Find Your Perfect Fall Getaway in Ohio

Rock House in Hocking Hills State Park
Rock House in Hocking Hills State Park
Sep 14, 2021

Give yourself a front row seat to fall foliage with a visit to Ohio, where you can literally escape to nature and rest your head in or near a state park. This gem of a Midwest state is blessed with gorgeous colors no matter where you go, making it the perfect backdrop for an autumn adventure outdoors.

Our recommendation for a peak fall foliage experience is to surround yourself with the brightly colored leaves of Ohio's state parks. Turn an autumn day out into an overnight stay as these state parks offer camping, cabins and full-service lodges; some parks are located near luxury accommodations as well.

So go ahead and picture those colorful hikes with rustling leaves underfoot, relaxing paddles across scenic lakes and marshmallow roasts around cozy campfires. There are plenty of ways to find yourself in Ohio. 

Find your base in a state park

Open daily, Ohio's 75 state parks are scattered throughout the state, so you’re never very far from one. In fact, if you’re driving along Ohio’s Scenic Route Road Trip, it’s easy to stop at a few of them. In northeast Ohio, check out the rugged cliffs and unique rock formations at Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park. In southwest Ohio, hike or horseback ride the rugged trails of Caesar Creek.

Ohio is one of the few states in the U.S. that doesn’t charge a general admission or parking fee at the parks—even day-use facilities like trails, beaches, picnic areas, boating and fishing are free of charge. (There is a fee if you wish to camp overnight.)

Hocking Hills State Park in Logan

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) owns and manages Ohio's public lands, including state parks, forests, wildlife areas and nature preserves. Essentially, no matter what sort of nature-based experience you have in mind, Ohio’s got you covered.

Whether you love pitching a tent or spending a cozy night in your RV, Ohio's state park campgrounds have campsites that range from primitive (think: just you and nature) to full-service (including basic facilities). Before a night under the stars, spend the day boating or fishing on the large lakes at Indian Lake, Pymatuning or Alum Creek. If you prefer the thrill of a trail adventure, try mountain biking at Great Seal or Mohican. Most campgrounds offer pet-friendly sites so you can bring the whole family along. 

A variety of seasonal cabins are open May 1-November 1 and sleep two to four people. (There are public bathrooms nearby.) Along with a futon or pullout bed, there's a picnic table and fire ring, so after a day of swimming at East Harbor, kayaking at Findley or attending a naturalist program at Mt. Gilead, you can spend the evening roasting marshmallows around the campfire.

Deluxe cabins are open year-round, feature heat or air conditioning, two beds, a television and a screened-in porch. Some can fit large groups of up to 25 people. Popular for family gatherings or getting a few friends together, these deluxe cabins are a great way to enjoy nature without roughing it. They often are set in some of Ohio's most scenic spots, whether that's a cabin right on the golf course at Maumee Bay, along the shores of a large lake like Salt Fork, or in the heart of Ohio's Appalachian region at Shawnee. These spots fill up fast — in some cases, you may need to book up to a year in advance to secure your cabin.

The state parks aren't cookie cutter in terms of activities, either, so no matter your age, there really is a park for everyone. You can find things like disc golf at Punderson or Deer Creek, or paddling at Strouds Run, Barkcamp or Lake Hope, or looking for Bigfoot during a guided evening hike at Salt Fork.

Paddleboarding in Alum Creek State Park

If you’re visiting with children, take them on a Storybook Trail, currently found at 12 state parks as well as dozens of other local story trails. These storybook trails have colorfully illustrated, child-height panels depicting the pages of a popular children’s book. At state parks, the stories rotate between trails. Some of the nature-oriented stories include Where Butterflies Grow by Joanne Ryder, The First Strawberries by Joseph Bruchac and Blue Sky, White Stars by Sarvinder Naberhaus. The goal is to help children connect with nature while promoting the importance of literacy and a healthy lifestyle. 

The number most relevant to someone wishing to make a fall getaway to Ohio though is eight, because that’s how many state parks offer full-service accommodations for family-friendly adventures. Run like hotels, these lodge parks are near nature centers which offer special autumn programming and weekend hours.

Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park in Garrettsville

Wake up to a sunrise through the trees

Great Ohio Lodges are located in Burr Oak, Deer Creek, Hueston Woods, Maumee Bay, Mohican, Punderson, Salt Fork and Shawnee state parks. (A new lodge is under construction at Hocking Hills and is scheduled to open in October 2022.) These facilities aren’t glorified camping sites; some of them are large enough to host conferences. Surrounded by woods, they're all perfect for some up-close leaf peeping; Shawnee Lodge is even located in the 63,000 acres of the Shawnee State Forest.

Punderson Manor Lodge & Conference Center in Newbury Township

Each lodge takes the name of the park it’s in and offers a modern hotel experience with rustic flair. In addition to a variety of rooms to choose from, each lodge offers a restaurant, at least one pool, workout rooms and cozy fireplaces in common areas. Aside from Mohican, each lodge also offers year-round deluxe cabins for those who prefer a more home-like setting.

Hueston Woods State Park in College Corner

Easily accessible to byways and scenic routes, each lodge boasts an array of different activities on-site, all paired with the natural beauty of surrounding rolling hills, lakes and wildlife. Hueston Woods, Deer Creek, Punderson, Maumee Bay and Salt Fork all have 18-hole golf courses; Burr Oak has mini golf. Maumee Bay, Salt Fork and Deer Creek have marinas; the latter rents paddle boats and kayaks, which is a great way to view the fall colors. Mohican Lodge offers nature trails and naturalist programs like twilight owl hikes. Salt Fork, Hueston Woods, Maumee Bay and the Tudor-style Punderson Manor put you right at the edge of lakes, perfect for water lovers.

Salt Fork Lodge & Conference Center in Cambridge

Hocking Hills

If you’re looking for a retreat just 15 minutes from Hocking Hills State Park (and about an hour and 15 minutes southeast of Columbus), Cherry Ridge Retreat offers a luxury cabin experience tailored to romantic getaways or small families. With only eight cabins situated on more than 140 forested acres, privacy is an understatement. Your only curious neighbors will be the wildlife—and there is plenty of opportunity to look at them too.

Cherry Ridge Retreat in Hocking Hills

Four Luxury Romantic Cabins include features like an in-ground heated swimming pool and cold plunge, a private dock and sauna, a private gazebo and a stained-glass two-person shower. The family cabins are each located on their own wooded lot and feature private hot tubs inside secluded gazebos.

These cabins are essentially like having a second home in the woods, as all include full kitchens, fully-stocked bathrooms, comfortable furniture and a gas grill. The open-plan interiors include vaulted ceilings, wide-plank wood floors, fireplaces in the great room and master bedroom, as well as large expanses of glass so you can easily see the wildlife.  

Cherry Ridge Retreat in Hocking Hills

The only time you might bump into other guests is while hiking the five miles of trails in which you can pass four fishing ponds. Stocked with largemouth and striped bass, hybrid bluegills, perch and sunfish, anglers are allowed to fish here, but it’s catch and release with barbless hooks. There is a bird-watching deck and private picnic areas along the trails as well.  

Geneva State Park

Reminiscent of the ocean with its waves and abundant wildlife, Lake Erie is renowned for its fishing, boating, bird watching and stunning sunsets. Escape to a prime location on the southern edge of this great lake with a stay at The Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake. About an hour’s drive east of Cleveland, this resort is in the heart of Ohio Wine Country and just outside of Geneva State Park.

The Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake

In addition to staying in one of the 109 rooms within The Lodge, there are 25 lakeside cottages built on three adjacent acres of land. These cottages are designed for families and small groups and can accommodate up to six guests, featuring two bedrooms, a living area with a gas fireplace, a kitchenette and dishwasher. All cottages have panoramic picture windows and a covered porch.

The Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake

While The Lodge offers a number of common popular activities, like bike rentals, an indoor pool and a hot tub, it’s also able to offer two unconventional ones thanks to its location.

Hop aboard the hotel’s wine shuttle and let someone else do the driving, so you can enjoy a few of the 20-plus wineries in the region as well as the views of quaint countryside and historic covered bridges. The Ashtabula and Lake County grape-growing regions produce the majority of Ohio wine grapes, and these are regarded as the state’s finest. The shuttle has a maximum of 14 riders and is sanitized between each drop off/pick up.

Lake Erie Canopy Tours in Geneva

The Lodge is also home to Lake Erie Canopy Tours, an aerial adventure park where you can zipline at speeds of up to 30mph above sparkling creeks and Geneva State Park along Lake Erie’s shore. There are also self-guided adventure courses (ranging from easy to extreme and for both kids and adults) full of more than 30 rope challenges to climb up, over, through or across.  

Ready to go? Start planning your trip to Ohio with this list of 100 things to do, including fall festivals and foodie road trip ideas.  

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