Columbus offers a wealth of things to do, but sometimes you just want to escape the confines of the big (or medium-sized) city and hit the open highways of America. From Bruce's "Thunder Road" to the Black Keys' "Gotta Get Away," there's a reason why some of the best rock songs are about road trips. Put simply, they rule.
A quick road trip from Ohio's capital city can take you to some amazing locales in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Michigan or Indiana in under 3 hours. There's something to be said for being centrally located!
Get your snacks and playlist ready and buckle up for adventure. Here are 16 of the best spontaneous day trips from Columbus. We're pullin' outta here to win.
Driving Distance: 2 hours from Columbus
Oglebay Resort is perfect for a family outing or a romantic getaway with your S/O. Golf, horseback riding, mountain biking, swimming and an aerial challenge course are just a few of the activities available here. There's even a zoo with endangered species.
The holidays are a wonderful time to visit thanks to the Winter Festival of Lights. This is one of the nation's largest light shows and features hundreds of acres of electric splendor over a 6.5 mile drive.
Driving Distance: 3 hours from Columbus
Bring your finest hat and a thirst for mint julips when you visit the world's most famous horse track. The site of the Kentucky Derby and so much more, Churchill Downs is a bucket list location for any racing fan, or party scene enthusiast. It's also hosting the 2018 Breeder's Cup. After the racing season concludes in late November, tours of the track are available year round and you can also visit the Kentucky Derby Museum.
Driving Distance: 1 hour 10 minutes from Columbus
Plunge deep under the earth to discover this not-so-hidden gem in West Liberty, Ohio. The 35-acre park is one of Ohio's top tourist attractions and offers several different tours through its awe-inspiring labyrinth.
These stunning, stalagmite covered caves were formed thousands of years ago when an underground river cut through miles of limestone rock. No matter the outside weather conditions, the caverns remain a balmy 54 degrees year round, a marked improvement over the average winter day in Ohio. Just don't wander off!
Driving Distance: 3 hours from Columbus (with no traffic)
Tired of the Ohio State scene? Why not travel to another great American college town and go behind enemy lines? In addition to being the Big Ten rival, it is the home of one of the more picturesque campuses you'll ever see.
Driving Distance: 2 hours 45 minutes from Columbus
Head straight west on I-70 and you'll find yourself in Indianapolis in no time... well, about 3 hours to be more exact. Indiana's capital has been a city on the rise for a few years now, with a revitilized downtown area. From new theatres and restaurants to boutique shops and art galleries, things are changing fast. And, of course, people travel from all over the world to visit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the Indy 500.
Driving Distance: 1.5 hours from Columbus
If you've got the need for speed, look no further than the National Air Force Museum in Dayton. The museum features a high flying collection of rare and historic aircraft, from the Wright Brothers first Military Flyer to present day fighter jets. The Presidential Gallery features several planes used by Kennedy, Truman and Johnson. And in the World War 2 gallery you'll find the legendary Memphis Bell, which flew 25 missions over Europe and helped turn the tide in the war.
Driving Distance: 1 hour from Columbus
Hocking Hills is perhaps the most scenic of all the state parks in Ohio. Whether you're into camping, hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, hunting or fishing...it's all here awaiting your exploration.
Driving Distance: 2 hours 55 minutes from Columbus
We know what you're thinking..."Fort Wayne, really?" Yes, this historic little city has a lot to offer. The city is home to three rivers (the St. Mary's, the St. Joseph and the Maumee) that provide ample opportunities for hiking, biking, kayaking and paddleboarding. The city zoo has also been voted one of the top ten in the US. Hey, not bad!
Driving Distance: 1 hour from Columbus
Have you ever wondered how a genuine, water-powered mill works? Of course you have, who hasn't! Originally built in 1802, Clifton Mill is one of the few remaining old-fashioned working mills in existence. Schedule a tour, stroll the scenic grounds or dine in the restaurant, which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The home-baked pies will take a year off your life and are well worth it.
Where: 1 hour 25 minutes from Columbus
The Miamisburg Mound rises defiantly like a giant green pyramid from the Ohio plains. It shouldn't be there and yet it is. Constructed by the ancient Adena culture around 2,000 years ago, the mound is 65-feet tall and is one of the two largest man-made conical hills of its kind in North America. Steps have been built, so you can walk up to the observation platform at the top of the hill for a wonderful viewing experience, and nice little bit of exercise.
Driving Distance: 1 hour 20 minutes
The Serengeti of the Midwest, this unique, non-profit safari park makes for a one-of-a-kind day trip. In addition to viewing exotic animals like the Southern White Rhino and the Eastern Hellbender up close, guests can enjoy other adventures like zip-lining and horseback riding.
Driving Distance: 3 Hours from Columbus
A 20-minute ferry ride from Marblehead, OH delivers you to this remarkable little gem on Lake Erie. In the summer there's fishing, kayaking, camping, scuba diving and much more. And during the offseason you'll find plenty of room to explore. Be sure to check out the glacial grooves, a National Natural Landmark. Or hike to the old winery ruins (pictured below). Then perhaps enjoy a glass of wine and a cheese plate at the Wine Company, which thankfully isn't in ruins.
Driving Distance: 2 hours 50 minutes from Columbus
No list of road trips from Columbus would be complete without a mention of the Steel City. The three best things about Pittsburgh are that it's friendly, walkable and affordable. Take a stroll along the riverfront or ride the Duquesne Cable Car Incline up to the obvservation deck for spectacular views of the city. For a more rollicking time, bring your friends and hop aboard the floating tiki bar, which allows you to see this city like you've never seen it before.
Driving Distance: 2 Hours from Columbus
This quaint little town to the south of Cleveland offers a little bit of everything. Covered bridges, babbling brooks, towering trees and scenic hiking trails give it a real Norman Rockwell type vibe. For an ideal Olmsted Falls experience, stroll through the charming downtown and visit the waterfall in Fortier Park. Then head to the Rocky River Reservation for a hike. Finally, reward yourself with a pint and some wings at Fathead's Brewery and Saloon. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.
Driving distance: 2 hours, 39 minutes from Columbus
If you want to check out what's happening at the state capital nearby, head south to Charleston. In addition to being a historic and beautiful city, you'll find restaurants, nightlife, and unexpectedly unique shopping. Charleston sits adjacent to the Kanawha River, which winds its way through the city creating picturesque and pleasant views. Don't forget the check out the city's engaging art scene, where Midwestern and Southern influences mix to create unexpectedly beautiful work. Galleries and markets are teeming with interesting and vibrant pieces. Combine that with an innovative music scene and friendly locals, and you've got an unforgettable weekend away.
Driving distance: 52 minutes from Columbus
Less than an hour from Columbus, the small village of Yellow Springs is known both as a creative college town and the home of famous comedian Dave Chapelle. Its a unique community where farmers buy their feed at the same general stores where artists and musicians shop, and the whole city feels like going back in time to the days when people were just plain nice to each other. Known for its Summer and Fall street festivals, Yellow Springs is the place to visit when you just want to have some ice cream, listen to music, and fantasize about a kinder, simpler life.