A monthly guide to day trips in Ohio

Absolutely. Of course. Stay home. As much as humanly possible.

Leading up to writing this column, things have changed by the minute — and will likely change by the time you read this. I can’t possibly advise leaving your house. I don’t mean that sarcastically or in jest. Listen to science right now. But… cabin fever is inevitable, and social distancing in the wild can occur. 

As an educator, when our schools closed, I had faith that our unparalleled Columbus library system could assist. I was more than willing to set up shop at a desk at the Whetstone branch and help. Then the libraries closed.

I then thought it would be a great time for students to visit the mostly free sites the Ohio History Connection maintains throughout the state. I would have been more than happy to chaperone a field trip to the Neil Armstrong Museum or show how the wonders of aviation originated and evolved in Dayton. Then they all shuttered.

Now, you can’t take a perfectly solitary hike around the Great Serpent Mound in the middle of nowhere, Ohio. I can’t even advise checking in with local booksellers, record stores, restaurants, bars, craft brewers and vape stores unless you know their full contingency plan (but research their full contingency plan right now and consume if you can). Yesterday, this was going to be a guide to oddball bookstores around Ohio. But this is where we are.

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For now, I can only suggest completely safe destinations. Zoos, arcades, indoor water parks, bounce houses and sun bubbles are gone. So for this edition of Weekend Wanderlust, I’ve compiled a list of five “destinations” that ensure low-risk travel in a time of social distancing. And like most things going forward, this is an interactive article (i.e., make sure to click the links).

Virtual museums: Ohio and everywhere

It’s likely someone in your feed has shared an article that discusses how the best museums in the world have made their sites virtual. It's a practice that has been going on for years. Sure, tour the Rijsmuseum or Guggenheim, but know that many reputable and fascinating Ohio museums provide the same experience. The profound exhibit by Ethiopian artist Elias Sime at the Akron Art Museum can be accessed virtually, as can many other art museums in the state. You can visit the United States Air Force Museum in Dayton and the Ohio Craft Museum right here in Columbus. I’ve even started seeing guided tours with docents online, including at the Columbus Museum of Art. 

Google Street View: Ohio and everywhere

I’m convinced the greatest invention of the 21st century is GPS, and subsequently Google Maps. It’s a pretty useful compass, especially when touring multiple sites in rural and abandoned Ohio. I can’t guarantee Google Maps will work — it hasn’t when I’ve traveled too far off the grid — but try exploring a small town via Street View. 

My most recent virtual TripTik would reveal the majestic McLain High School in Greenfield, the World’s Largest Horseshoe Crab in Hillsboro or Mill Creek in Youngstown — the only Ohio park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. Just tooling around the state with this function uncovers myriad mysteries and mundane views. 

Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park: Hamilton

About an hour away and up a giant hill sits one of Ohio’s most underrated attractions. As of this writing, the privately owned Pyramid Hill has remained open. The place even reduced admission to $10 per car. The attraction’s ancient sculpture museum is currently closed, but at 300 acres, it’s the epitome of social distancing. You can see most of the grounds and the sculptures from the window of your vehicle. All schools and mediums of sculpture are represented on the grounds. When I visited the first time last summer, I could swear I was the only person there, so I don’t imagine many crowds these days. Make sure to drive to the final hill and vista, where you can enjoy a panorama of the entire park. Throughout there are trails and pathways that lead to all of the renowned sculptures. 

Portsmouth Floodwall Murals: Portsmouth

Portsmouth, Ohio, which sits due east of where the Scioto and Ohio rivers meet, is the definition of a river town. It has certainly seen better days. Massive flooding has always threatened and forced Portsmouth to continually rebuild — in 1884, in 1913 and the most destructive flood in 1937, after which the Army Corps of Engineers built a 20-feet-tall and 2,000-feet-long floodwall to prevent further catastrophe. It protects the once-thriving neighborhood of Boneyfiddle. There is some rebirth in Boneyfiddle, with a record store, some antique shops and a couple of breweries, but for the most part the thrill is touring the floodwall.

In 1992, the city enlisted Louisiana muralist Robert Dafford to paint each section of the wall in a way that tells the story of Portsmouth’s founding in 1803 to present day. Now with more than 60 separate murals, there are scenes depicting the pioneer days, the importance of the river to the region, dedications to hometown heroes Roy Rogers and Branch Rickey, the area’s nuclear energy industry and (my personal favorite) an entire portion dedicated to baseball greats who played their formative years in Scioto County. When you are finished, take a leisurely stroll on the wall’s opposite side along the mighty Ohio River. Though I can’t guarantee the place is open, get some carry-out burgers from Hickie’s in nearby New Boston.  

Greenlawn Cemetery: Columbus

It may be morbid in a time of pandemic, but western culture really needs to shake the taboo of honoring and even celebrating the dead. The advent of the “rural” cemetery was a direct counter to congregating en masse in our polluted city centers. Graveyards used to be the place where travelers went for fresh air, picnics and carriage rides. The most perfect place for social distancing. 

In his book Cemeteries, an authoritative tome on the subject, professor Keith Eggener likens a hike through a cemetery as an “intensification of knowledge and emotion,” and a place where there’s the “coming together of disparate states of life and death, nature and culture, where meetings of the past and future come to the fore.” 

Personally, I enjoy visiting cemeteries for their well-designed spaces and architecture. I also revel in commiserating with my dead heroes, be it leaving a pen on the grave of Jack Kerouac or sitting silently with Andy Warhol and admiring all of the brightly colored tchotchkes placed on and around his stone. 

Columbus has the second oldest of the “rural” Ohio cemeteries in Greenlawn, which houses several Civil War veterans and Ohio politicians, not to mention infamous residents like Samuel Prescott Bush (great-grandfather of our 43rd president). But it’s also home to writer and humorist James Thurber (who has a modest grave that’s particularly hard to find) and aviator Eddie Rickenbacker. Once you start exploring the cemetery’s endless plots, go on a deeper dive via one of my favorite sites, Find A Grave, where you’ll discover an even greater appreciation for Ohio history. In a day trip you could visit with Marvin “Flippo the Clown” Fishman, cartoonist Harry James Westerman and checkers champion and mathematician Marion Franklin “Two Ton” Tinsley. 

Other impeccable and historic “rural” cemeteries in the state include Woodland Cemetery in Dayton, Spring Grove in Cincinnati and Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland, where you’ll find President James Garfield.  

Bonus round

If you’re starving in the time of social distancing, I can suggest a Burger Tour (mapped in the link) of western Ohio. Just be sure to research each restaurant’s carryout options.