George Washington once said, “the settlement of southeastern Ohio was not accidental, but the result of the careful deliberation of wise, prudent, and patriotic men.”* For those traveling with kids, Southeast Ohio is an outdoor paradise! This corner of Ohio is home to 15 state parks, three nature preserves, seven state forests, and many hunting and fishing areas. For my children, Southeast Ohio also happens to be home to their very doting and loving grandparents, so it’s not surprise that this is hands down their favorite place on earth.
Located only 60 minutes from the Ohio State Capital, Columbus, Athens is the perfect destination for an overnight stop. Having spent many, many nights in Athens, these are our top five fun family activities in Southeast Ohio!
#1: Bike Path / Brewery Tour
The Hockhocking Adena Bikeway in Athens is one of my favorite places to bike ride with my kids. Unlike the Mount Vernon Bike Trail near my home, the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway is never crowded, does not cross any major roads or streets, and has a perfectly bucolic view as it meanders along the Hocking River before disappearing into the woods leading up to Nelsonville, Ohio. The Bikeway is 21 miles long and mostly built on an abandoned railroad grade and a great way to spend a few hours riding or, if traveling with older children, an entire day riding through Athens County.
One of the most delightful developments in the past five years or so has been the introduction of microbreweries and cideries… along the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway!
This past Thanksgiving, my husband, father-in-law, and eight-year-old son biked the trail and made three separate brewery stops where my mother-in-law, and I met them with my two year old in tow.
If when visiting Athens, I highly recommend spending a few hours on the Bikeway and make a few pit stops along the way. For visitors not traveling with their own bikes, there are a number of local bike shops that have rentals available.
#2: Burr Oak Lake
Burr Oak Lake was built as a multiple-use reservoir for flood control, water supply, and recreation. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources operates and maintains the parking lots, wells, bathrooms and launching areas in along the lake. There are also a number of outfitters offering boats available for rental, guided fishing trips, and even horseback riding!
A few years ago, my family spent a few hours on a pontoon boat in the lake and had a wonderful experience. After a few hours on the water, we enjoyed lunch at Burr Oak Lodge & Conference Center. By no means would I consider this a fancy experience, but for those looking for some quality outdoor time, this is definitely something to consider. There are also numerous hiking trails, swimming beaches, geocaching, and camping sites available for those looking to spend more than just a few hours of outdoors time.
#3: Experience the Country!
The number one reason why we visit Southeast Ohio is to see family, but I personally love that my kids get to spend time outdoors, enjoying the fresh, country air. Two hidden gems in Southeast Ohio that we have come to love are:
Libby’s Pumpkin Patch – Libby’s Pumpkin Patch is a u-pick pumpkin patch about 30 minutes from Athens. Libby’s specializing in large carving pumpkins, pie pumpkins, and outdoor fall decorations. Fall visitors to Southeast Ohio should definitely plan to visit. During the summer, the farm also offers assorted berry picking opportunities, so follow the farm on Facebook to check out what is available. When we were there a few years ago, my mother-in-law and I loaded up on pumpkins while the kids had a blast on the hayride, jumping on the outdoor decorations, and sampling the homemade pumpkin chili and ice cream available for purchase.
White’s Mill – White’s Mill was built in 1809 along the Hocking River and was purchase by the White family in 1912. Over the years, as the needs of the community have changed, White’s Mill has adapted from what it was originally, a mill, to a local store that offers home/pet goods, gardening supplies, and now, locally made items that make great Christmas gifts or souvenirs. My family happens to love White’s Mill and my children have grown up visiting what they affectionately call “the Chicken store” with Grandpa. And yes, we have purchased chicks and continue to purchase chicken feed from White’s Mill pretty much every time we are in town!
#4: Ohio University / Town of Athens
Ohio University is the oldest university in Ohio with extremely loyal alumni and is located right in the heart of Athens, Ohio. The town of Athens is full of small, independent shops and funky retailers, so it’s a great way to spend a few hours window shopping before taking a walk on the beautiful campus grounds. My family’s current favorite lunch spot is Jackie O’s, a microbrewery and pub, with a great menu and beer sampler. I’m also partial to O’Betty’s Hot Dog Museum, where my personal favorite menu item is not a hot dog, but the delicious chili cheese fries!
#5: Hocking Hills State Park
The Hocking Hills State Park is a smorgasbord of outdoor fun located about 45 minutes from Athens. The park contains seven separate sections and there is truly something for everyone there: hiking, exploring caves, canoeing, zip lining, camping and more. There are also rental cabins available, making this the perfect location for those, like me, who love the outdoors but prefer to sleep on a real bed at night.
Be sure to check out our Ohio posts for things to do when visiting the 17th State.
*Howe, H. Howe’s History of Ohio, Volume 1. Page 133.