River roads and tree-lined byways may be a passion among those who ride motorcycles in Ohio, but a wealth of historically significant destinations in the Buckeye State offer lots of reasons to get out and ride. Here we’ll lend you insights about Ohio gems that you’ll surely want to visit.
National Museum of the United States Air Force
Motorcyclists who crisscross southwest Ohio along the east-west I-70 corridor or the north-south I-75 passage may ride right through Dayton en route to their destination, never thinking to check out the cool things to do in this city of 160,000. And that would be their loss, because the world’s oldest and largest military aviation museum—the National Museum of the United States Air Force—is located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base just east of town.
The museum’s origin dates back to 1923 when it started in the corner of an aircraft hangar at McCook Field near downtown Dayton, home of the Wright brothers. With funding from the Works Progress Administration, the museum got its first real home in 1935 in the form of a specially designed building, the Army Aeronautical Museum. Following WWII, General H.H. “Hap” Arnold directed the collection of items for the opening of a National Air Museum. Numerous expansions over the years culminated with the opening of a 200,000-square-foot exhibition hall in 2003, the Eugene W. Kettering Cold War Gallery and the Missile and Space Gallery, which opened in 2004. The new additions, as well as the two hangars on the old Wright Field flight line, provide more than 17 acres of indoor exhibition space. This comprehensive, modern-day collection is considered the equal of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, FL.
Visitors can ogle more than 400 aircraft and aerospace vehicles, plus thousands of aviation artifacts, spread throughout 15 time-period galleries and themed displays. Many aircraft are rare and one of a kind, connecting the Wright brothers’ legacy with today’s stealth and precision technology. An IMAX Theatre features a variety of films that bring America’s aviation history to life.
In addition to the Cold War and Missile and Space galleries, popular exhibits include the Early Years Gallery (1903-WWI), the Air Power Gallery (WWII), the Modern Flight Gallery (Korea-Vietnam), the Research and Development Gallery and the Presidential Gallery. Rare and unusual aircraft include an eight-engine B-36, an XB-70 Valkyrie, an SR71 Blackbird and modern stealth aircraft, such as a B-2 bomber and a YF-23A fighter.
The museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week, and closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Admission is free; however, there is a charge for the IMAX Theatre. For more information, visit www.nationalmuseum.af.mil.
Hopewell Culture National Historical Park
An epoch apart in time from the Air Force Museum, but just 75 miles southeast of Dayton, you’ll find the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, near Chillicothe. Hopewell Park was established in 1923 to preserve the prehistoric remains of a dynamic culture that flourished in the woodlands of eastern North America between 200 B.C. and A.D. 500. The Hopewell people constructed massive earthen-wall enclosures, often built in geometric patterns with mounds of various shapes. Evidence unearthed suggests that these ancient traders ranged far and wide in their travels, from the Atlantic coast to the Rocky Mountains. Materials unearthed that are not native to Ohio include mica, shark’s teeth, obsidian, copper and seashells. The visible remnants are concentrated in the Scioto River Valley, and the park preserves five complexes: High Bank Works, Hopeton Earthworks, Hopewell Mound Group, Mound City Group and Seip Earthworks. Many of the earthworks were built to a monumental scale, with walls up to 12 feet high outlining geometric figures more than 1000 feet across.
Visitors who walk the grounds and view the beautifully crafted objects often describe a sense of mystery surrounding the Hopewell culture. Why did these people build the huge earthworks? Why did they bury thousands of objects under the mounds? What happened to their ancient civilization? There are few answers and many intriguing theories—prompting futurists to speculate about what will be discussed thousands of years into the future regarding 21st century culture.
The park’s visitor center is open seven days a week, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; between Memorial Day and Labor Day, it is open 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. The park is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. The Mound City Group, Hopewell Mound Group and Seip Earthworks units are open daily during daylight hours. Currently, the Hopewell Mound Group and Seip Earthworks have limited visitor facilities consisting of interpretive signs and restrooms. For more information, visit www.nps.gov/hocu.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Well-known to residents of Cleveland and Akron, the bucolic Cuyahoga Valley National Park is situated just a short distance from the urban environments of both cities. Centered around the winding Cuyahoga River—literally the “crooked river” to Native Americans—the park features deep forests, rolling hills and open farmland.
Towpath Trail—which follows the historic path that saw mules towing boats loaded with goods and passengers along today’s national scenic byway, the Ohio & Erie Canalway—is a favorite byway for visitors who enjoy walking, bicycling or jogging. From the trail, you can make connections to many natural and historic sites, including the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad (CVSR).
The CVSR is a volunteer-supported nonprofit that operates in partnership with the park and is dedicated to the preservation of regional passenger rail transport. Park rangers are onboard the regularly scheduled excursions to the Canal Visitor Center, the Canal-era Village of Peninsula, Akron and Canton and provide narration of the cultural and natural history of the Cuyahoga River Valley. CVSR also presents special events throughout the year, including “Grape Escape” wine-tasting trains, “A Day Out With Thomas,” “The Little Engine That Could” and “The Polar Express.”
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is open every day, 24 hours a day (some areas close at dusk). The visitor centers are open year-round, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. For more information, visit www.nps.gov/cuva.
Amish Country Byway
Riders making their way north to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park will want to detour to the Amish Country Byway, situated between Columbus and Cleveland in northeastern Ohio. Winding for 42 miles between Danville and Wilmot on US Route 62, the byway takes travelers back to a bygone era when motorists shared the road with horses and buggies. Be sure to stop at the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center in Berlin to see Behalt, a dramatic 10- by 265-foot mural-in-the-round painted by the late international artist Heinz Gaugel, which depicts Amish-Mennonite history. Another popular stop-off along the way is Winesburg Village, a well-preserved, turn-of-the-century village and home to the Winesburg Museum and Carriage Shop, an Amish-owned and -operated buggy shop. A visit to Yoder’s Amish Home in nearby Holmes County showcases early traditional farming ways. Buggy rides and Amish home tours are also available.