Spring break season is just around the corner, and while it may seem a bit hard to imagine — given our current winter weather — Ohio does have quite a few places to explore during your week off.
1. Butler County Donut Trail
Ever wanted an excuse to drive around and eat donuts? Well, now you have one. Butler County’s website maps out the best shops for your sugar-craving needs. Stops include The Donut Shop and Jupiter’s Coffee & Donuts in Fairfield and several shops in Hamilton. Fabled flavors include Maple Bacon, S’mores and Fruity Pebbles.
2. Ohio’s Small Town Museum
Need a weekend break from city-life? Ohio’s Small Town Museum in Ashville shows off the quaint and quirky side of small town life, including historic handbills, photographs and artifacts from the local train depot. Founded in 1975, their collection has only continued to grow as families in the area have donated their own findings to the group’s cause. Regular hours are Tues. thru Friday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
3. The Shawshank Trail
This driving tour, which includes 14 different filming locations for the iconic movie Shawshank Redemption is only a day-trip away from downtown. While you’re there, be sure to tour the haunted Mansfield Reformatory — better known as the Shawshank State Prison. Maybe you’ll even be brave enough to stay overnight? The trail itself is free; admission to the Reformatory is $12 for self-guided, $10 for students with valid ID, and guided tours for $17 or $15 with ID. Availability is subject to change; check http://www.mrps.org/ for more information and to plan your visit.
4. Ohio Caverns
Beneath rolling farmland and cow pastures, the Ohio caverns sit in Champaign, stalactites and stalagmites glistening in the cool 54-degree air. A daytrip from Cleveland, the caverns boast an impressive two miles worth of twists and turns, between 30 and 103-ft deep. The guided winter tour, available through April 1, is one mile long, taking close to an hour to complete and costs $17 for adults.
One of the largest, convoluted of Ohio’s ghost towns, Helltown — and the legends that surrounds the area outside of Boston Mills in Summit County — has attracted ghost hunters and cult enthusiasts since its resident’s exile in the mid-80s. Legends include a satanic cult worshiping in the local church, a crybaby bridge and several dead-end roads to hell. While all of these can be easily explained away, that hasn’t deterred visitors to conduct their own ghost hunts. If you’re interested, be aware that the Summit County Sheriff does not take kindly to trespassers and that the residents’ right to privacy should be respected.
6. Gore Orphanage
Now a low-budget indie horror film, Gore Orphanage in Vermillion has been a host to a vast number of sightings. The legend goes that an orphanage was built over 150 years ago by an Indiana couple. Surrounded by other legends, including its own crybaby bridge and Swift’s Hallow, the Orphanage was burned to the ground sometime in the late 1800s to early 1900s. Suspects included “Old Man Gore” — owner of the orphanage, trying to collect insurance money — a disgruntled employee, an escaped mental patient who lived in the woods and hated children, or a lantern being accidentally knocked over. Whatever it was, the building was engulfed quickly, according to legend, none of the children escaped the terrible inferno. Multiple accounts in the woods where the building once stood include hearing heavy footsteps, doors creaking and the smell of burning wood and flesh. Enter the area if you dare, you never know what might follow you home.
7. The Lucky Cat Museum
A weekend trek down to Cincinnati can take you to one of the cutest museums possible. The Maneki Neko or Lucky Cat Museum boasts over 700 of the traditional statues in various forms and sizes. Tours are by appointment only on Mondays and Wednesdays, with free admission — though donations are greatly appreciated. And who knows, all that luck in one place may just rub off on you.
8. Loveland Castle
Built by eccentric medieval enthusiast Harry Andrews in Loveland, the “Chateau Laroche” was built after Andrew’s retirement 1/5th the size of its historic counterparts. Made from cement bricks formed in
thousands of milk cartons, the castle is now run by the “Knights of the Golden Trail,” after Andrew’s accidental death. An added bonus beyond the architectural marvel, the castle is rumored to be haunted, including three different entities that move throughout the grounds. Winter tour hours run through April — Saturdays and Sundays only, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., $5 admission for adults.