Top 14 Road Trips From Columbus, Ohio - Updated 2024

road trips from columbus ohio
Nicole
Nicole 
Contributing Writer
Updated
| 7 min read

Ohio’s capital, Columbus, is situated centrally in the state and has a history of being a place that attracted fur traders from Europe. Today, it is one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation. So, what’s driving so many people to Columbus? Well, it has a strong and diverse economy, but it also offers plenty of attractions and activities. Art lovers can explore the many museums that call the city home, including the Columbus Museum of Art. There are many performing arts venues where you can watch theatre, ballet, or live music. If you’re a sports fan, there are plenty of professional sports teams to root for. Accommodation options include luxury hotels and townhomes. There are also other cities to explore around Columbus. Continue reading to discover the top road trips from Columbus, Ohio.

1. Indianapolis, IN

Indianapolis 1988
Source: Photo by Flickr user Dr Bob Hall used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Indianapolis and Columbus are conveniently connected by a manageable distance of approximately 175 miles (281.64 kilometres), which typically translates to a comfortable 3-hour drive via I-70 West. This proximity makes Indianapolis an ideal destination for a weekend getaway or even a day trip.

Indianapolis is renowned for its diverse cultural offerings, including the world-class Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, the iconic Monument Circle with its soaring Soldiers’ & Sailors’ Monument, and the exhilarating Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home to the legendary Indy 500 race. Families will delight in Children’s Museum Indianapolis, one of the largest in the world, while outdoor enthusiasts can explore the scenic Canal Walk or relax in White River State Park. Moreover, the city’s burgeoning food scene, sports events, and vibrant neighbourhoods, such as Mass Ave, provide various options to satisfy all tastes and interests.

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2. Pittsburgh, PA

Duquesne Incline (50076338942) (cropped)
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Russell Sekeet used under CC BY 2.0

Columbus is bustling with a wide array of things to do alone for solo travellers, and one of them is going off on a road trip. From Columbus, you can easily reach Pittsburgh in around 3 hours via I-70 East, covering a distance of approximately 185 miles (297.73 kilometres).

Roadtrippers can explore the historic Strip District, where they can savour delicious local cuisine, shop for unique finds, and soak in the bustling atmosphere. Pittsburgh is also renowned for its stunning skyline, best viewed from Duquesne Incline, which goes up Mount Washington.

The city is also rich in culture, boasting world-class museums such as Carnegie Museum of Art and The Andy Warhol Museum. Sports enthusiasts can catch a Pittsburgh Steelers (National Football League) or Pittsburgh Pirates (Major League Baseball) game, while nature lovers can enjoy the beautiful Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens or venture to nearby outdoor destinations such as Ohiopyle State Park.

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3. Ann Arbor, MI

The State Theatre in the early evening
Source: Photo by Flickr user Chris Rycroft used under CC BY 2.0

Coming from Columbus, the travel time to Ann Arbor up north will take 3 hours with 189 miles (304 km) in between. It is a great place to drive to, especially when you’re with kids, due to the abundance of family-friendly attractions in the area. Famous sites and institutions like the University of Michigan, the Museum of Natural History, and the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum are all housed in the city. Being a university city, there’s plenty of things to do in Ann Arbor, including a thriving tech and nightlife scene.

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4. Niagara Falls, NY

Niagara Falls
Source: Photo by Flickr user JoseluBilbo. used under CC BY-ND 2.0

When you are in Columbus on a romantic getaway, there’s no arguing that one of the best places to visit nearby is Niagara Falls in New York. Coming from Columbus, the road trip will take over five hours when you take the route passing by Cleveland and other Lake Erie towns. The iconic Niagara Falls is shared by this city as well as Niagara Falls, Ontario. Besides a trip to the famed waterfalls, the other things that you can do while you’re in town are Cave of the Winds, Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel, and Whirlpool State Park.

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5. Decatur, IL

Downtown Decatur
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Tross1118 used under CC BY-SA 4.0

The first city on our list is Decatur, Illinois, located about five hours from Columbus. It’s situated on two bodies of water, Lake Decatur and the Sangamon River, so it’s an excellent road trip spot if you enjoy activities like swimming, boating, or fishing. If you prefer land-based activities, you can check out the cars at Chevrolet Hall of Fame Museum or watch the animals at Scovill Zoo. If you’re looking to stretch your legs after the long drive, you can go for a hike at Sand Creek Conservation Area.

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6. Smithfield, VA

sunflowers - Windsor Castle Park Smithfield Virginia
Source: Photo by Flickr user C Watts used under CC BY 2.0

Next, we have Smithfield, Virginia, a town that rests along the Pagan River to the east of the state. The drive will take you around nine hours, and you’ll be going through the scenic Appalachian Mountains. This small town has lots of history since it was colonised in 1634. Today, tourists like to visit the city’s Historic District, which features buildings from the Colonial, Federal, and Victorian periods. If you’d like to learn more about the area’s history, you can head to the Isle of Wight County Museum where you can find a variety of interactive exhibitions. Head to Smithfield Inn, a historic tavern turned bed and breakfast that was built in the mid-1700s. Smithfield makes a great road trip stop if you enjoy history and want to learn a bit more about one of America’s oldest cities.

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7. Gatlinburg, TN

PICT2250
Source: Photo by Flickr user Jamin used under CC BY 2.0

Gatlinburg, Tennessee makes an excellent stop on a road trip if you love the great outdoors. This city is considered a mountain resort city: it sits on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that offers hiking, fishing, and a plethora of other outdoor activities. And there’s plenty of other attractions to enjoy here. Take the SkyLift up to Gatlinburg Space Needle, where you’ll have stunning views over the mountains. Or stroll through the Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community, an eight-mile section of the city that highlights the artisans of the local mountain community. The 6-hour drive from Columbus, Ohio, will be well worth it!

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8. Harvard, IL

Harvard Illinois Downtown 01
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Cosmo1976 used under PUBLIC DOMAIN

Now let’s head out of the South and into the Midwest. Harvard, one of the best driving vacations from Columbus, Ohio, is located to the north of the state, near the Wisconsin border. The town might be named after the elite East Coast university, but its heart is truly in the Midwest. It calls itself the Milk Capital of the World, and one of the biggest events here is the Harvard Milk Festival that happens in the first weekend of June. But there’s more to this place than just milk. You can pay a visit to Rush Creek Distilling, a popular distillery where you can try their craft cocktails. Or head to Royal Oak Farm Orchard where you can pick apples. Harvard is about seven hours from Columbus.

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9. Middleburg, VA

The Red Fox Inn Middleburg (VA) Thanksgiving 2013
Source: Photo by Flickr user Ron Cogswell used under CC BY 2.0

If you’re looking to explore the charms of a small town, then make the six-hour drive to Middleburg, Virginia. The town dates back to 1787 when it was founded by a Lieutenant Colonel from the Revolutionary War named Leven Powell. In the town’s Historic District, you can talk a walk past buildings from the 19th century. The oldest building is Red Fox Inn & Tavern, and it dates back to 1728 - the oldest inn that has continually operated in the United States. Aside from its historic charm, Middleburg is known as a popular spot where people come to hunt. It even has a museum and library dedicated to the sport: the National Sporting Library & Museum.

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10. Jonesborough, TN

Main Street, Jonesborough, TN
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Sodei8971 used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Let’s head back to Tennessee, to a town called Jonesborough. It’s a vacation spot within 8 hours of Columbus, Ohio. It’s another historic town - it was established in 1779 and is considered the state’s oldest town. Visitors come to explore the Historic District here that is comprised of 72 preserved buildings. These include Chester Inn (1797) and Jonesborough United Methodist Church (1847). Chester Inn is an excellent stop to make if you like history, as it has been turned into a museum called Chester Inn State Historic Site and Museum. If you feel the need to stretch your legs, then head to Persimmon Ridge Park where you can hike the trails. It will take you about six hours to drive to Jonesborough from Columbus, and you’ll drive through the scenic Appalachian Mountains to get there.

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11. Galena, IL

Thunder Bay Falls
Source: Photo by Flickr user Joseph Gage used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Next up, we have the town of Galena, Illinois, it’s about an eight-hour drive from Columbus. It’s situated to the northwest of the state, and it’s another spot that’s perfect for history buffs. The town was home to Civil War Lieutenant General and eventual president Ulysses S. Grant. You can visit his former home, which has been restored to how it looked in the late 1800s, and the house even has some of Grant’s original furniture and belongings. When you’ve had your fill of history, you can head to Blaum Bros. Distilling Co., a distillery founded by two brothers who have a passion for whiskey. Or head to Casper Bluff where you can walk the trails and enjoy beautiful views of the Mississippi River.

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12. Lynchburg, TN

2011_03_GA_TN 536
Source: Photo by Flickr user ravas51 used under CC BY-SA 2.0

This destination brings us back to Tennessee. Lynchburg is almost eight hours away from Columbus and is located in Tennessee’s south-central region. The city is best known as the home of Jack Daniels, the famous whiskey brand. You can take a tour of the distillery and learn more about the company and the process of making whiskey. If you want to take in some of the town’s history, then pay a visit to Lynchburg Old Jail Museum. The jail opened in 1893 and closed in 1990, and visitors today can learn about life inside the cells. And no trip to Tennessee is complete without a stop at a local barbecue joint. Lynchburg has Barrelhouse BBQ on offer, a place famous for its grilled cheese that has pulled pork, cheese, and habanero sauce.

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13. Clarksville, VA

Downtown Clarksville - panoramio
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Idawriter used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Clarksville is located in the southern part of the state of Virginia. It’s a small town of fewer than 2000 people, but it’s got an interesting history: it was first inhabited by the Occaneechi Native Americans, and became a fast-growing town in the 1830s thanks to the tobacco industry. Today it’s a popular spot for those who enjoy being outdoors. The town sits on Kerr Lake, the perfect spot for swimming, boating, and fishing. In fact, each July, Virginia Lake Festival is held in Clarksville, and a whopping 80,000 visitors swarm this place to celebrate. If lake-based activities aren’t your thing, you can always go for a hike in Occoneechee State Park. The drive here will take you through the Appalachian Mountain range, and it will last around eight hours.

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14. Frankfort, IL

West Frankfort, Illinois
Source: Photo by user Paul Sableman used under CC BY 2.0

To finish off our list, we will head back to Illinois, this time to a town called Frankfort. The drive will take almost six hours. This village is located to the northwest of the state and is a thriving suburb of Chicago. The downtown area is full of boutiques, so it’s an excellent spot to visit if you want to purchase unique items and support local businesses. If you’re travelling with kids, a trip to KidsWork Children’s Museum is a must - there’s plenty of interactive exhibitions to keep the little ones entertained. And if you like reading comic books, then you can spend some time in Amazing Fantasy Books & Comics.

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Plenty to explore from Columbus

Of course, you can always choose to just sit back and relax in a staycation spot in Ohio but if you’re looking for some outdoor fun in a town like Decatur, Illinois, or the historic charm of a place like Middleburg, you can drive off for a weekend road trip from Ohio. You should see the sights or engage in the many fun things to do in Columbus first before you embark on your journey. Make sure to pack some snacks and enjoy your road trip from Columbus, Ohio!

Frequently asked questions about road trips from Columbus


Any must-sees we missed? Tell us about them in the comments section or write a post here to help out fellow travelers!
Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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Nicole is an American expat living in London, England. When she moved from the midwest to London in 2012, it was her first time leaving the US. She has traveled steadily since then, making trips...Read more

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