Thursday, December 1, 2016

Northeast Ohio WaterFALL Hikes

Chagrin Falls - Photos by OHventures

The roar of rushing water echoing throughout the wilderness is a welcoming sound when hiking through Ohio’s parks and trails. Whether manmade or created by Mother Nature herself, waterfalls provide an element of excitement and wonder to any outdoor adventure. Add to that the changing colors of autumn’s leaves, and you are bound to take your scenic adventures to an entirely different level.

Growing up in Northeast Ohio, my friends and I loved to explore the woods throughout the year, but nothing would compare to the times when we’d hike in autumn. In our expeditions, we sought out many notable waterfalls, which have become some of my favorite landmarks. Here are some of my top picks for Northeast Ohio waterfall hikes:

Chagrin Waterfalls – Chagrin Falls, Cuyahoga County
The waterfalls in the quaint city of Chagrin Falls can be easily found, and they don’t require any hiking boots or gear! These impressive 20-foot high falls are located right in the heart of town square, and can be accessed via a series of staircases. I always take a pit stop to see the Chagrin Falls after having dinner or shopping at the many establishments lining Main Street. The leaves turn golden yellow and fire red during autumn, which provides a beautiful frame for the cascading waters. Just hurry and catch them before they freeze for the winter!

Gorge Metro Park – Cuyahoga Falls, Summit County
The Gorge Trails at the Gorge Metro Park in Cuyahoga Falls are full of remarkable rock formations along some slightly rugged terrain. A boardwalk and wooden staircase were recently installed to make the hike less advanced. The unmistakable sound of crashing water can be heard while on the majority of the 1.8-mile path. The falls you see are primarily due to a manmade dam, but you can also spot some natural cascades, known as the Big Falls (pictured above). You can take a detour out of the woods and spot the Little Falls, located in downtown Cuyahoga Falls. These waterfalls is how the city received its name.

Cascade Falls – Nelson Township, Portage County
As a teenager, my friends and I often visited Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park, located along U.S. Route 422 in Portage County. The rocky cliffs proved to be a challenging endeavor, and the nearby quarry gave us a place to cool off in the summer. When the leaves changed, color, we would still head to the park, but stick to hiking. We’d explore the exciting rock formations, like Devil’s Icebox and Indian Pass, and we’d always uncover the gorgeous Cascade Falls. Surrounded by mossy rocks and russet leaves, the 50-foot tall Cascade Falls is a slender, less robust waterfall than the others on the list, but is striking nonetheless.

Brandywine Falls – Northfield, Summit County
By and large, the most picturesque and the most breathtaking of all of the waterfalls I have visited in Northeast Ohio is Brandywine Falls (pictured above). Located in northern Summit County (in between Akron and Cleveland), Brandywine Falls are approximately 65-feet tall, with rushing waters encapsulated by bright orange leaves in the autumn. When frost and ice form, the flow of the water changes as well, making for an interesting sight to see. These falls are a very popular spot for photo shoots, be it for a wedding, engagement, or just because (which is exactly what I did with my dog this fall). There is a small 1.5 mile hiking trail that leads to the falls, as well as a wooden observation deck, which is always bustling with visitors.

Lanterman’s Falls – Youngstown, Mahoning County
As a student, we took countless field trips to Mill Creek Park in Youngstown, where we could go see Lanterman’s Mill and its accompanying waterfalls! Our teachers would take us here so we could learn how the water from the creek is used to power the gristmill to grind grain. We would always tour the mill and take home some grain products that were made on site! The waterfall next to Lanterman’s Mill is only about 15 feet tall, but it works in conjunction with the mill and a nearby covered bridge to create a beautiful backdrop.

There are countless other waterfalls in Northeast Ohio (and the state as a whole) to check out in the fall (or any time of the year). Some other good ones to check out are Buttermilk Falls in Brecksville, Cuyahoga County, and Paine Falls in Painesville, in Lake County.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

HalloWeekends at Cedar Point

Photos by OHventures

Amusement park enthusiasts from around the world flock every year to Cedar Point, located in Sandusky, Erie County, Ohio. We are lucky to have one of the best amusement parks on the planet right on the Lake Erie coastline. With more rides than any other park on earth (71), and the second most roller coasters (16), Cedar Point has been breaking records and drawing in millions for decades.


For the past 20 years, Cedar Point has been hosting HalloWeekends, on the weekends that fall between Labor Day and Halloween. The entire 365-acre park transforms into a spookier, scarier, and more thrilling experience for guests, with pumpkins and cobwebs decorating the queue lines, and ghosts, goblins, and ghouls roaming the midway.

This past weekend, I experienced HalloWeekends for the very first time. I had been to Cedar Point many times since my youth, but never during HalloWeekends. During this time, the park is only open Friday through Saturday, and with limited hours. After spending a Sunday in the park in late September, I have to say it was one of the best visits I have ever had to Cedar Point!

This is mainly because the crowds are significantly smaller than during the summer months. I do, however, hear that Saturdays during HalloWeekends can bring in very large numbers of park goers (especially in late October). So, if you plan to go, make it on a Sunday! We arrived just before noon (the park opened at 11AM) and left around 7 PM (the park closed at 8 PM).

Dead Ride Cemetery

The park was truly transformed, with special Halloween touches everywhere you looked. I loved the attention to detail: skulls, bats, and skeletons strategically placed throughout the park. I particularly enjoyed the specially created displays, such as the "Dead Ride Cemetery," featuring "tombstones" of former coasters and attractions that are now defunct and have since been torn down. Pictured above, you can see part of the cemetery (which is found in the Midway near the Raptor roller coaster), including the grave site of the Mean Streak, the giant wooden coaster that is being torn down this year.

Further down the Midway is a giant jack-lantern to walk through (perfect for a photo op), a giant mechanical ogre, and the "Cemetery of Dead Rockers." This area is found near the Corkscrew roller coaster (pictured below), and features headstones of rock-and-roll legends who are no longer with us: Rick James, John Lennon, Elvis, and even Amy Winehouse.

Even further down the Midway is the Great Pumpkin Spectacular, where you can find 10,000 hand-carved jack-o-lanterns lining the walkways. They are true works of art, and look even cooler at nighttime, all lit up. This is a new addition to HalloWeekends this year, and can be found near the Top Thrill Dragster and the Power Tower

This entire stretch of the Midway is where you can witness the Great Pumpkin Parade at 4 PM each day. And if you have kids, there are a ton of places nearby that can offer age-appropriate Halloween fun (like trick-or-treat zones and Peanuts characters dressed in a not-so-spooky manner). 

We, of course were not there with children in tow. This meant that not only could we hit up all of the haunted houses we wanted, but we could also indulge in some adult beverages. Do yourself a favor and try the craft beers especially made for Cedar Point. This includes the RougaBrew and the Valravn Red Stout, both named after newer rides at the park, and both available for a very limited time. You can try them at the Trail Tavern near Millennium Force roller coaster (yes, the one that is over 300 feet tall). 

Enjoying a RougaBrew at Trail Tavern

Another great spot for some cold ones is Chickie's & Pete's, found near the entrance and right next to the Blue Streak roller coaster. A word of caution, however: plan to ride the more intense rides before you eat heavy foods and guzzle on some beer. We did things a bit backwards, eating some famous crab fries (seasoned to perfection) at Chickie's & Pete's, then riding the aforementioned Blue Streak - the oldest (1964) and most rickety roller coaster in the park (hey - it had no line, so we had to try it).

Now it was time for the scary stuff. There are so many haunted houses in the park, but we could only make it to a couple (no thanks to the long line we waited in to ride the Maverick roller coaster). The two we were able to experience were: the Eden Musee (a wax museum themed haunted house full of surprises), and Hexed (a witch themed haunted house with a ton of great scares).


While we really did want to try some of the other featured haunted houses (like the Zombie High School and the haunted hospital aptly called Eternity Infirmary), the real scary thing would be if we didn't get to ride some of the newest roller coasters at the park. This includes Rougarou (a floorless coaster, formerly known as Mantis when it was a stand-up roller's complicated). Being that this is named after a werewolf creature from French folklore, we felt it was appropriate to ride on HalloWeekends.

It would also be a sin if we skipped GateKeeper, a wing roller coaster with the largest inversion on earth (built in 2013) and frightening keyhole elements. And, most of all we HAD to ride Valravn, the longest, fastest, and tallest dive roller coaster in the world, which was just installed at the beginning of the 2016 season. Aside from Maverick, this was the longest line we stood in (and even so, it was only a half an hour), but it was definitely worth the wait.

Overall, the trip to Cedar Point for HalloWeekends was nothing short of perfect. The crisp fall weather was gorgeous - not too hot, and not too cold. And, the lines for most rides were 15 minutes or less (even the GateKeeper was only about 10 minutes). You still have time to check out HalloWeekends in 2016!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Pedal & Party With BrewBoat Cleveland

Photos by OHventures

Part bike, part boat, and part bar, the BrewBoat in Cleveland is a one-of-a-kind experience that will guarantee to be a hit for you and your adventure-and-beer-loving friends.When trying to find a perfect birthday gift for some family members who "have it all," I decided to get creative and book a reservation aboard the BrewBoat!

This is Ohio's first and only pedal-powered paddle-wheel party boat, which launched Memorial Day weekend of this year. The boat is 31-feet long with 10 seats for pedalers and four additional seats for passengers who opt to not pedal (we took turns, so no one felt left out). Yes, the boat is human-powered, which means you get a bit of a workout mixed in while you drink. It's like the Pedal Wagons of Columbus and Cincinnati, but on water instead of on the streets!

I reserved 10 seats for our 2-hour cruise this August (the other 4 were already booked, so we would be on board with a few new friends). Each ticket was $35 plus tax, and the trip required you to BYOB. When you arrive at the launch site, located on Whiskey Island in the heart of Cleveland, you are able to purchase cold brews at the convenience store found at the dock.

Most of us brought our own favorite beers from home (each person is permitted to bring no more than 36 oz. or beer, or 18 oz. of wine for themselves). There are convenience coolers of ice located right in the middle of the bar, so you can keep your drinks chilled and readily available during your excursion (no need to bring your own coolers).

Our group consisted of myself, my brother and his wife, my parents, my aunt, and my friends Zac, Kyla, Ben, and Emily. As mentioned, we were joined by 4 other folks who booked at the same time as us. Also on board was the Captain (Katie), and a driver, both of whom were extremely fun and personable. 

We disembarked from the marina at 5 PM and pedaled down the Cuyagoga River. As we pedaled, we were able to gawk at the gorgeous Cleveland skyline against the bright blue skies, and take in the sights of the revitalized riverfronts of the Cleveland Flats. We floated by notable hot spots, such as the Nautica Pavilion, the Music Box Supper Club, Alley Cat Oyster Bar, and more. We shared the waterway with kayakers, jet skiiers, paddle boarders,, and other seafaring folks out enjoying the fantastic weather and exciting scenery. There was so much to see and to soak in on our cruise!

At one point, the driver challenged us to try and work together to pedal as fast as we could in order to beat the record speed. After pedaling and pedaling, we ultimately did not come close to setting a new record, but we had a blast trying! It was also a blast plugging our iPods in and choosing the music we listened to along the way. It was a nice added feature. One downside, however, is that there is no bathroom on board the boat (which doesn't take long to figure out). So, it is a good thing that the ride is not much longer than 2 hours, and that we had a cap on how many drinks we could bring with us. 

Food is also allowed on board (anything from snacks to pizzas to cold cuts!), however, we were planning to eat dinner at one of the restaurants in the Flats after the ride, so we did not have any food on board with us.

All in all, our experience on the BrewBoat CLE was extremely positive. We are glad to have had the chance to book a ride, since slots fill up fast! The season ends on October 1, but they are already taking reservations for 2017. Captain Katie told me that while they currently have just one boat, it is their hope to soon have more boats in order to meet the demands of the public. Until then, make sure to make a reservation far in advance to ensure you get the time you want. The BrewBoat is perfect for bachelor or bachelorette parties, birthday celebrations (like ours), or just an excuse to get together and enjoy the beauty of the Cuyahoga River and downtown Cleveland in a fresh, new way!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Geauga County Amish Tours

Photos by OHventures

While staying at the Red Maple Inn in Burton this summer, I took advantage of the fantastic Amish Tours that they offer! These two hour excursions take you and up to 14 others in a conversion van through the rural roadways of Geauga and Trumbull Counties, telling stories and making stops along the way. Guests of the hotel, or any member of the public, can book a tour by calling ahead (any day except Thursday or Sunday). The cost is just $25-$29, and it is definitely worth it.

While on my tour, I learned a great deal about the history of the Amish culture, and the area itself. We stopped at the home of an Amish family to have a snack on homemade zucchini muffins and have conversations about their way of life. Here, we saw chickens, horses, and kittens, as well as freshly picked vegetables, hand-powered washing machines, and handmade soaps!

We also visited a schoolhouse (school is currently out of session) and a bakery (where I bought some delicious fry pies). The tour guide was able and willing to answer all questions we had about the Amish culture. She was a wealth of knowledge of the area, and of the Amish as a whole. One factoid we learned was that Geauga County is home to the 4th largest Amish population in the world!

The tour also took us to Mesopotamia, a town just across the county line in Trumbull County. Here, we stopped at the "End of the Commons," which is Ohio's oldest general store (and probably the one with the most character)! There was SO much to see at this store, that it most certainly calls for a separate visit. Last, we stopped at the Middlefield Original Cheese Co-Op for some yummy cheese samples!

The two hours aboard the van flew right by, and soon it was time to be dropped off back at the Red Maple Inn. It was incredibly educational, and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting the area. Soon, it was time for me to check out of the hotel, with a promise to return in the near future with my friends and family! I know for certain they'd appreciate the comfort and charm of the Red Maple Inn!

Red Maple Inn

Photos by OHventures

Every once and awhile, I find it necessary to escape from the fast-paced world of the big city by visiting Ohio's serene countryside. Nestled not far from Akron, Canton, Youngstown, and Cleveland is Geauga County, home of the world's 4th largest Amish community, and a perfect place to make that restful retreat.

This summer, I was invited to stay at the Red Maple Inn, a beautiful boutique hotel located in the small town of Burton in the heart of Geauga County's Amish Country. With unbeatable views of lush green fields, a selection of spacious rooms, and hearty Amish-style breakfast buffets, the offer to stay was impossible to pass up.

Arriving at the Red Maple Inn, I was "greeted" by Rut Maple, a horse and carriage crafted out of recycled steel parts by local artist Chris McConnell. This striking artwork sits right outside the entrance of the hotel, and sets the tone for the whimsical stay guests are about to experience.

There are 17 rooms and one suite available, each with handmade furniture crafted by the Amish from various types of wood. This makes each room a bit different from the others. However, all rooms come with a flat screen TV, fireplace, coffee maker, balcony with outdoor furniture, and my personal favorite: a jacuzzi tub! Talk about relaxing!

All guests have access to an on-site fitness facility, a library and gaming nook, You can also enjoy complimentary wine and hors d'oeuvres at certain times during the week. After enjoying a glass of red wine and checking into my room, I went out to explore the surrounding area.

Railroad car at Century Village Museum

The Red Maple Inn is located in walking distance to a number of worthwhile tourist stops. For starters, a small footbridge leads you from the hotel property to the Century Village Museum, a series of buildings and artifacts that serve as an authentic representation of life in the Western Reserve during the 1800s.

Burton Log Cabin & Sugar Camp

Walking a little further takes you to Burton Square,the center of town, modeled after the village greens of New England. Here, you can visit the Burton Chamber of Commerce Log Cabin & Sugar Camp, where pure maple syrup and other related products are made and sold. I took home a bottle of syrup, as well as some maple candies for my aunt (she loves them!).

Nearby is Warren's Spirited Kitchen, a rather new establishment in Burton, with a more modern feel to it. I sat and enjoyed a cocktail (a Cleveland Old Fashioned) while listening to a local guitarist, before retiring to my room at the Red Maple Inn.

On my way home, I stopped at Mary Yoder's Amish Kitchen for a home-cooked meatloaf dinner. If there's one thing that's consistent in the Geauga County Amish Country, it's how flavorful and filling its food is! I went home with a full belly and a happy heart!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Condado Tacos

Photos by OHventures

1227 N. High Street
Columbus, OH 43201
(614) 928-3909


132 S. High Street
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 456-7444

Tacos bring the people together. Plain and simple. If you don't like tacos, I can't trust you and you can't be my friend. And if you don't like Condado Tacos in Short North and Downtown Columbus, then that is taco blasphemy! 

These tacos are works of art. You build them from the shell-up, with loads of delicious and fresh ingredients you won't find at any other Mexican joint. You start with the tortilla, which can be corn or flour, soft or crunchy. BUT you can also get a double tortilla, with cheese, beans, or guacamole slathered in between the shells (my favorite is the "Ju-Ju" shell if you were wondering). Then, you choose from a great selection of proteins: chorizo, shrimp ceviche, brisket, ghost pepper marinated steak, roasted portabellos, and BBQ pulled jackfruit, to name a few. Then, you continue the process choosing toppings, cheese, salsa, and sauces! The possibilities are seemingly endless.

And, if for nothing else, be sure to go to Condado Tacos to get your table an order of the queso dip (pictured above). Believe me when I say, this is the best queso around! Muy bien!

And what's a good Mexican restaurant without some tasty margs? On my recent visit, I was going to just get the traditional house margarita like always, but the waiter insisted I try something different. So, he suggested the blackberry marg (pictured above), which did not disappoint.

Another thing I like about Condado Tacos is the decor. They have a "Day of the Dead" (or Dia de los Muertos) theme going on, with Catrina-style skulls, skeletons, sombreros, designs, and artwork on the walls and tables. I am particularly fond of the "Holy Guacamole" painting, as shown above.

I have gone to Condado Tacos on each of the past 3 visits I made to Columbus. It's just that good. You can reserve the "party table" for groups of 12 or more - which is what we did when having a "friends reunion" back in June. And, yes, we had many, many bowls of queso to go around!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Ride A Camel At Columbus Zoo

Photos by OHventures

Well, mark that one off of the bucket list! I rode me a camel!

When my friends from Chicago and Colorado were coming in to Ohio for the weekend, we decided to go to the Columbus Zoo. And, from the moment we went, all I had my sights on was riding a camel!

That's right! For just $7, you can take a short ride on the back of a camel at the Columbus Zoo. My friend Faye and I hopped on a camel named Ghost after standing in a short line, and we took a ride around the African Safari with one of the zoo workers guiding the way.

It was a tame ride, with only a few bumps in the road (no pun intended). The only thing lacking was the vast Sahara desert. I think I prefer being in the comfort of Ohio instead of in the middle of the Sahara, though!

If you go to the Columbus Zoo, be sure to ride a camel. And, while you're at it, take some time to take part in some of the other interactive elements found at the zoo: feed the giraffes, walk alongside the kangaroos, pet the stingrays, and let lorikeets land on you while you feed them nectar!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Akron To Cincy

Photos by Tim Fitzwater

The following post was written for publication on the website "The Akronist." The Akronist is a source for compelling stories about greater Akron. It has local videos, photos, podcasts, articles, and blogs produced by the community. I wrote this piece as a recap of a recent trip taken with a group of fellow Akronites in the young leadership group known as Torchbearers. 

As a bus full of 35 Akronites rolled into the Over-the-Rhine district of Cincinnati on June 5, smart phones began taking pictures and tagging social media posts with the hashtag “#TB2Cincy.”

There was no question that the working minds of Torchbearers of Akron had arrived, and they were eager to learn about the southwest Ohio city nearly four hours away from home. Creative juices were flowing, and notepads were at the ready to catch inspiration during the group’s two-day excursion to the Queen City.

In early 2015, Torchbearers received its largest single grant ($65,000) from the John S. and James L Knight Foundation. This grant sponsored two trips, the first being to Detroit in May 2015, and the second being the most recent trip to Cincinnati on June 5 and 6 of this year.

It was the goal of Torchbearers to travel to Cincinnati in order to learn about the city’s efforts in arts and culture, neighborhood revitalization and economic development, with the hopes of bringing back these ideas for programs in Akron. In addition, the trip was an opportunity for Torchbearers to share with those in Cincinnati all the innovative things Akron is doing to revitalize and grow.