Ohio is seemingly made of the very same stuff as a successful camping trip: grit and edge and not only a willingness to get her hands dirty, maybe even a love for it.
While the Buckeye State may not spring to mind when travelers from afar plan their ’round the nation adventures, to dismiss it altogether is like taking the Interstate cross country…you’re going to miss something. Unfortunately, all too many a wanderer will find themselves doing just that; hopping on Interstate 70 or the Turnpike (a combined route encompassing I-80 & I-90), passing through a state that offers as much recreation as its residents can swing.
Ohio’s State Parks
The Buckeye State has some 70 areas dedicated as “state parks,” over 50 of which provide camping. From the shores of Lake Erie to parks just outside of the major cities, wherever your route takes you, an Ohio State Park won’t be far away. For those of you who like to procure you’re own dinner, the state is one of the few where you’re not only allowed to fish, but hunting is often seasonally permitted as well (all with a valid Ohio license, of course).
Known for large campsites and family fun on the weekends, Ohio’s state parks also tend to be great for full-timers, too, particularly because of their good cellular coverage. Ohio is a densely populated state, so a cell tower is rarely far away. Feel free to post up for a couple of weeks, get your work done, and then heading out to explore a little nature is just a matter of stepping away from your RV!
Parks like Alum Creek offer traditional experiences like taking a dip in the lake or sitting around a campfire roasting s’mores with the kids at night, while others like Findley State Park are more attractive to mountain bikers and disc golf enthusiasts. Some lesser traveled parks are well worth your weekend adventure, too, such as Great Seal State Park where you can get lost in the history of the Buckeye State, from early statehood back through the stories of the indigenous Shawnee people who lived here for centuries.
Hocking Hills State Park
This picturesque slice of forest could easily be mistaken for a gnomish kingdom
While Ohio is home to a lesser known national park, Hocking Hills State Park near Logan, Ohio makes Cuyahoga Valley National Park feel like a…well, a walk in the woods.
Hosting waterfalls galore, with names like Corkscrew and Old Man’s Cave, this picturesque slice of forest could easily be mistaken for a gnomish kingdom with its dense undergrowth and old stone arch bridges. Whether you want to practice your backstroke or your archery aim, catch a trout or hike a trail, Hocking Hills not only comes equipped with more than 170 campsites suitable for tents and RVs, but even boasts WiFi and a dining lodge. You know, for when you really want to rough it.
Not the full-hookups type? Hocking Hills has 22 primitive hike in sites, too, in a walk-in campground where cars aren’t even allowed.
The Lighthouse at Marblehead State Park
Reminiscent of an ocean setting, this state park near the entrance to Sandusky Bay can serve as the perfect introduction to any first time visitor to the Great Lakes. The lighthouse plays centerpiece to views of islands, striking limestone cliffs and of course Lake Erie itself.
While there is no camping at Marblehead, you can find a more than comfortable place to camp less than fifteen minutes away at East Harbor State Park, or at various private RV parks on the peninsula.
Exploring the Best Camping and Sights in Ohio
Ohio State Reformatory
What better way to juxtapose the freedom of camping than by…touring a prison?
While most famous as the setting for the movie Shawshank Redemption, this impressively beautiful building (yes, even for a prison) has history galore stuffed between its black and white stripes, dating all the way back to when the area was a training camp for Civil War soldiers. And when you’re done listening to Morgan Freeman do the voiceover of the tour in your head, it’s only ten minutes east on US 30 to the beautiful Charles Mill Lake county park, where 450 campsites and a gorgeous lakeside setting are waiting for you to stare up at the stars and thank their luck you have the freedom to keep on moving down the road whenever you’d please.
The area offers a whole lot more than just prison cells and a lake, the area surrounding Mansfield, Ohio comes fully equipped for any family vacation–from go kart tracks to museums, bird watching to a renaissance theatre.
Oak Openings, a Toledo MetroPark
Prickly pear cactus and sand dunes living alongside marshlands? Are we in Ohio or the Gulf of Mexico here? One of the rarest natural habitats found anywhere East of the Mississippi, Oak Openings is a nature lover’s dream, proof that even in the face of the densest civilization, some things just find a way to persist.
Primitive tent camping is available at the White Oak Campground, or several other campgrounds in the immediate area can accommodate RVs.
Magee Marsh Wildlife Refuge
Can you tell the chirp of a chestnut-sided warbler from a ruby-crowned kinglet? Able to spot a parula from a hundred yards away? If you even know what these words mean, Magee Marsh Wildlife Refuge (and next door’s Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge) may be just your cup of birdseed. Every spring, thousands upon thousands of songbirds stop here on their way north for the summer.
A six minute cruise south puts you at Camp Sabroske, an RV park where nothing but the sounds of nature will stand between you and a good evening’s rest before stuffing your daypack with the Sibley Guide and a good set of binoculars.
Camp Sabroske is a Christian park, open to the public, with a summer camp vibe. Shoot some hoops after breakfast or hop into one of their paddleboats, take a dip in the pool or see if the fish are biting. Maybe they’ll be throwing a Sunday cookout in appreciation of their campers, or you might stumble on an All You Can Eat breakfast fundraiser. You can even take to the trails when the warblers aren’t flocking, by foot or by horse thanks to the stable right on property.
Ohio’s National Parks & National Forests
While Ohio is home to one of the few proper National Parks in the Northeast, Cuyahoga Valley doesn’t offer much in the way of camping for RVers (camping is limited to a few primitive, walk-in sites in the park). Along the state’s western border, though, Wayne National Forest provides a handful of locations to camp, from primitive, dispersed camping like Lane Farm to water and electric sites such as Oak Hill.
Explore Ohio’s Cities…from Your RV!
Even with all of the natural areas available for your authentic camping experience, Ohio can often feel like one big city connected by Interstates. So why not enjoy the luxuries the big city can provide?
We’ve touched on Toledo’s Metroparks, and the city has no shortage of places you camp nearby in general. Cincinnati is surrounded by county parks offering full hookups and sites large enough even for big rigs, while the outskirts of Columbus are dotted with private RV parks you can use as your own personal suburbs while exploring the city’s art community, restaurants and riverfront.
If you can swing it though, finding a place to call home for a few nights near Cleveland is sure to keep you full of things to do while exploring this renovated Rust Belt city. From the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame to hipster-packed neighborhoods like Ohio City, the Cleveland Botanical Gardens to the haunted Franklin Castle, there is so much to explore in what is easily one of the Midwest’s coolest towns.
Camp Beneath a Rollercoaster!
Okay maybe not directly beneath, but if you’re a thrill-seeker and find yourself in northern Ohio, Cedar Point (aka, the “Rollercoaster Capital of the World”) is a must see…
Some 365 acres of roller coasters, carnival games and funnel cakes (you may know them as elephant ears or beaver’s tails or fried dough depending on where you’re from) await and Lighthouse Point promises “luxury RV camping” right in the middle of it all!
A Slower Pace of Life in Ohio’s Amish Country
Finally, no trip would be complete without a tour of the rolling hills and farmland known colloquially as Ohio’s Amish Country. Horse-drawn buggies clacking down rocky dirt roads, meandering through forests and farms lined with wooden fences…this part of the state is a step back in time, before the buzz of electricity and hum of industry became such a pervasive part of our society.
While the Amish are often known for their handmade goods and homegrown food, the small towns and countryside they call home provides a plethora of ways to step back in time. Vintage tractor shows, outdoor music festivals and classes like Homesteading 101 are all just a jaunt down the road from a slew of RV parks in the area.