Fall is here, and it’s full steam ahead. Our weeks are a juggle of school, preschool and work — and our weekends are jam-packed with fall festivals, family events and errands. I’m not complaining. We’re having so much fun — but I’m definitely missing the long, lazy days of summer. So, when the Athens County Visitors Bureau reached out to me about featuring a “unique small town in Ohio” rife with fun, family friendly activities, I immediately jumped on the opportunity.
From Dayton, the drive to Athens clocks in at just over two hours, making it the perfect weekend getaway. For families who enjoy being active and outdoors, Athens is perfect, featuring more than one dozen state parks and trails, a national park, three covered bridges, a bike trail, zip lines, horseback riding and more! Families with younger kids will especially appreciate the many kid friendly hiking trails, passenger train, mini golf and pony rides.
Last weekend, we packed up the car for an adventure in Athens. Here are the highlights from our weekend in Athens County:
We’ve just gotten into hiking as a family, so it was fun to check out some of Athens’ trails.
First up: The Ridges. This place was so cool! The site of the former Athens Asylum, today The Ridges is now property of Ohio University. There are several OU buildings on the grounds, an art museum, mini golf course, and, of course, lots of hiking trails.
There are four separate hiking trails on The Ridges: the Ridges Trail, the Athens Trail, the River Valley Nature Walk and The Ridges Cemetery Nature Walk. Having just arrived from a 2.5 hour car ride, the kids were happy to wander and stretch their legs. There was even a Parcours course along the way, and we took turns on the balance beam, standing see-saw and box jumping crates. We brought along the Ergo just in case, but these trails were very kid friendly — even for our littlest munchkin!
For a longer walk, Stroud’s Run State Park is a great choice! There are over 40 miles of trails just waiting to be hiked, making it a perfect choice for older kids or more serious hikers.
Kid Friendly Attractions
My kids had never gone mini golfing, and this was a blast! We went to Putt People First on Saturday afternoon. It was at The Ridges, and was such a special place. Each of the 18 holes are sponsored by a different Athens business, and my kids loved looking at the different decor (mini signs, a propane tank, windmill, tiny house — it was the most unique mini golf course I’ve ever been to!).
What makes Putt People First truly special, though, is its employees. The course is run by HAVAR, an Athens nonprofit that provides vocational training and support to people with developmental disabilities. The staff at Putt People were so kind to my kids, making friendly conversation with us as we ventured through the course. It was basically chaos watching my kids tackle the course — but so much fun!
The Bike Trail
Hockhocking Adena Bikeway is a 21-mile bike trail that takes you through some of the most stunning views in Eastern Ohio. As the weather turns cooler, the views are only going to get better! If you’re looking to rent bikes or buggies, definitely go with Black Diamond Rental, which was I’d highly recommend for their professionalism and reasonable rates.
Uncle Buck’s Riding Stable is THE place to go for pony rides in Athens. And having a horse-obsessed preschooler, we knew this was something we had to do.
This was, by far, the highlight of our trip. We had such a great time. We were immediately welcomed by a few of the horse trainers, who let my kids pet the friendly foals while telling us all about their training. There were horses everywhere, and my kids were encouraged to pet and love on them. Harvey immediately took to Walrus the friendly farm cat, who was seriously the nicest kitty I’ve ever met.
While we were in horse heaven, a bearded hippie walked out toward us — it was none other than Uncle Buck himself! He welcomed us to the stables, making friendly conversation with my family. I’ve never felt more welcome anywhere. Uncle Buck hand-picked a horse just for my kids to ride, and Josh took Mary and Julian for 10 minute pony rides across the farm. Like Uncle Buck, Josh was warm and welcoming, treating each of my kids like one of his own.
Afterwards, we stayed and explored the stable (there was a mini horse!) and pet each and every one of the horses inside. It was a gorgeous afternoon, and my kids seriously had the best time. I can’t say enough about how great this experience was — if you go to Athens, you have to plan a trip to Uncle Buck’s! Many thanks to Uncle Buck, Josh and all the trainers there who made my family feel so loved.
With just 48 hours to spend in Athens (and beautiful, 80 degree weather), we opted to spend our time outdoors — but we will definitely be back for this attraction! Little train lovers will go crazy for this passenger train, and it would make a great, low-key activity after a morning of hiking.
This museum is also at The Ridges, and admission is free, so we made a point of checking it out! There was a really cool photography exhibit in the entryway, and it was a nice, quiet break from a busy afternoon of hiking and mini golf. The main exhibition area had a variety of art hand-picked by OU students, and my kids each connected with different pieces; highlights included a turtle shell, a large fossil, gas mask and wall of graffiti art.
The museum is currently undergoing some renovations (you’ll use the side entrance), but remains open and we were told there’d be some new exhibitions going up in the next few weeks!
Kid Friendly Food
When you have little kids, the whole “where to eat on vacation” question can be tricky. (And, we have certain dietary restrictions: our family is vegan.) Luckily, since Athens is a college town, there are lots of casual, kid friendly places to eat (because basically toddlers and college students like the same foods!). (Note: Saturday was an OU football game, so Downtown Athens was bustling! Definitely check the schedule and maybe venture to a more off-the-beaten path restaurant. Avalanche Pizza was a few minutes’ drive from the Downtown area, so it was a lot less busy!)
Where to Stay
There are five of us, and we have two kids who need: a sound machine, night lights and basically their own beds in order to sleep well. So, traveling is tricky, to say the least. Generally, we prefer to stay in a larger condo or cabin with separate rooms to accommodate our kids’ sleep schedules. There are definitely cabins in Athens, but we opted to stay at the more centrally located Holiday Inn Express. In the spirit of vacation, we decided to forgo our regular routine and embrace a big family sleep suite.
The hotel was very nice — clean and friendly, featuring a pool and free breakfast bar (major kid win!). Our room was a suite, so there was a little more space, plus a mini fridge (great for the kids’ drinks!), microwave and a large desk with Internet access (great for this working mama!).
Our little family getaway was just what we needed. With two of my kids in school now, there’s a high premium on family time. Visiting Athens, you’ll get lots of uninterrupted, high-quality family time — without spending a lot of money. Many of the activities we did were free (hiking, playgrounds), while “special” activities like pony rides and mini golf were very reasonable — so you could easily do a weekend in Athens County on a budget.
As the weather turns cooler and leaves start to change, this Eastern Ohio county will be at its best and most beautiful, so definitely plan a little family getaway to Athens!