Road trip

As gas prices continue to climb up with the temperatures, families in the Mid-Ohio Valley might be looking for ways to get out and enjoy summer without driving long-distance to Florida beaches or taking cross-country flights to pricey destinations.

Some call it a stay-cation and some tourism specialists call them fun-cursions, but within a radius of just a few hundred miles is a wealth of parks, museums, zoos and family attractions that do not break the bank and will not eat up an entire two-week vacation.

From the top-ranking zoos found throughout Ohio to the historical Duquesne Incline in Pittsburgh, fun can be found right in your own backyard this summer.

Animals

There is really no need to book a trip to the Sahara to see the wild up close, especially for anyone willing to just head up Interstate 77.

“Not as many people know about The Wilds as you might think,” said Tamara Brown, spokeswoman for Discover Ohio. “It’s a big conservation effort, and the dollars go toward more conservation efforts, but you also learn quite a bit.”

Adults and children alike can enjoy vehicle safari tours, zip lining adventures, horseback and fishing safaris across the several hundred acres of wildlife reservation at the park in Cumberland.

“There are giraffes, zebra, buffalos-you name it, it’s out there,” Brown said. “It’s one of those places where if someone dropped you in the middle of it without telling you where you were, you’d never think you’re in Ohio.”

A general bus safari tour runs $20 for an adult, and an open-air tour runs at $30, with up-close and special group tours running at higher rates.

In just several hours or just a few hours, animals lovers can enjoy the Toledo, Columbus and Cincinnati Zoos, all recently top-ranked by USA Today as the best zoos in America.

On Thursday, the Columbus Zoo opened its new Hearts of Africa exhibit across 43 acres, which zoo officials describe as a “kaleidoscope of sights, sounds and special experiences that mirror the heart and soul of Africa.”

The Good Zoo at Oglebay Park in Wheeling is another nearby destination that is perfect for all ages.

“It’s really good for younger ages especially,” said Jacqueline Proctor, communications director for West Virginia Commerce. “There’s also just beautiful property that you can stroll around that is really popular in the summertime.”

A 50-species, 30-acre zoo awaits families at Oglebay, with dinosaurs, an Outback Exhibit and a newly popular Lorikeet Landing.

General admission to various zoos in the area run in the $5 to $20 range depending on location, with several discounts available for young children, seniors, military members and zoo members.

Museums & History

Marietta has its own wealth of museums and historical sites that are low-cost and cater to all ages, or families can venture out a bit farther if they wish.

“In summer, our main thing is, people travel down 77 and stop to see us locally, but we also get them from all over and from different countries,” said Le Ann Hendershot, manager of the Ohio River and Campus Martius museums.

Both sites offer brown bag lunches throughout the summer, day programs for children and riverfront access to historical boats like the W.P. Snyder.

Discover Ohio also offers full itineraries to visit the various houses and museums dedicated to eight U.S. presidents born in Ohio.

“There are so many options, from the McKinley Museum in Northeast Ohio, with its beautiful Greek architecture that is completely free, or the National First Ladies Library, all just up the highway in Canton,” Brown said.

Western Pennsylvania has its own share of history too, from its museums to the famous Duquesne Incline.

“Pittsburgh is perfect for that stay-cation getaway,” said Kelly Walker of the Tierny Agency out of Philadelphia.

The Duquesne Incline, built in 1877 and one of the only incline cars left in the country, takes visitors up for the best view of Pittsburgh, where a museum of city history awaits at the top.

Even better, a round-trip ticket to see the view and ride the old car is just $5 for an adult.

Combating the idea of “look, don’t touch,” the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh can also be fun for the whole family, offering multimedia rooms, water activities, theater and gardens.

At Blennerhassett Island State Park, families can enjoy a whole day of activities, from horse-drawn carriage rides, tours through the Blennerhassett mansion and sternwheeler rides.

“It’s even better for families with older children who are hard to get to like anything as teenagers,” Proctor said. “It’s rich with history, and the biggest attraction is just taking the ferry over there. Families always have a lot of fun.”

Entrance to all of these museums and attractions run less than $10, with special pricing for extra attractions or events.

Outdoors

One of the best things about enjoying nature over the summer is that a lot of the time, it comes at little and often no cost at all, with state parks offering free admission with low camping prices and separate tickets available for tours and activities.

In Monroe County, families who might just want a relaxing Sunday can take the county’s self-guided quilt barn tour, a 20-barn scenic country drive that highlights the painted patchwork network of quilts displayed on structures across the county.

“A lot of people call and ask about it or write and request this driving tour, but there are points of interest along the trail so people can make a whole trip of it,” said Myrna Morrison of the Monroe County Chamber of Commerce. “There are plenty of things families can do, from the covered bridges to all of the parks we offer here.”

Along the way, families can spend a weekend at M&D Horses in Graysville, with its own cabin rentals, boating, kayaking and horseback riding opportunities.

“Ohio has plenty of boating, fishing, swimming and camping opportunities in state parks, where admission inside is always free,” Brown said. “Seneca Lake is perfect for outdoor activities, and places like Lake Hope are perfect for overnight and dining experiences.”

Nearby places like Hocking Hills offer lodge and cabin rentals as well as fun activities like zip lining and tours of Old Man’s Cave and Conkle’s Hollow.

In West Virginia sits North Bend State Park in Cairo, where a similar weekend can be found.

“Its trails stretch over four counties, and the best part is that it is virtually free, and perfect for horseback riding, biking and camping,” Proctor said.

Holden Arboretum in Kirtland and Dawes Arboretum in Newark are just two of many of their kind in Ohio.

“Holden is especially known for its rhododendrons that flower in spring, and its butterfly garden is also such a beautiful thing to see in summer,” Brown said.

Admission to Dawes, which features eight miles of hiking trails and 15,000 plants, is completely free, and Holden charges $10 and under for nonmembers.

Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, like many states, are constantly featuring special offers to encourage locals to enjoy what the state has to offer without breaking the bank or traveling a long distance.