Vermont and New Hampshire may get more press about their beautiful displays of fall foliage, but residents of Northeast Ohio know that there is plenty of fall color in this part of the country, too. However, since many people aren't aware of the sight-seeing opportunities in Ohio, you'll find the roads much less crowded with tourists than other popular spots.
In Ohio, leaves start their autumnal displays in late September and continue on through October, and mid to late-October is the peak viewing time most years. If you happen to be traveling through the northern part of the state, don't miss your chance to check out some of the best views of fall Ohio has to offer.
The extreme northeast corner of Ohio is one of the best places to view fall leaves due to its dense deciduous forests and sparse population. For the best views, drive south on State Road 534 from Geneva to Windsor, and you'll be rewarded with miles of vineyards as well as two of the county's 18 covered bridges en route.
Other scenic routes include State Road 84 east from Madison to Ashtabula and State Road 307 from State Road 528 to Jefferson, where there are also a number of apple farms for refreshment stops along the way. Ashtabula County celebrates the season with the Covered Bridge Festival, held the 2nd weekend in October, and the Geneva Grape Jamboree on the last full weekend in September.
Ohio's only national park, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, is located between Cleveland and Akron and boasts some of the best displays of nature in the region; autumn is no exception. Wherever you drive through the 33,000-acre park, you'll see bursts of red, yellow, orange, and even purple color. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources lists State Road 303 (which bisects the park) as one of the best fall foliage drives in the Buckeye State.
Explore the Amish Country of Geauga County
Geauga County, located south of Lake and Ashtabula counties, is another great place to view the fall leaves. This largely-rural county rewards visitors with scenic farms, rolling hills, Amish communities, and a host of antique stores.
You can take State Road 322 from Chagrin Falls to Chardon as well as Big Creek Park and Swine Park. Mesopotamia, at the juncture of State Road 534 and State Road 322, is also centrally located around colorful places to sight-see. The End of the Commons General Store there offers light meals as well as an array of Amish craft items, candy, cheese, housewares, and other fun things. Nearby Middlefield is home to Middlefield Cheese Company, Mary Yoder's Amish Restaurant, and a host of interesting shops.
Cleveland Scene magazine calls the Rocky River Nature Center (24000 Valley Parkway, North Olmsted, Ohio 44070) one of the best places to view fall leaves. Located near the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, this area offers plenty of hiking trails, river views, and fascinating nature exhibits. The park is open dawn to dusk; the nature center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Of course, the Nature Center isn't the only place to enjoy fall in the Cleveland Metroparks. The three golf courses stay open until the first heavy frost, the Marina at the mouth of the Rocky River in Lakewood is a popular fall fishing spot, and the West Creek Reservation in Berea hosts a full schedule of fall events including bi-weekly bonfires and nature walks.
Lanterman's Mill (1001 Canfield Road, Youngstown, Ohio 44511), part of the Mahoning County Metroparks system, makes another lovely fall outing from Cleveland. Located just outside the small community of Youngstown, you can enjoy plenty of fall events at this historic landmark.
The historic mill, built between 1845 and 1846, sits adjacent to the Mahoning River and still grinds out corn, wheat, and buckwheat much as it did nearly 200 years ago. Nearby is an authentic covered bridge, a beautiful waterfall, and a gift shop where you can buy pancake mix and other products made right in the park. You can also take the Gorge trail or the two-mile Mill trail to get an up-close view of the leaves.
Bike, Hike, or Ride the Ohio Canalway
The Ohio and Erie Canalway extends 110 miles from Lake Erie near the mouth of the Cuyahoga River to New Philadelphia. The continuous green space passes through Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Akron, Canton, Massillon, and Zoar Village before terminating at Zoar Bridge near New Philadelphia in Tuscarawas County. Many of the locks of the former commercial artery have been restored and a hiking and biking trail hugs the path of the former canal.
In autumn, the area is rich with vibrant leaves, gorges, historic buildings, and more than 250 species of birds. One particularly nice way to explore the Canalway in via the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. During this season, the railroad offers a number of special fall trips, such as the Pumpkin Express, trips to the living history museum at Hale Farm, and a special Halloween train.
Wander Through Chester Township Near Chesterland
Chester Township in Geauga County includes the communities of Chesterland and parts of Kirtland and Chardon. The area features rolling hills, horse farms, produce stands, and lots of fall color. Take Route 322 east along Mayfield Road from Gates Mills and you'll soon find yourself in the scenic countryside covered in fall foliage.
One of the most popular stops in this area is Pattersons Fruit Farm (11414 Caves Road, Chesterland, Ohio 44026), which not only offers an abundance of apples and pumpkins, but hosts hayrides, a corn maze, and other fun autumn events.
Malabar Farm State Park, located just outside of Mansfield Ohio, was built by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Louis Bromfield. A best-selling writer in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, Bromfield was also a pioneer in sustainable farming. He created one of the country's first truly organic farms at Malabar. His house at Malabar Farm was the site of Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart's wedding and honeymoon as well as featured in the movie "The Shawshank Redemption."
During the fall, the farm (now a state park) features hay rides, special fall color hikes, and barn dances. The farm market on the property also offers abundant apples, pumpkins, squash, and other fall produce.
Fall offers one last chance to enjoy South Bass, Middle Bass, and Kelleys Islands before the cold weather shuts access off until the spring. Your efforts will be rewarded with fewer crowds, crisp fall lake air, and a panorama of beautiful red, yellow, orange, and purple leaves. In addition, the sunsets are much more vibrant during the cooler fall season.
Millers Ferry and Jet Express offer regular service to and from the islands through the end of November (weather permitting). The campground at the South Bass Island State Park and most of the private hotels and Bed and Breakfasts also stay open until late November.
Located between Middlefield and Warren southeast of Cleveland, Mosquito Lake State Park features more than 2,400 acres of wooded and marshland, as well as one of the largest lakes in the State of Ohio. Don't be put off by the name; this park is uncrowded and offers miles of trails for exploring the changing leaf colors.
Facilities at Mosquito Lake include a campground, cabins, and yurts for rent. There's also a boat dock, an equestrian center, an archery range, and plenty of picnic areas. As an added bonus, the popular concert venue Nelson Ledges is just a 20-minute drive away.