CLEVELAND, Ohio – Increasing gas prices are expected to keep travelers closer to home this summer. Close to home, however, doesn’t have to mean staying home.
Regional, drive-to destinations, popular during the pandemic, are expected to continue to thrive this year, as inflation – affecting prices for gas, food and other vacation essentials – influences travel behavior.
Attractions throughout the easy-to-access Buckeye State are hoping to capitalize on the trend, with new activities and events designed to draw crowds this summer and beyond.
Need some fresh ideas for an Ohio-focused trip? We’ve got a dozen, including a new state park lodge, Kings Island’s 50th anniversary and a gorgeous Lake Erie lighthouse that’s celebrating a big birthday.
Here, then, as the calendar turns from March to April – a perfect time for vacation planning – we offer 12 close-to-home ideas.
Hocking Hills State Park Lodge
OK, it won’t be ready for summer, but the new lodge at Hocking Hills State Park is one of the most anticipated new attractions in all of Ohio this year. The lodge, expected to debut in the fall, replaces one that was destroyed by fire in 2016. Unlike the old lodge, which did not have overnight guestrooms, the new property will feature 81 rooms for overnight stays, the state’s most scenic state park .
The lodge will also feature a restaurant, two swimming pools, conference facilities and more.
The $40 million lodge is under construction on the same footprint as the previous building, just south of the park’s Old Man’s Cave area off Ohio 664. Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio’s most popular park, is famous for its dramatic rock formations, including Old Man’s Cave, Cedar Falls, Ash Cave, Cantwell Cliffs and Rock House.
Stephanie O’Grady, with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said the lodge is expected to open in early fall. Reservations should be available in the next couple of months, she said. For updates: ohiodnr.gov/go-and-do/plan-a-visit/find-a-property/hocking-hills-lodge
Meanwhile, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and TourismOhio has collaborated to create a new online guide to outdoor exploration, featuring a variety of Ohio trails – hiking, biking, mountain biking, water and bridle. For information: ohio.org/home/nature-trails
50th anniversary, Kings Island
Fifty years ago this month, Kings Island debut north of Cincinnati, with its one-third scale Eiffel Tower, Royal Fountain and Racer roller coaster. Fast forward five decades, and the park has numerous additions, subtractions, ownership changes and more, but still offers terrific family-friendly thrills in the hills of Southwest Ohio.
The park has numerous special events and attractions planned for the 2022 season, including an April 29 birthday party (the park’s actual anniversary) and the summerlong Golden Celebration festival, debuting Memorial Day Weekend, with new entertainment, themed food and fireworks. The park is also refurbishing and/or repainting several classic rides, including the 94-year-old Grand Carousel (which relocated to Kings Island from Cincinnati’s Coney Island in 1972), the Eiffel Tower, the Racer and the Beast.
The park opens to the public on April 16, with a passholder preview day on April 15. Information: visitkingsisland.com
New places to sleep at Cedar Point
Meanwhile, Cedar Point, Kings Island’s sister park in Sandusky, is completing work on two major hotel renovations that will debut this year.
First up: Castaway Bay, the tropical-themed resort at the entrance to the Cedar Point Causeway. The hotel and attached indoor waterpark closed in 2020 for renovations and are set to reopen this spring, with completely renovated rooms, rethemed public spaces and views of Sandusky Bay. The hotel is scheduled to reopen in late May, with rates starting at about $160 per night. Information: cedarpoint.com/resorts/castaway-bay
A few miles east, work continues on Sawmill Creek Resort, the lakefront property purchased by Cedar Point in 2019. The resort, closed since late 2019, is expected to reopen this summer, with 239 newly renovated rooms and public spaces. The property also includes an 18-hole golf course, marina, beachfront and more. Information: sawmillcreekresort.com
Marblehead Lighthouse bicentennial
Across Sandusky Bay from Cedar Point is Marblehead Lighthouse, which is celebrating its 200th birthday in 2022. Completed in late 1821 and officially lit on June 22, 1822, Marblehead is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse in the Great Lake., Fifty feet tall, white with a red top, the lighthouse still guides boats past the rocky shoreline of the Marblehead Peninsula.
The lighthouse became the centerpiece of the 9-acre Marblehead Lighthouse State Park in 1998, maintained by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The Coast Guard still operates the beacon.
The Marblehead Lighthouse Historical Society has numerous anniversary events planned for the summer, including concerts, exhibitions and other activities. For information: marbleheadlighthouseohio.org
Other anniversaries in 2022:
* The Armstrong Air and Space Museum is celebrating its 50th anniversary in Wapakoneta, the hometown of Neil Armstrong, the first man to step foot on the moon. The museum opened in July 1972, three years after Armstrong’s famous “giant leap for mankind.” The museum, about three hours west of Cleveland, plans an anniversary exhibit, speaker series and more. Information: armstrongmuseum.org
* “Tecumseh!” the outdoor drama that commemorates the efforts of the legendary Shawnee chief as he struggles to defend his Ohio homeland, is celebrating its 50th season this year. The show, which takes place at the Sugarloaf Mountain Amphitheater just north of Chillicothe, runs mid-June through early September. Information: tecumsehdrama.com
* Northeast Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is celebrating its 50th anniversary, as well, with the return of some favorite events and excursions, including Steam in the Valley, running May 13-15 and May 20-22. Information: cvsr.org.
Turning 100 this year is Ohio Stadium, aka the Horseshoe, which debut on Oct. 7, 1922, when the Buckeyes took on Ohio Wesleyan. For group tour information: ohiostadiumtours.com
Several small towns in Southern Ohio are celebrating the 200th birthday of Ulysses S. Grant, 18th president and Civil War hero, who was born in a one-room cottage on the Ohio River on April 27, 1822. The Grant Birthplace in Point Pleasant and the Grant Boyhood Home in Georgetown both have numerous events planned. Information: usgrant200.com, usgrantboyhoodhome.org
Nineteenth President Rutherford B. Hayes was also born in 1822. The Hayes Presidential Library & Museums in Fremont will celebrate the milestone with special events and activities starting in October. Information: rbhayes.org
And Schoenbrunn Village, founded in 1772 as a Christian mission among the Delaware Indians, will celebrate its 250th anniversary this year. Located in modern-day New Philadelphia, the recreated village plans numerous anniversary events starting in early May. Information: facebook.com/HistoricSchoenbrunnVillage
This year also marks the return of several big events that were canceled in recent years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Biggest Week in American Birding, which was canceled in 2020 and went virtual in 2021, will be back in person this year, May 6-15, at Maumee Bay State Park and other locations across Northwest Ohio (see biggestweekinamericanbirding.com). The Ohio State Fair also returns after a two-year absence, running July 27-Aug. 7 in Columbus. Information: ohiostatefair.com
Also in July, Sandusky will host the first of three Ironman 70.3 triathlon competitions, which feature a 1.2-mile swim in Sandusky Bay, a 56-mile bike ride through Erie County and a 13.1-mile run along the Lake Erie shore. The event runs July 24. Information: ironman.com/im703-ohio
Gas prices worry travelers
38% of travelers say rising gas prices will “greatly impact” their travel plans
34% will reduce the number of trips they take
33% will choose destinations closer to home
16% will drive instead of fly
Source: Longwoods International, based on a survey of 1,000 adults on March 16