Visiting Knox County, Ohio with or without kids

Don’t put Knox in a box (or Baby in the corner, for that matter)

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Knox County is often overlooked. It’s 45 + minutes from Columbus to Knox County’s seat in Mount Vernon and over 90 minutes from Cleveland.  But  don’t let the drive stop you.  You may not realize that Knox is home to a glam hotel, a hip liberal arts college (or 2) and numerous hiking and biking opportunities.  Here’s just a few things to check out for yourself:

Mt. Vernon downtown

Centered around a roundabout (or maybe more of a square-about), the Mt Vernon Square hosts a weekly farmer’s market on Saturday mornings.  Beyond that time, you’ll find antique shops, restaurants, and an excellent coffee shop.  The Happy Bean has a warm, industrial feel.  I could have stayed here all day. Can someone design my kitchen to look like this?  I digress:

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Explore further

After your caffeine jolt, head to the new Ariel-Foundation Park.  Not far from downtown, the park sits on 250 acres on the site of the former Pittsburgh Plate Glass manufacturing plant.  The landscaping is not something you’re used to- pieces of metal were refurbished to make sculptures and crush glass serves as a mulch-like substitute.  The Rastin Observation Tower is not for those afraid of heights, but 224 steps later, you’ll have a sweet view of Mount Vernon and beyond.  We’ll have to come back on a day when the weather is more cooperative!

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Further to the east towards Gambier is the Brown Family Environmental Center.  The center, run by Kenyon College, is full of educational opportunities for young and old as it includes a Butterfly garden, a 7-acre prairie, and 8 miles of hiking trails.  Our kids learned some new things in the nature center (and C petted a taxidermied squirrel- weird).  The seesaw was also a hit with my family as well as my niece and nephew.  There’s something about a natural play area to bring out the little child in the biggest of kids.

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At this point, you’re just south of Kenyon College, so pop in and check out the historic campus.  If the college was good enough for U.S. President Rutherford B Hayes and actor Paul Newman, it’s good enough for us lowly folk.  Ha!

Continue even further east (Take 229 to SR 62 E) and head towards the small (and I mean, small) town of Millwood.  Lying southeast of Millwood is a gem in the woods-Honey Run Waterfall.  The only waterfall of its kind in Knox County, and managed by the Knox County Park District, there is a hiking trail here and also access to the falls from the Kokosing River (I tried to convince the hubs this is another reason we need a kayak, but NO GO).

The rocks can be slippery, make sure the kiddos have proper footwear.  Our tennis shoes worked just fine, but swim-type shoes would be best.  The water is cold, but in the heat of summer this is a great place to cool off.

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After all of that climbing, hiking, swimming and learning- you’ll be ready to head back to Mt Vernon for a little pampering.

I spent one night at the Mount Vernon Grand Hotel and it was surprisingly luxurious for small-town Ohio.  Tiled showers, pillowtop beds, and in-room Keurig coffeemakers make you feel like you’re in a big city boutique.  Mr. YT gave me a night away for Mother’s Day (good job!!), so I was here sans kids, but I did see a baby and some tweens in the breakfast room.  That said, my room only had a shower, so if you’re taking a baby or toddler you may want to call ahead and confirm you’ll have a tub.    If you’re not taking the kids, take the hubby and request a king bed!  Ahhh! Ha!  We might do this for our coming-soon-anniversary-date.

Need somewhere for dinner?  I dined at the Alcove Restaurant.  It’s a Mount Vernon classic- they’ve been in business over 100 years!  I filled up on one of the best cheeseburgers and slice of peanut butter pie that I’ve ever eaten (holy calories!)- and talked extensively to my Aussie waiter (then texted my husband to remind him I’m still up for a move to Oz).  The decor is a little dated, but you’re there for the food- enjoy it!

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Have you been to Knox County or Mount Vernon, Ohio?  What’s your favorite hiking spot or restaurant?

 

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5 free things to do in Columbus, Ohio with kids

Columbus, Ohio is a great city for young families because it has to cater to its own demographics!  Those aged 25-34 make up 17% of the city’s population, so you know that where there are young couples, there are usually young children!  

Columbus boasts of its diverse neighborhoods, great festivals, and a love for the arts.  However, concerts and festivals can end up costing a family a lot of money!  I’ve compiled a list of 5 FREE things you can do to enjoy this city with your kids, without spending any of your hard-earned cash.

#1  Take a Walk Through Historic German Village

German Village is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Largely settled by German immigrants, this area  of Columbus became heavily populated between 1840 and 1914- It was a place where German was spoken and streets and landmarks were named after Germany and its people.  

After a long period of decline,brought on by anti-German sentiment during the First World War and the closing of local breweries during Prohibition, restoration began in the 1960s.

What you’ll experience now is brick, tree-lined streets and small cafes and restaurants (and also, a Starbucks!).  

If your children are older, this may be a great place to take them when they’re learning about WWI.  For our young children, we focused on enjoying the quaint streets and feeling like we’d stepped in Europe when we were only 40 minutes from home.

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#2  Enjoy Columbus’ many parks

Columbus has many grassy spaces reserved for playing, picnicking, or taking a leisurely wander.  Topiary Park is just east of downtown, yet you’ll feel miles away from the city, like you stepped into a life-sized Monet painting. The space is great for reading a book while the baby sleeps or watching the older ones throw a frisbee.  

Schiller Park in the aforementioned German Village has a nice playground to keep little and big kids busy while you enjoy the architecture of the stately brick homes that surround the park.

 Columbus also has plenty of MetroParks spread throughout the many suburbs of the city.  The closest one to downtown is Scioto Audubon.  Located on the banks of the Scioto River, older children and teenagers will enjoy the obstacle course or outdoor rock climbing wall.

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#3  Tour Ohio’s Statehouse

Ohio’s state capital building was completed in 1861 and has a wild past as to how it came to completion  (including prison labor!).  Free tours are offered daily.  What a great way to teach your children state AND national history.  There’s also a museum, gift shop, and cafe.

#4  Enjoy the Columbus Commons on a Friday during summer

The Columbus Commons is new green space created after the City Center mall was torn down.  This area not only hosts concerts, it also provides a free place to spend your summer Friday lunch hour.  Each Friday from 10-1 is Commons for Kids.  Whirl around on the Carousel, jump in the bounce house, or do craft and art projects provided by local vendors.  If you’re lucky, you may catch a visit from the traveling van of the Columbus Zoo.  

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#5  Take a sensory-loving stroll through the North Market

Fresh flowers, aged cheese, and savory sweets.  Ok, so it’s free in theory but you may end up dropping a few bucks after you decide you MUST take home that bag of coffee (and maybe a few chocolates for your Mom stash).

Check out the events calendar before leaving home and remember that the Farmer’s Market takes place on Saturdays.  Located just south of the Short North district, afterward there is even more for the eye to behold by window shopping on North High Street.

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I hope these 5 places urge you to explore more of Cbus.  Have you been to any?  Maybe you have more to add to the list?

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5 Favorite Spots within Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Cuyahoga Valley National Park did not disappoint.  Since we live in Central Ohio, I’ve been attracted to Hocking Hills, but I think CVNP has created some serious competition for Hocking.  Only established in 2000, Cuyahoga Valley National Park lies between two of Ohio’s largest cities, Akron and Cleveland.  I think much of its appeal is that the park is easily accessible from many major roads and highways…and you’re never more than 20 minutes away from a Starbucks or McDonalds.  #Merica.  😉 It really feels like you’re in someone’s backyard, not out in the middle of nowhere.

We visited with our kids, but these 5 favorite spots could work for old and young:

Deep Lock Quarry

Located within the National Park jurisdiction, but managed by the Summit Metro Parks, Deep Lock Quarry is named because the park contains the deepest lock on the Ohio-Erie canal.  The early quarry provided rocks for the canal locks, later this sandstone was used to make millstones to remove the outer hulls of oats (i.e. Quaker Oats).  I’m a sucker for history, so I enjoyed the walk even more thinking about how things would have been back when the canal and the milling were open for business.  We did use our stroller on the trail, but we only walked back to the quarry steps and turned around, we didn’t make the full loop.

The Deep Lock Quarry park runs right next to the Towpath Trail, however, no bikes are permitted on the Quarry Trail.

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Virginia Kendall State Park Historic District aka The Ledges

Southeast of Deep Lock Quarry is The Ledges.  Oh my, this was my favorite of the favorites.  If you’re looking for a place to wow the kids or overseas visitors, I would take them here.  The little ones were sleeping so my husband stayed back and Jackson and I did a shortened version of the trail.  So worth it!  The Civilian Conservation Corp did much of the works here in the 1930s and the way they made things blend into nature- I swooned over this sandstone staircase.

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Kids (and adults) will love exploring the moss-covered rocks and ancient rock formations.  I felt transported to somewhere mysterious like Angkor Wat, the jungles of far-off lands seemingly placed in Northeast Ohio.

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Perspective.

 

Boston Store Visitor Center/Blue Hen Falls/Brandywine Falls

Ok, so this is technically three areas, not one, but they are all within a short drive.

We began our first day at the Boston Store Visitor Center.  The Center will provide you with a park map, Rangers are on staff to answer questions, and they have a small display on some of the Ohio-Erie Canal history (a better one is at the Canal Observation Center).  From the Boston Store to Blue Hen Falls is a short drive and the Blue Hen Falls hike is less than one mile.  This trail is hilly and unpaved, but you could do it with a jogging-type stroller.  I saw a woman push her son in a wheelchair (you go, momma).

Blue Hen Falls isn’t massive, but it’s pretty.  There’s a park bench overlooking the waterfall and if I didn’t have three kids – one trying to convince me to hike down into the falls, one trying to jump off every rock in the vicinity, and one trying to climb the barrier fence- I’d totally sit here and contemplate life.  Ha!

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Next is the park’s showstopper, Brandywine Falls.  With a 60+ foot drop, Brandywine is the second largest waterfall in Ohio.  This area was chockablock full of tourists, but still worth the stop.  My favorite part was the walkway TO the falls- the boardwalk is suspended from the stone cliffs.

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Canal Exploration Center

The name gives it away, but this is the spot along the Towpath Trail where you can stop and learn all about the Ohio-Erie Canalway.  I’ve visited old locks at places like Blackhand Gorge in Licking County, yet this museum helped me realize how absolutely NOTHING I understood about the canal, how the locks worked, or even the role of the canal in shipping goods from NYC all the way to the Mississippi River.  Waa waaa.

We made it a point to stop in during a lock demonstration, and they even let our boys (and man) help out.  Check the National Park Service event guide to see when these demonstrations are happening- the volunteers do a fantastic job!

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The lesson may have been lost on Jackson, who thought the dots on Buffalo, Cleveland, Cincinnati, New York, and New Orleans were meant to mark the Bills, Browns, Bengals, Giants, and Saints. Ha!

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Bedford Reservation

Last on my list of favorite spots is Bedford Reservation which is managed by the Cleveland Metroparks.  Our family hiked the short route to Bridal Veil falls and also visited the overlook to Tinkers Creek Gorge.  This was an easily hike for the kids as the way to the Creek is a large wooden staircase, not as steep hill.  That said though, leave the stroller behind!  It was difficult to see much from the Overlook, as every tree is full of green foliage.  I’d make a point to come here in October and enjoy the fall colors.

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Get thyself to Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  Grab some water bottles, some good shoes, and take the kids or your grandma.  You won’t regret it.

More info:

As noted, most of these areas would be difficult with a stroller because of the rough terrain or numerous stairs.  Try taking a hiking backpack.  We did use the stroller at the Canal Observation Center because it provided some shade and rest during the Lock Demonstration.

You could do most of these highlights in one day.  Because of the ages of our kids and our driving time of 2 hours, we broke our visit into two days and stayed one night in the Akron area at the Residence Inn by Marriott Fairlawn.  We love Residence Inns because they have a separate bedroom and living area and offer a free hot breakfast.

The Towpath Trail runs through the heart of CVNP and is a biker’s dream.  Bikes can be rented in Peninsula and can also be taken on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park website HERE

 

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5 family-friendly places to enjoy the beauty of Lake Erie

Lake Erie may be the smallest of the five Great Lakes, but it still contains 871 miles of shoreline for families to enjoy!  Ohio is blessed to have this body of water as our northern border, and here are 5 family-friendly places in Ohio to enjoy all that Lake Erie has to offer.

Cedar Point – Sandusky, OH

Older children will think you’re the best mom or dad around when you spend some time whizzing down roller coasters right on “America’s Roller Coast.”  Cedar Point is known throughout the world for its tall and fast coasters– so why not spend the day enjoying the view of the sparkling waters of Lake Erie before you drop 310 feet from the Millennium Force or as you climb the first hill of the World’s Longest wing coaster, the Gatekeeper?  There’s something for all ages- and if you’re too fearful of a speedy coaster, you can see the lake just fine from the Giant Wheel.

My review of the Hotel Breakers at Cedar Point

Vermilion, OH

Vermilion is a quaint, seaside community that has something for old and young alike.  Parents and grandparents will enjoy the antique and speciality shops, while younger ones will be excited by boats, the beach,  and giant root beer floats at the old soda fountain found inside the Main Street Soda Grill.  The historic downtown was settled in 1837 which makes families feel as if they are strolling through a New England settlement, not a town just 45 minutes from Cleveland.  Dad and kids can swing at Exchange Park while mom shops the afternoon away, and after dinner catch a beautiful sunset from Main Street Park (while a replica lighthouse adds to the ambiance).  Holiday Inn Vermilion

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Vermilion at sunset. Credit: Alex Tornero

Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve- Huron, OH

Sheldon Marsh is a playground for wildlife and bird watching.  A one-mile paved trail (great for strollers) leads you to a pristine view of Lake Erie, but don’t get too focused on making it to the beach: enjoy the cattail marsh, the chipmunks scouring for food, and the stillness of the herons before they take flight.  A shell-covered beach and peaceful view are worth the long walk.  No swimming is allowed here, but you’ll make plenty of memories just playing in the sand.

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Headlands State Park- Mentor, OH

Headlands State Park in Lake County is the perfect spot to bring a blanket and swimsuit and relax a summer day away.  The mile-long sand beach is the longest in Ohio and when the kids are bored of building castles you could drop a line in for some fishing or take a walk down the Buckeye Trail.  The Buckeye Trail is a paved, handicap accessible trail, so bring your stroller and sweat off all of the treats consumed while picnicking.  Only 40 minutes east of downtown Cleveland, the park is just a quick drive from the fast-paced city.

Marblehead Lighthouse- Marblehead, OH
Driving into Marblehead with the kids will make you think one thing “I want a few days here.”  The downtown district is full of pubs, restaurants, and craft shops, but you’ll pass it all as you head to the Lighthouse.  The Marblehead Lighthouse not only stands out for its beauty and idyllic setting, it is the oldest lighthouse in continuous operation on all of the Great Lakes.  Built in 1821 on the limestone shore, the 1880 Keeper’s cottage still stands and now houses a museum for the lighthouse.  You are able to climb the stairs to the top of the lighthouse, but hours are seasonal and tickets sell quickly.  Arrive early!  As if watching sailboats and barges go by isn’t enough for your kids, they can gaze longingly at Cedar Point Amusement Park- just 6 miles away.  If I didn’t convince you enough, they’ll be ready to head there next.  🙂

Hotels near Marblehead

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Have you been to any of these destinations?  What are you adding to your Summer Bucket List?

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A day in Hocking Hills- with kids

When I think of clifftop vistas, cascading waterfalls and well-groomed hiking travels, my mind travels to the mountains of Virginia or Washington.  Then a still small voice hears Dorothy say, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home” and I remember that I can have all of these in just a few hours drive- in the hills of southeast Ohio.  Hocking Hills is the second-most visited place in all of Ohio, and my family traveled there a few months ago with our small children, aged 5, 3, and 1 to once again prove that hiking IS for amateurs– as long as they have a mother’s hand to hold!

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The Hocking Hills region is perfect for day trips from Columbus and even Cincinnati, so pack a picnic lunch and enjoy some quiet family time.  After peanut butter and jelly fingers were wiped, our first hike was the Rock House.  I hadn’t been here since college and my husband had never been.  I think this is where the saying, “ignorance is bliss” came from!  This is a steep trail and that is suspended on the side of a cliff.   Mothers of littles, this is not for the faint of heart!  

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The Rock House is the only true cave in the Hocking Hills region and it is located on the side of a 150-foot cliff.  Stone stairs allow you to access the cave.  Our little boys loved the echo their little voices could create, as well as the relative darkness to sneak around  (not that they could ignore their hysterical mother yelling, “stay away from the edge!”.  We were also happy to not find any bootlegger, robbers, or horse thieves in the cave, as local folklore suggests this cave used to be home to,  you’ll only need to deal with mosquitos and other tourists.

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The inside of Rock House. Blurry because I’m shouting while taking photos.

The total trail is about ½ mile but with a steep descent and ascent it may feel like more for little legs.  Bring plenty of water on a hot day, you will need it!

The kids needed a break and this mama needed a less-stressful trail, so our next stop was Ash Cave.  Ash Cave is the largest recess cave east of the Mississippi and the grandeur of it is not overlooked by children or their parents.  Ash Cave gets its name from the piles of ashes that were sitting in the cave when it was “discovered.”  It is presumed that Native Americans lived in this cave for some time and the ashes were built up from their frequent fires.  

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I spy my little family in Ash Cave.

The Ash Cave trail is only ½ mile and is fully paved and wheelchair and stroller accessible.  I’ve been here in the middle of winter and the trail is open, just slippery.  The trail begins as what appears to be a gentle walk through a hemlock forest past streams and rock walls, and then it opens to a massive cave with a rim of almost 700 feet wide and 90 feet high!

The floor of Ash Cave is sandy!  I saw a little boy here with his trucks and diggers and I was so sad that we didn’t think to bring some toys for our construction-obsessed 3 yr old!  This could be a great way to entertain your children while the adults take in the majesty of the cave.  

Ash Cave has a waterfall, but we visited on a particularly dry week and it was more of a trickle.  The boys really wanted to play in the waterhole, but they now ask that visitors do not swim or play as the area is not monitored.  

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Here are my 4 top tips for Hocking Hills:

  1. Pack as much food, bug spray, water, etc as you think you will need and then add more.  The closest full service store is a WalMart and it is over 30 minutes away from the region.
  2. Stay on the trails!  The best walks for kids are the Ash Cave trail or the Conkles Hollow lower trail.  If you see the name “Rim Trail” be wary of taking small children because the cliffs are steep!  We hiked many of these trails before having kids and I didn’t even like my husband being that close to the edge!  Sadly, there are usually a few deaths in the park every year due to falls.
  3. Toilets are few and far between- and they are usually in the form of Portapotties or drop toilets.  Bring plenty of hand sanitizer and wipes- potty training just got even ickier! 😉
  4. Frozen fans, unite!  Hocking Hills is beautiful in winter, too.  We went this past January on an unseasonably warm day (50 degrees, yes!) and the kids kept asking if they would see Elsa because of the many ice formations.

 

Have you been to Hocking Hills?  What’s your favorite trail/area?  



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Wahkeena Nature Preserve with Kids

This past fall a girlfriend and I packed up our kids and visited Wahkeena State Nature Preserve, the perfect day-trip for anyone in Central Ohio.  Located just south of Lancaster in Fairfield County, the Preserve is ljust on the northern edge of the Hocking Hills region.  Wahkeena is the Native American word for “Most beautiful.”  The unassuming vegetation of this area really is beautiful.

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There are 2-3 different trails at Wahkeena.  These are short in length and fairly easy for children.  Watch for the local wildlife though! #Notafanofthisguy

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There is no handicap-accessible route, so don’t plan on taking a stroller.  I carried our littlest in the hiking backpack.  This worked well except for the wetland boardwalk.  Two little boys on a moving boardwalk…hmmm…you can imagine! 😉

The Visitor Center is a must-see.  There are taxidermied animals (a little creepy), and real ones!  There are also fantastic diagrams showing how many bears, bobcats, etc have been spotted throughout Ohio.  Interesting, and a little frightening!  For ages 6-10 this would be the perfect place for a science lesson on habitats and environments.

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The kids’ favorite part of the day was this barred owl.  He is kept at the Preserve due to an injury he sustained when he was hit by a car.  Owls are so majestic, the kids really enjoyed watching him.

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Have you been to Wahkeena Nature Preserve?  It would be a great pit stop on your way to Hocking Hills from Columbus.  I think we’ll go back in a few years once my younger kids children understand a bit more.

More information

There is no designated picnicking spot.  We packed some sandwiches and ate them in the parking lot.  Lancaster is only 15 minutes away, where you’ll find many eating out options.

Want to try another hike?  Check out Shallenberger Nature Preserve.

Wahkeena State Nature Preserve is administered by the Ohio History Connection and managed locally by the Fairfield County Historical Society.  You can see the OHS website HERE.

For a more thorough review with up-to-date hours and schedules, on of the employees of Wahkeena keeps a blog HERE.

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3 FREE places to take your family within one hour of Amish Country, Ohio

i.e. What to do when the kids have had enough of crafts, quilts, and Amish

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Mohican State Forest with just the beginning of fall color.

Once you’ve petted the farm animals, ridden a wagon past the exotic animals, and tasted enough cheese to to make the French jealous, your kids may be sick of Holmes County.  While Amish Country has gotten more family-friendly in the past 10+ years,  the kids may get anxious for more than primitive decor and baked goods.

Never fear!  I’ve made a list of 3 places to engage your kids again.  A picnic (with the perfect Swiss cheese, of course!) to any of these spots will get them out of their slump:

1.  Secrest Aboretum, Wooster, OH

Walk among the blooming flowers or falling leaves, eat your lunch in the shade, then conquer the giant slide.  If you have little ones, the paths are perfect for bringing the stroller to burn off some of those family-style meals you have enjoyed. 🙂

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Teenagers or toddlers- everyone will enjoy this slide!

2. Mohican State Park and Forest, near Loudonville, OH

Just to the west of Holmes County is a state forest with cascading waterfalls, ancient rock formations, and a fire tower climb that is NOT for the faint of heart.  We like to park near the  covered bridge and hike the Big Lyons trail.  When you come through Holmes County on SR 39 west, be sure to stop at Harvey’s farm market near Nashville and pick up some fresh produce for your picnic.

Knox Co 4Honey Run waterfall near Howard, OH

Recently acquired by the local park district, this 25-foot waterfall and adjacent hiking trail are popular among locals.  The creek bed is a nice place to cool off on a hot day, but the surrounding colorful foliage makes for a fun daytrip in the fall.  If you’re coming to Holmes County from Columbus, this is the perfect place to stretch that isn’t too far off of SR 62.  (More to do in Knox County HERE)

 

Have you been to Amish Country before?  Did your kids enjoy it?  Have you been to any of these places?  

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