Off the Beaten Path: 14 Ohio Hidden Gems

The Wilds Off the beaten path Ohio

Living in Ohio has its advantages. One, the state is only about six hours wide via road trip so you can allow plenty of time for pit stops. Two, being a Midwestern state has its benefits (no extreme weather conditions!). And three? There’s plenty of hidden gems. Once you stray way from the major cities, there’s plenty of off the beaten path attractions to discover. Here’s 14 Ohio hidden gems you need to check out when visiting the Buckeye State.

Ohio State Reformatory Off the beaten path Ohio
Prison Bars at Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio. Photo Credit: Karyn Locke

1. and 2. So Creepy It’s Downright Cool

If you’re a lover of abandoned buildings, you’ll dig the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio. Once a fully-functional prison, when it needed an addition added they hired the inmates to complete it. Put on the map compliments of “The Shawshank Redemption”, you can walk through many of the filming rooms. The reformatory has both self-guided and audio walking tours and the small fee is totally worth it if you enjoy rusty, peeling, history. And, while we’re talking creepy old buildings, Athens, Ohio, is home to The Ridges (formerly known as the Athens Lunatic Asylum) where Civil War vets were treated, and mentally disabled folks were treated with lobotomies. Present day, folks give both walking and ghost hunting tours.

3. Strong as Leather

When Native American leader Shateyaronyah gave his word, he meant it. He was given the nickname of Leatherlips compliments of his iron-clad demeanor. When the Treaty of Greenville in 1975 split the Wyandot tribe, his own brother sentenced him to death for witchcraft (and encouraging peace with white settlers) by tomahawk. Chief Leatherlips Monument was erected in 1990 in Scioto Park near Columbus and overlooks the very same land that was given to the settlers.

4. What a “Pretty” Face

Remember the good old days with speakeasys,  prohibition, and gangsters? In East Liverpool, Ohio, you can check out a tiny museum dedicated to the death mask of Charles Authur Floyd, aka Pretty Boy Floyd. 1934’s Public Enemy #1, Floyd was shot near the city and taken to what is now the  Sturgis House, a quaint Bed & Breakfast. Before being sent back to his home state of Oklahoma, Sturgis Funeral Home embalmed the body and made a death mask of Pretty Boy Floyd which stayed at the funeral home for prosperity.

5. and 6. How Many Presidents are from Ohio Again?

Eight, to be exact, and two presidential tributes made our list. William McKinley Presidential Library in Canton, Ohio, pays tribute to the 25th President and give the city residents a place to get in some cardio with its 108 steps. Warren G. Harding Memorial in Marion, Ohio, is just as impressive with its style reminiscent of a Greek Temple. Both President Harding and his wife, Florence, are buried on site.

Topiary Park Off the beaten path Ohio
Topiary Park in Columbus, Ohio. Photo Credit: Steven Locke

7. A Topiary Treasure

Sure, Topiary Park in the heart of Downtown Columbus, Ohio, may not be literally off the beaten path, but the small park respite in the heart of Ohio’s capitol is unique, indeed. Inspired by George Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte, the park sets a serene setting for folks on their lunch breaks, families looking for a spot to get away from the hustle and bustle, and ducks. Yes, ducks.

Crystal Cave Off the beaten path Ohio
Crystal Cave in Put-in-Bay, Ohio. Photo Credit: Karyn Locke

8. Step Inside a Geode. Seriously.

The Kid and I had the pleasure of visiting Crystal Cave a couple of times and it still amazes me. While looking for an on-property well in 1897, Mr. Heineman hit open space and dicsovered a cave filled with celestine, tabular strontium sulfate crystals. While the cave was much larger than what you’re able to tour (much of the celestine was mined), the attraction is on Heineman’s winery in Put-in-Bay, Ohio.

The Wilds Off the beaten path Ohio
The Wilds in Central Ohio. Photo Credit: Steven Locke

9. A Wild Time

A true animal and nature preserve, The Wilds in Cumberland, Ohio, not only saves wild animals, it preserves your happy demeanor. Scenic views are everywhere at the former strip mine, now repurposed and now home to nearly 30 species of animals, most of which can be seen via open air safaris. If you really want a piece of Mother Nature, spend the night in a luxury Yurt and watch the stars.

10. You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out!

Probably not, but one of the most famous lines from the holiday classic “A Christmas Story” lives on in Cleveland, Ohio, with its own dedicated museum. You’ll spy original props and behind the scenes photos in Ralphie’s house and can visit year round – no waiting for The Old Man to string the lights.

Perry's Monument Off the beaten path Ohio
Perry’s Monument at Put-in-Bay, Ohio. Photo Credit: Karyn Locke

11. Because Commodore Perry Is So Much More than a Beer Name

There’s a good reason why Great Lakes Brewing on Cleveland, Ohio, named it famous beer after the war hero and Put-in-Bay’s tribute lets you climb to the top and spy Canada. Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial (Perry’s Monument to the locals) commemorates the War of 1812 and a major battle that took place just off the coast of South Bass Island. Celebrating the continuing peace between the U.S., Canada, and Britain, the tribute stands 352-feet tall and is the only international peace memorial in any National Park in the U.S.

12. A Snake in the Grass

I remember reading about the famous Great Serpent Mound in Peebles, Ohio, during Ohio History class in seventh grade. Fast track to present day where I’m still that way. Coming in at 1,348 feet long, the mound is the world’s largest effigy mound discovered, it looks like it’s about to swallow a giant egg, but controversy still stands as to its true meaning. No matter what it’s meaning, the Giant Serpent Mound is impressive.

13. Roll Out the Barrel

Beer Barrel Saloon in Put-in-Bay is the World’s Longest Bar. It opened in 1989 with an impressive length of 405 feet, 10 inches and is surely a draw to folks that love to get their drink on.

Off the beaten path Ohio
Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve. Photo Credit: Karyn Locke

14. A Place to Mosey

If you love to mosey and take in the surrounding beauty, Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve in Sandusky, Ohio, will be right up your street, proverbially, not figuratively (unless you’re a local). Preserving 472 acres in Erie County, the wetlands area is some of the only remaining in the Sandusky Bay region. Wildflowers, mammals, and 300 bird species call the Preserve home and the easy paths will do wonders for your mental state.

Do you have a favorite off the beaten path spot in Ohio? Here's 14 that hit our radar for Ohio hidden gems!

Is there a favorite spot in Ohio that’s off the beaten path and a hidden gem for you? Let me know in the comment section below!

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