Weekend Wanderlust: The best treks for a COVID winter

Kevin J. Elliott
Temple of Tolerance

I certainly would never lament about the difficulties of writing a travel column in the middle of a pandemic. I’m lucky to have that privilege. Travel is neither a right nor a luxury right now, depressingly so. Is it ever?  I can’t cross a bridge to Windsor, Canada, to tryits distinctive style of pizza. It’s a difficulty to go to Michigan. There’s no precedent. I can barely leave the county, let alone the country.

That said, in the downtime I’ve traveled more than 2,000 miles through Ohio this year, in my aging Toyota, without leaving my COVID comfort zone. I’m not traveling in fear, either. I’m touching the expanse of Mt. Vernon, Fremont and Utopia without human contact. 

I suppose my worst offense was sitting in a used bookstore in Lancaster for too long in July, but it was just me and the owner. (I found an autographed copy ofBlue Highways there.) Or getting take-out at theMidway Oh Boy, which specialize in a vintage, Big Boy-esque burger,in pursuit of an abandoned mall. Or maybe seeing the anti-science wonder of Amish-Disneyland in Berlin, Ohio, and getting right back in my car. I’ve certainly donesome travelling. 

Regardless, most of this year, I’ve built Weekend Wanderlust to be flexible, outside and away from people— at least for now. I’m confident I’ve steered readers towards safe excursions and environments. In compiling a “best trips” list, or at least a list of “things you could do during your break,” I’ve considered sites and activities that call for fresh air and social distancing. 

Cambridge’s Dickens Victorian Village

This column was technically from December 2019, but the Dickensian mannequins of Cambridge remain in 2020. The awkwardly charming displays are completely outside, in the fresh air, and socially distanced. When I visited on an early Saturday this time last year, there were very few souls on the street. Should you need a snack, Kennedy’s Bakery is the spot, masked and quick. Should you visit at night, the Guernsey County Courthouse is a cornucopia of Christmas lights set to a musical program.  

Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park 

I’m not one who searches out Christmas lights. But in a time of staying in your bubbles, it seems appropriate as a form of adventure. 

I’ve spoken extensively about Pyramid Hill, a large tract of beautiful Ohio land north of Hamilton. It has survived as a giant, private, completely distanced art museum, and continues to be an all-season attraction withJourney Borealis, a drive-thru survey of the park, with its prestigious sculptures alight, as well as other holiday displays. 

And though I’ve had my personal quips with the political landscape of my hometown, Troy, it has a traditional penchant for celebrating the Christmas season best exemplified by theHoliday Lights at Lost Creek

Should you want the most extreme war on/for Christmas in Miami County, there’s no better placethan this corner in Piqua

Worden’s Ledges

When the pandemic hit, my prime objective was to go where there was no one. We started in the Metroparks, but too many people had the same idea. We moved on to state nature preserves, and those became the best refuge. Just Google Map “nature preserve” and head toward whatever comes up. But should you go one place for pure natural magic, Worden’s Ledges checks all of the boxes.

On the southern edge of Cleveland Metroparks’Hinckley Reservation sits the Worden’s Ledges Loop Trail. Though it’s slightly less than a mile, it may take several trips to find all of the magic hiding in plain sight, including the whimsical carvings of Noble Stuart, son-in-law of Frank Worden, who owned the land in the 1940s. Within the cliffs, you can also find carvings of George Washington, Ty Cobb, a crucifix, a sphinx and, most notably, an homage to Worden himself, who seemingly overlooks the wilds of the forest beyond.

Temple of Tolerance

Of course, I can’t recommend the Neil Armstrong Museum in good conscience. I wonder if it is relatively safe with a lack of visitors. It’s a fantastic visit when it’s safe to return. I want all museums to survive. If a place like the Thurber House is no longer around, what are we saying of culture?  Still, explore at your own risk. 

But Jim Bowsher’s earthly wonder, the Temple of Tolerance, is hypothetically open forever. In the decade I’ve explored the Temple, I’ve never had an issue, in regard to time, season or temperament. In fact, deep February, or anytime in winter, really, when Bowsher’s cold, hard stones become the base focus and the foliage is bare, might be the best time to visit.

Worden's Ledges