Balling on a budget: The ultimate guide to a spring break staycation in Ohio

Ash Cave is one of the main attractions at Hocking Hills. Credit: Randall L. Schieber

Many might have high hopes of soaking up the sun or exploring the mountains for spring break, but sometimes, wallets can’t meet those dreams.

For Ohio college students looking to enjoy spring break on a budget, places like Hocking County, Dayton, Cincinnati and Cleveland offer a variety of destinations and attractions for the ultimate staycation — one of which being Hocking Hills — Matt MacLaren, Ohio State alum and director of TourismOhio, said.

“It’s become one of Ohio’s most well-known areas, and it’s because it’s beautiful,” MacLaren said. “It really is one of the best state parks in the United States, and it’s often named the best state park in the United States. Forbes just named it as one of their top places to go see this year, and that’s because you’re gonna find incredible waterfalls and really accessible hikes that have beauty all throughout them.”

Karen Raymore, executive director of Hocking Hills Tourism Association, said she recommends filing for a free permit online two weeks prior to visiting the park in order to gain access to smaller nature preserves like Boch Hollow or Saltpetre Cave.

From the dining options within the new State Park Lodge, to rock climbing and guided nature hikes offered through High Rock Adventures, to the mountain cycling trails of Baileys Trail System, MacLaren said the accommodations of Hocking Hills continue to expand.

“I think that spring break is a perfect time to recenter yourself and get a change of scenery, certainly, but to really focus on you,” Raymond said. “There’s no better place to focus on your own wellness than when surrounded by nature, in my opinion. Being really immersed in nature puts us in a perfect position to take that break, refocus, kind of reconnect with ourselves.”

Dayton can also provide plenty of entertainment this spring break through the NCAA March Madness tournament, MacLaren said, which is continuing its over a decade-long tradition of beginning in Dayton at the University of Dayton Arena March 14-15.

“March Madness is one of the best and most exciting tournaments that’s out there, even if you’re just someone who likes experiences, go see it,” MacLaren said. “I’ve had a chance to go to tournament games before, and they’re electric.”

Dayton is also home to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, which Rob Bardua, chief of the public affairs division of the museum, said is the world’s largest military aviation museum with over 350 aircrafts and missiles on display.

“It’s just one of those places that you walk into and immediately you’re kind of struck by, for me I think it’s a cool factor, for all of these planes and aviation, and thinking that it all started here in Ohio and looking at how far we’ve come,” MacLaren said.

With galleries ranging from the World War Ⅱ era to the presidential aircraft collection — plus the new hands-on “Survival: The Exhibition” that explores human survival across different locales — Bardua said the museum appeals not only to military aviation fans, but history lovers too.

“If you’re interested in history or the latest technology, if you enjoy interactive exhibits such as the new ‘Survival’ exhibit, science, technology, engineering and math concepts, and you want to experience it all for free, you can do that at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force,” Bardua said.

For those in Cincinnati this spring break, MacLaren said the city offers everything from sports, a zoo and an active nightlife. With soccer in season, he said FC Cincinnati has multiple home games over spring break.

“Going on down to Cincinnati, possibly taking in an FC Cincinnati game, and then the popular area Over-The-Rhine, where a lot of craft breweries for the students that are of age, and then just fun hotels and restaurants in that area too,” MacLaren said.

The Cincinnati Zoo, MacLaren said, hosts an array of popular exhibits, including the iconic Fiona the hippo. After a day of seeing tigers and elephants galore, MacLaren said the 21c Museum Hotel is a great place to lodge.

“One of my favorite hotels down there, [it] was named by Condé Nast as a top hotel in the United States,” MacLaren said. “It feels more like a modern museum than a hotel when you walk in with the interactive artwork.”

Finally, students in Cleveland can access many appealing experiences, MacLaren said, namely the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

“People come in from all over the world to see it,” MacLaren said. “They have a popular Beatles exhibit, and then just to be able to walk through there and see information about all the incredible artists that have been named to the Hall of Fame, it’s a really good experience.”

John Goehrke, the director of guest experience at the museum, said the seven-story Rock Hall has exhibits honoring artists from Dolly Parton to Eminem. It also has space for visitors to play their own music with the house band, all of which contribute to the unique feel of the museum.

“It’s a place where you can learn about the history of music, in all the different styles of rock and roll,” Goehrke said. “You can celebrate the present, and you can also experience the electricity of performing music, whether you’re performing yourself or you’re watching a fellow visitor jam out in The Garage. It checks all those boxes of things that music really does for us.”
Outside of the Rock Hall, MacLaren said, downtown Cleveland offers areas like East Fourth Street, which houses popular restaurants and an energetic social scene. The area is right outside of Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse where the Cleveland Cavaliers play, he said, so an Ohio sports fan might enjoy a Cavaliers game before a night on the town.