One of the greatest things about this country is that, much like its citizens, each state is celebrated for what makes them special and unique. Each offer attractions that cannot be found anywhere else, often iconic institutions and/or experiences that have become woven into the fabric of these communities. Framed largely by Lake Erie and the Ohio River, Ohio is known as home to both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It is known for its college and professional sports teams and their fervent fan bases.
While we celebrate each state’s individuality and iconography, we should also remain on the lookout for sites that are sometimes located off the beaten path. The following are but a few of the oft-overlooked gems that don’t immediately spring to mind when we think of the Buckeye State.
1. The Shawshank Trail
The Shawshank Redemption, one of the most beloved movies of the past quarter-century, is largely set in a fictional prison in northern New England. However, the film was shot almost entirely on location in Mansfield, Ohio – with the Ohio State Reformatory serving as the eponymous institution. In 2008, Destination Mansfield – Richland County created The Shawshank Trail to attract fans of the iconic feature and capitalize on the enduring popularity of the film. The trail includes fifteen filming sites, highlighted by the prison itself – which houses the warden’s office, Brooks’ hotel room, and a piece of the tunnel that provided the means of escape for the film’s central character.
Guests can choose between guided tours or enjoy the freedom to explore the grounds via a self-guided tour. A guide map points guests to several additional filming locations around town, including the “Road to Buxton”, the cabin from the movie’s opening sequence, and the site where the 200-year-old oak tree once stood before being destroyed by the elements of nature. For the truly dedicated fan, the tour includes a sojourn to Sandusky, the location of the courthouse and woodshop used in the film. An upcoming 25th-anniversary celebration of the film is set for August 16th – 18th, 2019.
2. The Wilds
Guests of this non-profit conservation center are invited to explore nearly 10,000 acres of reclaimed land, where they’ll encounter all manner of exotic wildlife and hopefully develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of the efforts being made to preserve and protect these beautiful species. Unlike traditional zoos, the animals here dwell on open range habitats on land that was once used for strip mining.
Through a variety of fully immersive activities, guests will learn about the research being done to raise awareness for threatened and vulnerable species such as the southern white rhino and Sichuan takin. At The Wilds, interaction and activity are encouraged through a series of hands-on experiences, including night hikes, safari fishing, and horseback riding. Sunset and zip line tours also provide opportunities to experience the park from a different perspective, while camping programs impart vital outdoor skills to children and their families.
3. Ohio Caverns
Situated beneath 35 acres of park land and priding itself on being one of America’s most colorful caverns, this system of subterranean passageways offers a unique opportunity for visitors to experience “The Buckeye State”. A one-hour tour takes guests on a guided exploration of over two miles of surveyed passages, which can range from 30 to more than 100 feet in depth.
Operating at a comfortable 54 degrees year-round, two different tours are offered depending on the time of year, each providing ample opportunity to learn about the history and formation of the caverns as well as take full advantage of the many photo ops along the way. Thanks largely to the preservation efforts of this private, family-owned operation visitors can observe the delicate caverns as they originally appeared when first uncovered in 1897. Above ground, guests will find various picnic areas, a playground, and a gift shop offering souvenir apparel, rocks, and fossils.
A Christmas Story House
Though the film is set in 1940s Indiana, the home that serves as the central residence in this holiday classic actually resides in Cleveland, Ohio. After extensive restorations, both inside and out, this iconic abode now accurately reflects the movie’s setting in all its cinematic splendor. Guided tours afford guests the opportunity to visit Ralphie’s bedroom, cruise through the quaint kitchen and, of course, admire the leg lamp proudly displayed in the living room window.
For those looking to extend their visit, the home – as well as that of the neighboring Bumpuses – is available for overnight stays. Across the street from the house, fanatics of the film can find a gift shop and museum showcasing props and memorabilia, including Randy’s snowsuit, toys from the Higbee’s department store window, and the legendary Red Ryder BB gun. The shop also carries decoder rings as well as a sizeable selection of leg lamps, from night lights to full-sized replicas.
5. Marblehead Lighthouse State Park
Stationed on the Marblehead Peninsula of Lake Erie, this towering beacon of the Great Lakes has been actively guiding sailors to shore since 1822. In fact, Marblehead Lighthouse is the oldest such station located along the Great Lakes that has remained in continuous operation. Much of the credit for this stability lies in the bedrock of the land, which is made up of a durable Columbus Limestone that has helped protect the shoreline and preserve the lighthouse’s foundation for nearly two centuries.
This very same stone was also used in the construction of the capitol building in Columbus. As the crowning feature of the 9-acre Marblehead Lighthouse State Park, guests are invited to climb the 77 steps in a tour to the top, where they will enjoy majestic views of Lake Erie and the surrounding area. The site boasts two museums; the Keeper’s House, which is located directly adjacent to the lighthouse itself, and the Lifesaving Station, a replica of the 1876 original which features a fully restored 27-foot Coast Guard rescue boat among other artifacts and exhibits.