Birthplace Museum to browse family photos, early inventions, and other memorabilia chronicling Edison’s youthful life in the town. But for a look into the wider region’s past, the Milan Historical Museum offers a deeper dive.
When you have had enough of local history, you can head outdoors to explore the beautiful trails inside The Coupling MetroPark. Alternatively, consider popping into Milan Wine Post in the historic Town square for a pint of beer and great food. Later, you can spend the night at the affordable but cozy Red Roof Inn Sandusky.
Loveland packs a punch of tourist delights for a small town! Among its top visitor attractions is the Loveland Castle Museum, a majestic stone castle on the banks of the Little Miami River. Rumor has it that a friendly ghost roams the castle’s hallways, so be on the lookout for any paranormal activity.
Loveland has several family-friendly venues for those traveling with kids, including Home of the Brave Park. This 8.3-acre space offers recreational facilities like a play area for kids, a paved walking trail, and a picnic area. Meanwhile, the National Scenic and Little Miami State River pass through the town, ensuring a fun time on the water with activities like kayaking, canoeing, and fishing.
This storybook town on the banks of the Kokosing River is encircled by emerald rolling hills that culminate in gorgeous natural scenery. Mount Vernon is about an hour away from Columbus, making for a great day trip. Outdoor enthusiasts will love exploring its lovely open spaces, such as the 250-acre Ariel-Foundation Park. It has beautiful hiking trails that take you past secluded lakes and a museum. Another popular route for hikers and bikers is the paved Kokosing Gap Trail, which stretches 14 miles and offers unprecedented views of the Kokosing River.
Elsewhere, history buffs will be glad to discover a few landmarks in the town, such as the Woodward Opera House. Besides being one of the oldest opera houses in the country, the venue stages entertaining live performances. Finally, you can enjoy a unique accommodation experience at the Romantic Adventure Getaways, featuring hidden tunnels, secret passages, and slides.
Tourists descend upon this idyllic town in droves every summer to play on its beautiful waters. With a modest population of about 150 residents, there is enough space for everyone to have fun at this South Bass Island destination. South Bass Island State Park is the perfect zone for the outdoorsy inclined, offering fun, family-friendly opportunities like camping, picnicking, and swimming in a serene environment. Another must-see point of interest is the Perry’s Family Cave Center, an exciting complex with a rock wall, a mini golf course, and a butterfly house.
Put-in-Bay is also famous for its wine scene, and the quiet town houses several wineries. If you want to sample the local creations, you can head to the Put-in-Bay Winery for tastings. Meanwhile, staying at the Put-in-Bay Resort Hotel guarantees a cozy place to lay your head.
This small town in Guernsey County lies in the Appalachian Plateau, surrounded by sprawling green landscapes with endless outdoor opportunities. Nature lovers have a string of options, starting with the Great Guernsey Trail. This scenic route is perfect for hikers, runners, bikers, and even sightseers. If you prefer a more tranquil space to relax and people-watch, the Cambridge City Parks is a popular tourist spot with lots of shade and picnic benches.
Meanwhile, its quaint downtown is fun to explore on foot, with various points of interest. These include the National Museum of Cambridge Glass for art lovers and the Wooden Toy Company for tourists with children. Finally, the winter season is an excellent time to visit Cambridge for the Dickens Victorian Village display.
Perrysburg has something for everyone, from historical landmarks and beautiful parks to a tasty restaurant scene. However, this Wood County town is famous for hosting Fort Meigs; the battle site of the 1812 Ohio War. A self-guided tour of the venue is an excellent way for war historians to start their itinerary in the town. For adventure pursuits, you can choose from several options, such as Orleans Park, for water-based fun like angling, canoeing, and kayaking. But if you want to stay on dry ground, there are lovely nature trails and picnic spots at the WW Knight Nature Preserve.
Alternatively, roam about the delightful downtown to explore gems like the Basil Pizza & Wine Bar for a fresh plate of pasta or a handcrafted stone-fired pizza. Later, you can spend the evening cracking up to a live performance at the Funny Bone Comedy Club.
The next time you plan a trip to the Buckeye State, a change of scenery from bright lights and imposing skyscrapers to the lush landscapes and quiet, rural setting of small towns in Ohio might be the best decision you ever made. A unique holiday experience beckons in these underrated towns that you can’t replicate anywhere else.