Each month, my husband and I randomly pick a destination in Ohio to explore, adding points of interest along our route from Central Ohio. September’s destination pointed us toward Wellston, located in Jackson County.
The trip is full of history, iron industry remnants, local eats, a tunnel with rumored paranormal activity, and great hiking, with stops in Chillicothe, Wellston, and Hocking Hills!
Our Ohio Travel writer, Deb, randomly picks a new destination in Ohio to visit each month with her husband. Some of their trips are full weekend trips with overnight stays, while others are day trips. Their trips are always full of fun and unique stops that you’re going to want to check out.
Day 1: Wellston (via Chillicothe)
We started our 2-day journey by heading South on US23. Chillicothe, our first stop, has a rich early history from being the center of activity for the Hopewell people to a major Midwest settlement for the Shawnee Indians.
Officially founded in 1798, Chillicothe served as the 1st and 3rd capitol of Ohio, and became an important station along the Underground Railroad.
Hopewell Culture National Historic Park
The Hopewell Culture NHP is one of ten NPS (National Park Service) units located in Ohio. It is made up of six independent sites located throughout the Ross County area. All but one of the sites (High Bank Works) are open to the public. Admission is free.
The park preserves what remains of a complex social and ceremonial culture of the Hopewell people, including several mounds dating back to 200 B.C.
We focused our visit on the Mound City Group. This is the smallest of the six sites and the location of the only visitor center in the park. The visitor center includes a museum with artifacts and video presentations about the history of the various park sites.
The mounds are located just a few steps away in a grassy field without defined pathways. The original mounds were destroyed during WWI when the site was used as a military training camp.
Fortunately, the base layers remained intact leading to the restoration of 25 mounds. We explored the area freely and learned much about the Hopewell people from informational signs located throughout.
Chillicothe has plenty of great lunch options, but we try to find places frequented by locals, where the story is just as good as the food. Carl’s Townhouse, a Chillicothe landmark, checked off all the boxes.
The small white and blue building was originally part of the World’s Fair in 1939. A local resident purchased the building, relocating it to Chillicothe as a restaurant named NCL (Nice Clean Lunch).
In 1951 a new owner renamed it Carl’s Townhouse. Although it has changed owners and locations over the years, Carl’s Townhouse is still just as authentic as when it first arrived in Chillicothe.
The menu offers basic diner fare with a few homemade specialties thrown in. And let’s not forget the pie! The day we visited, homemade chicken and noodles were on the menu.
Based on the steady stream of takeout orders, we assumed it was a big deal so ordered some as well. The noodles were more closely related to dumplings, which my husband LOVED!
Adena Mansion & Gardens
Adena Mansion was the home of Thomas Worthington, the 6th governor of Ohio. The estate served as the family home and working office for Worthington’s private and public endeavors.
The property sits high above the Ohio River Valley and became the inspiration for the Great Seal of the State of Ohio.
We began our visit at the museum, which is very family friendly. There are many hands-on displays about Worthington’s life, political career, and business endeavors.
Admission to the museum ($10/$9/$5) includes a guided tour of the mansion. Tours are available hourly and last about 45 minutes. Exploring the grounds and other buildings on the property is free.
The mansion is a short walk from the museum. Pawpaw trees, the largest edible native fruit tree in North America, line the grass path. Southern Ohio is home to the largest wild pawpaw patches in the world. We had never seen a pawpaw tree or its fruit, so were delighted at the discovery.
- Traveler Tip: Interested in learning more about the pawpaw? The annual PawPaw Festival is held at Lake Snowden (near Athens) every September. (Sadly, we just missed it.)
Built in the early 1800s, the mansion includes many original items and furnishings. Our knowledgeable guide shared interesting stories about the family, their many contributions to the area, and Worthington’s political affairs.
Afterwards, we walked through the tiered gardens and explored the nearby farm buildings and property.
The Great Seal of the State of Ohio
The view that inspired the Great Seal is located on the north end of the property, overlooking the Ohio River Valley with Mount Logan as a backdrop. It’s a long walk from the museum, so we decided to drive by as we were leaving.
We parked along the road and made the short walk to the overlook. We kind of wished we could return at sunrise to get the full effect.
- Traveler Tip: A hand painted version of the 1861 Great Seal is located in the rotunda at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. Guided tours are available on the hour every M-F from 10am – 3pm. Tours are free to the public. Read more about Ohio Statehouse.
Harvey Wells founded Wellston in 1873. The area offered an unprecedented amount of coal and other minerals. The first iron furnace began operation within the first year. By 1884, there were twelve coal shafts, four iron furnaces, and more than 5000 residents.
Of all the coal-fired blast furnaces in the area, Buckeye Furnace is the most complete and fully restored.
There is a museum and store on site. The museum has limited hours, so be sure to check before visiting. It was closed the day we visited, but we still enjoyed touring the grounds and furnace on our own.
The furnace is located in a large 2-story barn-like structure. The best way to visit is to resist the urge to stop the car when the structure first comes into view. Instead, continue driving another few hundred yards to a large parking lot along the river, across from the museum.
Don’t be surprised if you are greeted (& escorted) by a very friendly dog named Shelly.
From the museum, a grass path leads to the upper story of the furnace. This is the best place to start a self-guided tour. Informational signs provide a detailed explanation of the process, starting in the upper story.
It is not possible to walk between the stories, so we returned to our car and drove to the lower story (the one we initially drove by) and completed the tour.
- Traveler Tip: When we visited, the mosquitos in this area were relentless. Be sure to come prepared with bug spray!
Overnight in Logan
After dinner, we walked to Brewery 33 located just across the parking lot (behind Hungry Buffalo).
Day 2: Heading South…Again!
We had originally planned to spend the second day hiking in Hocking Hills State Park. During the drive from Buckeye Furnace to Logan, we realized that Moonville Tunnel was nearby.
Unfortunately, it was much too late in the day to make the impromptu stop, especially since we didn’t have any idea how to find it.
We decided to make the trip to Vinton County the next morning to see the tunnel, even though it would require a bit more driving. If we were planning this trip again, we would spend the night at the lodge in Lake Hope State Park instead.
The Silver Lining
Having stayed in Logan, we were in for a real treat as we headed to M&M Family Diner for breakfast. A small diner, tucked into the downtown landscape, M&M is a local treasure.
The walls are adorned with OSU everything, photos of family & friends, kitschy memorabilia, and just about anything else you can think of.
Even the sign on the front door gives a hint of what’s to come, “If you’re not family when you come in, you are when you leave.” The owner, Michelle, makes sure of it. The experience is memorable and so are the biscuits and sausage gravy…oh MY!
Moonville was established as a community for the railroad and iron workers. The town itself is long gone, but Moonville Tunnel still remains. It is tucked away in Zaleski State Forest, along the Vinton County Rail Trail.
Known for abundant paranormal activity, it is a very popular site for organized ghost hunts and hikes.
From the parking lot, a short ¼ mile walk leads to the tunnel. Crossing a small bridge, we noticed chain link fencing with numerous padlocks. The padlocks serve as a memorial for the lives lost on the tracks.
Arriving at the tunnel, we quickly noticed the graffiti everywhere. Although it distracts a bit from the original beauty, the tunnel was a fun place to walk through. It was worth the extra drive.
- Traveler Tip: Google directions to the Moonville Tunnel are easy to follow until you find yourself on a one-lane dirt road with no cell service. A small parking lot is located 2.4 miles from where the dirt road begins. There are NO signs, so watching mileage is important.
Hope School House
This one-room schoolhouse was built in 1883 to meet the needs of an increasing population as a result of the iron ore industry. Today the historical school is used as civic & education center.
We enjoyed speaking with a local volunteer who shared the history of the area and school. There were several original photos and other historical information on display.
- Traveler Tip: This is a great stop for anyone in search of Moonville Tunnel souvenirs.
Located in one of the largest iron producing regions in the U.S., Hope Furnace was built in 1854 and became Ohio’s leading producer of iron. The furnace closed in 1874, after 20 years of operation.
A small park allows visitors to explore what remains of Hope Furnace today. We made a quick stop and walked around the original foundation and chimney.
Lunch on the Go
Originally planning to spend a day hiking at Hocking Hills State Park, we had brought basic trail food for lunch. Although tempted to cast it aside and head to the nearby restaurant at Lake Hope Lodge, we chose to forge ahead with our “lunch on the go”.
Hocking Hills State Park
It’s hard to live in Ohio and not know about Hocking Hills State Park. Like many locations around southeastern Ohio, the park provides miles of trails and gorgeous scenery at every turn.
We’ve visited several times over the years, and still couldn’t bring ourselves to pass it by on this trip. It’s always worth the stop, whether for a couple of hours or several days.
- Traveler Tip: Plan your visit to Hocking Hills on a weekday to avoid large crowds. If you must go on a weekend, hike the most popular trails early in the morning.
The trail to Cedar Falls is a short 0.5 mile one-way loop that packs a lot of punch.
We started by descending the Democracy Steps, 100 steps that follows the hillside to the creek bed below. From here the path leveled out until we reached Cedar Falls, known to be the largest volume waterfall in the region. The best time to visit the falls is in the spring or after a good rain.
In late September, there was only a small amount of water flow, so we continued past the falls through a beautiful section of trail lined with large boulders and grottos.
And remember those stairs? Climbing another large section of stairs is required to return to the trailhead & parking lot.
We enjoyed this trail but would rate it is as slightly moderate due to the stairs alone.
Ash Cave is one of the most popular trails in the park. An easy 0.5 miles one-way loop trail leads to the largest recessed cave east of the Mississippi. It is a stunning 700 feet long and 100 feet deep.
We followed the first part of the trail from the parking lot to the cave using a paved path through the gorge. Once we reached the cave, the surface quickly to turned to sand.
It is impressive to walk under the overhang while taking in the massive size and enjoying the view of the forest.
The trail continues on the far side of the cave by climbing a large wooden staircase (I lost count at 80 steps) and winding through a maze of large rocks, tree roots, and scenic boardwalks. As quickly as we ascended, the trail began a slow descent back down the hillside towards the parking lot.
- Traveler Tip: The path from the parking lot to the cave is ADA accessible. Visitors with mobility concerns should return using the same path, rather than following the regular loop.
Time to Refuel
We finished our day (& trip) with a late afternoon stop at another Logan favorite, Pizza Crossing.
The menu offers a good selection of salads, pasta, wings…and of course, pizza! The pizza was very good and definitely hit the spot after a long day of travel.
Looking for more of Deb’s amazing travel posts? Check them out below and plan some Ohio exploration!
- Tuscawaras County: Exploring Ohio’s Firsts in Dover and New Philadelphia
- Mansfield – Where History Meets Hollywood
- Exploring Kelleys Island
Check back for more upcoming trips!