From the smallest blossom to the vast Lake Erie vistas, Ohio’s nature amazes. The state’s outdoor attractions appeal to all kinds of outdoor lovers with both leisurely farm experiences and more challenging nature hikes.
The Ohio outdoors allows group travelers scenic views and plenty of personal space. Whenever the time of year, these Ohio outdoor attractions ensure plenty of photo ops and unrestrained beauty.
Brukner Nature Center
Visitors can gaze into the bold eye of an eagle at the Brukner Nature Center in Troy. The 165-acre nature preserve houses animals that cannot be released into the wild, such as a bald eagles and coyotes. Groups can see more than 50 of these “wildlife ambassadors” at the center’s indoor and outdoor exhibits.
Wildlife also roams the property unfettered in the park’s protected ravines and pine forests. To spy some of these creatures, guests can walk on some of the preserve’s six miles of hiking trails.
The Treetop Bird Vista provides an all-season bird-viewing room at eye level with the birds. Inside the interpretive center, the room looks out over feeders where migrating and local birds frequently appear.
Typically, groups can book one-hour tours with naturalists to get up-close with a wildlife ambassador or take a hike.
The nature center also features rotating wildlife art exhibits, a nature-themed gift shop and an 1804 log house, which is known as the county’s oldest structure on its original site.
Miami County’s outdoor abundance goes far beyond the Brukner Nature Center. Groups also enjoy floating on the Great Miami River on rented kayaks or canoes. The Great Miami River Recreational Trail is another preferred natural getaway, with a 75-mile trail that connects communities in southwest Ohio. Groups can hike or bike the trail with pit stops for local shopping and dining along the route.
Carter Historic Farm
Hard times live on at the Carter Historic Farm in Bowling Green. Interactive programming, displays and special events allow visitors to relive the penny-pinching realities of a 1930s farm.
“We are a Depression-era living-history farm,” said Corinne Gordon, historic farm specialist for the Carter Historic Farm. “That time period was chosen because it is a really interesting time. Farming changed from needing large groups of men going to the farms each fall to using a threshing machine. That really changed how families interacted.”
The 80-acre farm depicts chores from the decade, such as washing clothes with an agitator and wringer, a difficult job that once took an entire day for many families. The farm’s programs also teach useful skills, such as cooking, canning, gardening, knitting and mending.
Farm implements from the ’30s often impress guests, since they were designed and built without the aid of computers. Animals, such as sheep, goats, chickens and friendly barn cats, also thrive on the farm.
The farm offers guided group tours through the farmhouse, a one-room schoolhouse and a garden.
“We can handle multiple classes, so we are used to dealing with a fair number of people,” said Gordon. “If we get information on the group coming, we can tailor the tour to their interests.”
Goodtime Lake Erie Island Cruises
Groups can sail on the Earth’s 10th-largest lake aboard Goodtime Lake Erie Island Cruises in Sandusky. The family-owned company offers groups daylong island-hopping cruises for sightseeing or a meal.
Cruises run from May through October. The company’s primary vessel, Goodtime I, can accommodate 315 passengers. The Daytime Island Hopping Cruise features narration pointing out the history and landmarks of the local area. The all-day excursion visits Kelleys Island and Put-In-Bay, with time built in for passengers to explore both islands.
For some picturesque relaxation, the two-hour Sunset Bay Cruise includes live music, pizza and specials from the cash bar.
Groups wanting to explore the area by boat can also opt for the Jet Express, Miller Boatline and Kelleys Island Ferry. Once on the islands, groups can arrange golf carts or train transportation to visit the attractions or dine out. The Put-In-Bay Tour Train shuttles riders to some of the island’s inland attractions, including Heineman’s Winery and Crystal Cave, the Aquatic Visitors Center and Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial.
Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial commemorates the Battle of Lake Erie that took place near the site. The American victory was one of the most significant naval battles in the War of 1812.
On Kelleys Island, the Glacial Grooves attract the most visitors. The National Natural Landmark shows off one of the largest and most accessible examples of this geological phenomenon in the world.
Salt Fork State Park
Visitors keep their eyes open for giant, hairy creatures at Salt Fork State Park in Guernsey County. The park has recently received a lot of attention as a Bigfoot hot spot.
“There are a ton of sightings out there,” said Brenynn Mowery, regional marketing and sales coordinator for Great Ohio Lodges. “On a typical year, our naturalists will do Bigfoot night hikes. We have a sightings map that visitors can look at. That’s a cool opportunity for guests to experience.”
Though Bigfoot isn’t likely to make an appearance, groups can count on seeing forested hills, open meadows and a 3,000-acre lake at Ohio’s largest state park. The Sugar Tree Marina provides convenient access to the expansive Salt Lake with kayak, jet boat and pontoon boat rentals. Guided boat tours can also be arranged.
Groups can explore the park from the Salt Fork Lodge and Conference Center. The lodge boasts a 450-person meeting venue, a 148-room lodge and 53 cabins. Guests can take advantage of the lodge’s indoor and outdoor pool, as well as the Timbers Restaurant.
“We can cater a group’s meal, or they can visit our restaurant for typical American food,” said Mowery. “One of the most famous things on our menu is the Salt Fork pretzel. It is a pretzel with cream cheese. It is delicious. Everyone who has it is blown away.”
Though expansive, the park offers many ways to access nature, such as a 2,500-foot beach, one of the biggest inland beaches in Ohio. Other activities include a golf course, horseback riding, fishing, 14 hiking trails and the Kennedy Stone House Museum, a sandstone farmhouse restored to its 1840s appearance.
Visitors can watch the sky light up during a Lake Erie sunset in Lake County. East of Cleveland, the county manages Lake Metroparks, an impressive park system that ranges from lakeside beaches to forested retreats.
“Our county is by physical size the smallest county in Ohio,” said Neil Stein, executive director of the Lake County Visitor’s Bureau. “Our Lake Metroparks system has 35 parks. That is an amazing amount for the size of the county. We have 60 miles of trails through the different parks.”
Lake Erie Bluffs is one of the most popular of these parks because of its sunset views, lakeside trails and 50-foot coastal observation tower. The tower’s 360-degree views allow visitors to regularly spot bald eagles flying over the wetland, wood and lake habitats below.
Groups also enjoy the Fairport Harbor Lakefront, which was featured in Coastal Living as the best beach in Ohio. Guests can walk along a T-shaped wooden platform that provides an accessible path to the beach.
Youth groups can learn about farming and country life at Farmpark. The family-oriented science and cultural center educates visitors with live horses, cows, goats and other animals.
Travel planners can contact the Lake County Visitor’s Bureau to see which park would work best for their group.
Lake County also boasts one of the country’s largest arboretums and botanical gardens: the Holden Arboretum. The arboretum protects 3,000 acres of natural habitat and 600 acres of gardens.
Groups can climb the 120-foot-tall Emergent Tower for panoramic views. Standout gardens include the Display Garden, the Holden Wildflower Garden, the Layer Rhododendron Garden and the Holden Jr. Butterfly Garden.