YOU’LL BEGIN your 433-mile traverse across the Buckeye State by crossing the Ohio River on a car ferry, heading into the wild Northwest Territory. That’s your first clue that Ohio is nothing like a flat, monotonous cornfield. The route winds through the Hocking Hills, graced with waterfalls and towering hemlocks, and passes through the farms of Amish country rich in buggies, bonnets and butterfat. Such pastoral landscapes contrast to the buzz in the state’s “Three Cs,” the cities of Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland.
Day 1: Cincinnati to Logan
From the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport rental lot, travel back in time via KY-20 East. Follow signs to the Anderson Ferry. A hair-pinned road leads you down to Kentucky’s Ohio River bank, where for $5 (plus $1 tip) a ferry operating since 1817 will float your car over to Ohio pioneer-style. Head east to downtown Cincinnati on US-50. Enervated vinyl-sided houses and warehouses punctuate the drive, but your destination, Over-the-Rhine, is fizzing. The neighborhood’s 19th-century corniced tenements, originally crammed with German immigrants, form the country’s largest collection of Italianate Revival architecture. Neglected for years, OTR is now coated in creamy paint and optimism, and restocked with bright young things and craft breweries. Busy Washington Park is fun to explore.
Day 2: Logan to Columbus
Spend the morning exploring the trails around Hocking Hills State Park. The mile-long Rock House loop is a good introduction to the park, or you can follow the rock-hewn steps down to Old Man Cave, J.R.R. Tolkien’s elfish Rivendell come to life. Should it rain, linger over breakfast at the Hocking Hills Diner (hockinghillsdiner.com) or call on Lockhart Ironworks (themakersofhandforgediron.com), a small family firm making high-end artisan cookware forged by cheerful blacksmiths clanging away out back.
Day 3: Columbus through Amish Country to Cleveland
Take US-62 East past sweet-smelling meadows, a covered bridge and the occasional horse-drawn Amish tricyclist or buggy to Berlin. Just before town, detour south about 2 miles to Miller’s Bakery for cheese tarts and doughnuts stuffed with in-season fruit jams (4250 Township Road 356; 330-893-3002). Berlin is likely clotted with tourists ogling the rural-themed souvenirs. The real action is further north at the Mt. Hope Auction, where Amish farmers bid and buy livestock. The arena’s competitive excitement is good fun to watch (mthopeauction.com). Cross the road to Mrs. Yoder’s Kitchen for a lunch of fried chicken, egg noodles and green beans served buffet style.