National Underground Railroad Freedom Center – Cincinnati

My family and I decided that this year we’d explore the history of the Underground Railroad in Ohio.  So, in February we started that journey off with the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Located along the Ohio River in downtown Cinci, the three floors of the museum explore the history of slavery in America, the experience of escaping slavery along the Underground Railroad, and show the state of slavery today. Continue reading “National Underground Railroad Freedom Center – Cincinnati”

Christmas Lights at Historic Clifton Mill

I LOVE CHRISTMAS LIGHTS! They area easily my favorite thing about the holiday season.  The last few years we have tried to get in at least one visit to a “major” light display.  A few years ago we went to the The Christmas Ranch (near Cincinnati).  We often got to Wildlights as the Columbus Zoo.  This year we went to the Historic Clifton Mill lights.

What is it?

The Historic Clifton Mill is a water-powered grist mill located in Clifton, Ohio (just south of Springfield, a little east of Dayton, about 40 minutes South West of Columbus).   Starting the day after Thanksgiving, and running through New Year’s Eve, the mill displays an amazing number of Christmas lights, a light show, and some other attractions.  Their website says they put up 4 million lights.  I believe it! Continue reading “Christmas Lights at Historic Clifton Mill”

Road Trip: Holden Arboretum

Holden Arboretum

For a Saturday Family Adventure, we decided on a trip up to the Holden Arboretum. This park has been on my bucket list since they opened the canopy walk in the last couple years.

What It Is

I explained an arboretum to my kids as an “outside tree museum in a park.”  Which made sense to them.  Holden Arboretum is 3,600 acres of a grounds to explore with 20 miles of trails.  We (obviously) didn’t see the whole thing in one trip.  Holden has a canopy walk and a very tall tower to explore for a small extra fee.

Our Experience

Hourglass Pond

We drove up to Kirtland, Ohio (on the east side of Cleveland) on a beautiful Saturday.  The park is located in the middle of some residential areas with many other metro parks near by.

The arboretum is open from 9:00 – 5:00 daily.  We spent about 3 hours total walking around and exploring before we ran out of steam.

What We Spent

This is on the cheaper side for admissions.  Adults are $10, Children 6 – 17 are $4, under 6 is free.  The Canopy Walk & Tower ticket is $4/$2 additional.  There are a few discount options for active military and AAA members.  There are also a variety of membership options available.  If you think you’ll go up seasonally and have a big family, this would make sense.  (Side note: I do wish places had Single Parent Family membership options.  I don’t have 2 adults.  Family memberships are just never a good deal for me….. grr.)

  • 1 Adult, 2 Kids Admission to the Arboretum – $18
  • Canopy Walk & Tower for each of us – $8
  • AAA Discount – $3
  • Total Spent: $26

What We Did

We decided to head back to the Canopy Walk and Tower first.  Not knowing quite what to expect, we wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to get through these.

Canopy Walk

The Murch Canopy Walk consists of a few different suspended bridges between platforms.  You feel like you are walking among the canopy of the trees.  There is a small amount of movement to the bridges but not too scary at all.  It was quite pretty and you got a good look at the top parts of the trees.  To walk the whole canopy walk takes about 5 – 10 minutes.  I was a little disappointed by the short length of the thing (and you can only go around once), but it was pretty cool overall.

View from tower

The Kalberer Emergent Tower is one super tall tower with 195 steps to the top.  This was stunning and our favorite.  You are waaaaayyyyyy up above the trees and get a good look at the overall landscape and Lake Erie in the distance.  The top of the tower sways quite a bit in the wind which is always thrilling.  There are platforms along the way up to stop and rest if needed.   This attraction took a little longer, probably 15 minutes to walk all the way up casually, enjoy the view a bit, and come back down.

For the rest of our time we explored a couple of the trails.  We spent a good bit of time walking the Woodland Trail with a few side trails to see a boardwalk and a meditation spot.  We looked at the rhododendron section on our way to the canopy walk and tower.  And we checked out some of the “Buckeye Buds Adventure Woods” due to a wrong turn.   We did a super fast walk around part of the butterfly garden – we were getting tired, hungry, and it isn’t butterfly season so this was not our favorite.

Our Tips

There was a small selection of food available; it looked like some group was selling hot dogs, chips, etc. as a fund raiser.  There is a large picnic area near the visitor’s center that would be great for a packed lunch.

Everything here is outdoors.  The visitor’s center doesn’t have much inside.  Be prepared for the weather.

Leashed dogs are permitted on the property, but not on the canopy walk, tower, or in any buildings.

Final Thoughts

This was a great way to walk around for a few hours.  It is a long drive from Columbus and would be a great thing to add in to a weekend trip to Cleveland.  We did stop in Eastlake for an early dinner then to Willowick for some ice cream.  We tried to find a spot to check out the lake but only found one park that had a little overlook area.

We all had a nice time and enjoyed the arboretum overall.  The tower was definitely the highlight for all.


Ohio Chinese Lantern Festival

DragonSunday, December 4, the kids and I decided to check out the Ohio Chinese Lantern Festival at the Ohio Expo Center & State Fair Grounds (it’s in the Natural Resources area of the State Fair Grounds).  This special event runs through January 2, 2017.

The Crew

The kids (12 & 15) and I went to this event.  I had to drag them along to get them to go, but once there, they seemed to enjoy it. (When we were getting ready for bed, I thanked my 15-year-old son for going to the festival with me.  He replied “It really was pretty cool, other than the rain. — I had fun.”  You don’t get much better than that from a 15-year-old young man! )

What It Is

Ohio Chinese Lantern Festival boasts 39 beautiful lantern displays ranging from a 200 feet long illuminated dragon to glowing tulip-lined walk ways. The lanterns are created by hand using silk fabric, steel frames, and tens of thousands of LED lights. (

There are tables of various things for sale from cheepy little light up stuff to hand crafted paper cutout cards. Its a little bit of a mix of things.

They have performances on the amphitheater stage. This was a small troupe of performers with some fun acts (juggling, acrobatics, dancing) and lasted about 20 minutes.

They have food and drinks available. They had an “American” station that had burgers, brats, fries, etc.  There was a “Chinese” station that had lo mein, fried wontons, rice, etc.  A “Sweets” station with fortune cookies, fried oreos, fried snickers.  And then a variety of drinks from Hot Cocoa to cider to beer to cocktails.

A Pandorama <-- clever!
– A Pandorama <– Clever! (Caption courtesy of the 12 year old)

Our Experience

I’ve had several people ask me “Was it worth it? It seemed expensive”.  To which I have replied a very non-committal  “eeeee…..yeah?!?”.  Depends on how you value this kind of thing.  I absolutely love lights and lighted exhibits.  This was also something new to Columbus and was quite different than other light exhibits at this time of year.  So, for me, yeah.. it was worth it.  Had the weather been a bit better it would have been better.

What I spent:

  • Parking – $5
  • Admission – $15 for me, $10 for each kid under 17 = $35 for us (They have a family 4 pack that is $40 for 2 adults &2 kids, which brings the cost per person down a bit. I’ve yet to find places that give single-parent families much of a break on these things. 🙂 )
  • Hot Cocoa – $3 each – $9 for us each to have one.  (They were a good size cup, so $3 seemed pretty reasonable.)
  • Total: $49

If you have a bunch of “I want.. i want… i want” people in your group, food could get expensive here as could the lure of the little toys and what not.

What we did:

We walked around the lights and really enjoyed them, it was nice variety of shapes and scenes.  It probably took us just about 30 minutes to walk thru and take pictures.  We then had to wait about 30 minutes to see the 6:30 performance. All told, we were there just under 2 hours but a lot of that was spent standing around the food area just waiting.  If the weather was nice, we may have walked back through the lights, but it was a chilly rainy night.

We watched the performances and all really enjoyed that.  We had a lot of “wow.. how’d he do that!?!?” moments.  It’s no Cirque du Soleil, but it was enjoyable.

Our Tips

Everything is outdoors.  Only the food area had a covering, but it is very open.  Dress for the weather!!! We were wet and cold when we left.  The amphitheater seating is all completely open to the elements.  If it’s been raining or snowing, you may want to throw a poncho or plastic bag in your pocket before you go so that you have something dry to sit on.

We spent a lot of time waiting around for the performance.  If you can get there shortly before the 6:30 or 8:00 performance, then walk through the lights after you could better manage the time.  My kids just started to get on each other’s nerves before the show.  I noticed families with little kids having the same issue as they were waiting.dsc_0456

Final Thoughts

For me, this was a fun evening out without too much time commitment or pressure.  It would make a good week night outing if there isn’t much homework. The fair grounds are relatively close and easy to get to.  I really love lights, so it was very enjoyable for me.  Both kids seemed to enjoy everything other than the weather. We call it a win.