Road trips and local exploration became increasingly popular in 2020, with travelers wanting a more secluded and controlled vacation experiences. Summer's warm weather made it easy to create travel itineraries. While winter may rule out some activities, there are plenty of options to consider as you plan a 2021 winter getaway.
The Ohio Valley, anchored by the Ohio River, extends along the southern border of Ohio and Indiana, and West Virginia's and Kentucky's northern border. Typical winter activities like skating and skiing are available at many places throughout the region, but certain unique areas are worth visiting during winter.
OHIO: HOCKING HILLS STATE PARK
Picture watching the snow while you're relaxing in a log cabin by a fireplace, or perhaps sitting in a hot tub outside under the falling snow. Or imagine hiking through a state park, observing frozen waterfalls and evergreen trees capped with snow.
Both experiences are possible within an hour of Ohio's capital. Within just a few miles of luxury cabins, you can embark on loop trails under a mile in length to see caves, waterfalls, and postcard-ready landscapes. Popular must-see sites include Cantwell Cliffs, Rock House, Ash Cave, and Cedar Falls.
These trails are perfect for beginners with minimal incline and most hills fortified with steps. If you want a longer trek, the Buckeye Trail links many of the above-listed sites.
KENTUCKY: URBAN BOURBON TRAIL
You can crisscross a large swatch of Kentucky doing tours and tastings at distilleries that make up Bourbon Country. However, within Louisville, blocks from the Ohio River, you will find urban distilleries responsible for a third of Kentucky's bourbon. The Urban Bourbon Trail highlights these distilleries and the local bars and restaurants that serve at least 60 bourbons each. Grab a Trail Passport and chart your own course or join a tour to learn about bourbon's history.
An iron train trestle and railroad tracks are covered with snow
WEST VIRGINIA: NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
Named in 1990 by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge spans 362 miles of the upper Ohio River. These islands are being restored from fuel extraction and deforestation activities and provide a protected habitat for wildlife.
While blazed trails are scarce, hikers are welcomed, and some islands have sandy beaches that can be accessed by private boat. For the winter, trails and a visitor center are established in Williamstown, WV. One island is also accessible by vehicle by a recently re-opened bridge. Middle Island in St. Marys, West Virginia, offers both hiking trails and a 1.5-mile scenic driving tour.
Gristmill in snowy winter country
INDIANA: TEL CITY DEPOT
Based in Tel City, Indiana, the Ohio River Scenic Railway operates scenic and themed train rides. Their purpose is to preserve a historic train route once ridden in 1816 by President Abraham Lincoln. The vintage trains run adjacent to the Ohio River before turning north towards Lincoln City, IN.