20 Things To Do In Athens Ohio

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Athens is a small college town on the border of one of Ohio’s most spectacular regions, the Hocking Hills. Founded in 1811, the city’s population of 23,000 is mostly made up of students from Ohio University, the town’s biggest attraction.

What Athens lacks in size, the city more than makes up for with historic landmarks, charming shops and eateries, and a unique bond with the natural surroundings that few cities can rival. An hour’s drive south of Columbus, here are the best things to do in Athens, Ohio.

Athens, Ohio

20 Things To Do In Athens

athens ohio
Looking for things to do in Athens Ohio? Here are 20 you may like.

1- Hang Out At The Athens County Fair

First organised in 1852, the Athens County Fair is one of the oldest county fairs in Ohio and has many family-friendly attractions.

From quintessential fair carnival rides to tractor pulls and demolition derbies, the fair has many things to keep you busy.

It has a collection of food stalls selling everything from homemade baked goods to hotdogs.

Hosted at the Athens County Fairgrounds, the fair is a top drawcard in the county and always a must-do activity whenever you find yourself in Athens during August when this annual event takes place.

Athens County Fair is at 286 W Union St, Athens, OH 45701.

2- Hop Aboard The Hocking Valley Scenic Railway

Hocking Valley Scenic Railway is a volunteer-led non-profit operation that started in 1972 with the mission of restoring, maintaining and running old trains and railroad equipment for future Athenians to enjoy.

HVSR has been operating train trips aboard historic trains for over 50 years along the old Mineral Rail Road, which was built in 1867 to connect Athens with nearby Columbus.

Today, the HVSR is one of Ohio’s favourite tourist destinations among railway enthusiasts and an absolute hit with visitors of all ages.

Hocking Valley Scenic Railway is at 33 W Canal St, Nelsonville, OH 45764.

3- Explore The Dairy Barn Arts Center

The multipurpose Dairy Barn Arts Center opened its doors in 1977 as an event, educational and exhibition space capable of hosting anything from festivals to community-led arts and crafts initiatives.

The facility shot to international attention when it launched “Quilt National”, a biennial exhibition that has drawn over 100,000 visitors since its premiere in 1979.

The centre is dedicated to promoting arts and culture in Athens, organising year-round events catering to artists of all ages and skill levels.

Since its founding more than 40 years ago, the centre has grown to become one of Athens’ most-visited landmarks and one of Ohio’s most important cultural institutions for promoting creative arts.

Dairy Barn Arts Center is at 8000 Dairy Ln, Athens, OH 45701.

4- Unwind In Burr Oak State Park

Burr Oak State Park is a scenic 2,593 acre (1,049 ha) park situated roughly 20 miles (32 km) north of Uptown Athens.

The park sits in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and is one of Ohio’s premier outdoor attractions for nature enthusiasts.

Burr Oak features thick woodlands accommodating wildlife such as box turtles, white-tailed deer, wild turkey and ruffed grouse, as well as beautiful arrays of flowers such as orchids, hepaticas and wildflowers.

Complete with a 600-acre (243 ha) freshwater lake, the park is a popular place to go camping or glamping in Ohio and a must-visit destination when in Athens.

Burr Oak State Park is at 10220 Burr Oak Lodge Rd, Glouster, OH 45732.

5- See A Film At The Athena Cinema

Opened under the name “The Majestic” in 1915, the Athena Cinema has been continuously operating since its inception, making it one of the USA’s oldest movie houses still open to the public.

The University of Ohio’s College of Fine Arts acquired the cinema in 2001 and underwent extensive renovation to restore it to its former glory.

Screening films ranging from Hollywood blockbusters to independent foreign films, the cinema is one of Athens’ top cultural attractions and a fantastic destination to visit whenever you’re in this part of Ohio.

The Athena Cinema is at 20 S Court St, Athens, OH 45701.

6- See the Impressive Grounds of The Ridges

The Athens Lunatic Asylum, known simply as “The Ridges” today, was a fully operational mental hospital for almost 120 years between 1874 and 1993 before being acquired by the University of Ohio.

The facility treated mentally unstable children and adults, as well as veterans from the Civil War, but became infamous for its lobotomy procedures during the 20th century.

Today the facility sits on the National Register of Historic Places and houses the university’s Kennedy Museum of Art, an auditorium, and several classrooms.

One of Ohio’s most haunted places, The Ridges and the three surrounding cemeteries are open to the public for tours, making it one of Athens’ most bizarre, historical and unique attractions.

The Ridges is at 100 Ridges Cir, Athens, OH 45701.

7- Explore the Scenic Ohio University Campus

The sprawling campus of Ohio University lies neatly in the foothills of Southeast Ohio, right in the heart of Athens.

With a student body of well over 20,000 students, the university ranks among Ohio’s best public universities.

It boasts one of the most beautiful campuses in the entire country.

Complete with cobbled tree-lined streets and the small-town charm of Athens, the university’s campus is delightful to tour, with impressive sights, such as Manasseh Cutler Hall, a designated National Historic Landmark.

Ohio’s oldest public university is also one of the oldest in the country.

Ohio University and its scenic campus is the heartbeat of Athens and worth checking out the next time you’re in Ohio’s number one college town.

Ohio University Campus is at 1 Ohio University Dr, Athens, OH 45701.

8- Unwind at the Lake Hope State Park

Covering a total area of more than 2,983 acres (1,207 ha), the Lake Hope State Park, situated inside the Zaleski State Forest, is one of Southeast Ohio’s top outdoor attractions and less than 20 miles (32 km) west of Athens.

With steep gorges, rocky ravines, thick forests, abandoned mines, plenty of wildlife, and all sorts of fun and engaging outdoor activities, the park officially opened in 1949.

Its centrepiece attraction is Lake Hope, a brightly blue body of water covering an area of roughly 120 acres (49 ha), that provides virtually limitless opportunities for fishing, boating and wildlife watching.

The park remains wild and untamed compared to Athens’ other public parks.

It’s one of the most visually stunning natural landmarks in all of Ohio.

Lake Hope State Park is at 27331 OH-278, McArthur, OH 45651.

9- Shop At The Athens Farmers Market

things to do in athens ohio this weekend
Assortment of fresh fruits at the market.

Rated the number one farmer’s market in Ohio and among the top 50 in the country by America’s Farmers Market Celebration, the Athens Farmers Market has been connecting Athenians with local farmers selling fresh produce annually since 1972.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the market sells everything from homemade jams to pottery and is open on Wednesdays between April and November.

The market is a fabulous place to get in contact with local artisans and farmers, making it a great destination to visit for one-of-a-kind products and a fantastic way of supporting the local economy.

Athens Farmers Market is at 701 E State St, Athens, OH 45701.

10- Wander Through the Acadia Cliffs Wildlife Area

The Acadia Cliffs Wildlife Area lies just outside Athens in the Southwest corner of Washington County and covers an area of roughly 273 acres (110 ha).

The area is renowned for its hilly terrain, thick forests and serene hiking trails crisscrossing the entire region.

An old millstone quarry operated before the region was transformed into a protected wildlife area.

Many oddly-shaped stones left by the quarry can still be seen inside the area, sprinkled in between the area’s unusually looking natural rock formations.

The area is an absolute treat for outdoor enthusiasts and is one of Athens’ most unique outdoor landmarks, with something to see and do for everyone.

11- Explore the Scenic Hocking Hills State Park

things to do in athens county ohio
One of the things to do near Athens is to explore Hocking Hills State Park.

The 2,356-acre (953 ha) Hocking Hills State Park is a popular attraction in Southeast Ohio’s Hocking Hills region.

Opened in 1924, the park is filled with over 25 miles (40 km) of nature trails, scenic waterfalls and tons of impressive rock formations and caves, and it is open year-round from sunrise to sunset.

The park is home to local landmarks such as the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway, Old Man’s Cave, and the John Glenn Astronomy Park and allows visitors to partake in outdoor activities such as archery, horseback riding, rock climbing, and camping.

Hocking Hills State Park is at 19852 OH-664, Logan, OH 43138.

12- Sample Wine At Pleasant Hill Vineyards

Pleasant Hill Vineyards is a boutique, family-owned winery that started selling its locally-produced wines to locals and tourists in 2012.

Situated on a farmstead that used to be a horse ranch, the winery treats visitors to magnificent views of rolling hills and pastures stretching as far as the eye can see.

The winery has 10 wines to taste or purchase and hosts special events throughout the year, such as its popular five-course food and wine parings hosted every Saturday between November and April.

Pleasant Hill Vineyards is at 5015 Pleasant Hill Rd, Athens, OH 45701.

13- Discover History At The Southeast Ohio History Center

Situated inside Athens’ First Christian Church, a historic building dating back to 1916, the Southeast Ohio History Center collects, preserves and shares the rich history of the entire Southeast Ohio region.

The centre is an important cultural landmark in the area, featuring over 60,000 individual displays and artefacts throughout the 18,000-square-foot (1,672 m2) facility.

With permanent and rotating exhibits showcasing everything from old photographs to 19th-century fashion pieces, the centre is the perfect destination to visit if you’re interested in learning more about the vibrant past of Athens.

Southeast Ohio History Center is at 24 W State St, Athens, OH 45701.

14- Enjoy The Majesty Of Cedar Falls

things to do in athens county ohio
Cedar Falls in Hocking Hills State park in Ohio.

Cedar Falls is a popular waterfall located roughly halfway between Ash Cave and Old Man’s Cave, situated inside the expansive Hocking Hills State Park.

Named after the abundant hemlock trees found sprinkled around the falls, which early settlers misidentified as cedar trees, the falls are about 45 minutes from Uptown Athens and roughly two hours from Dayton.

The waterfall is accessible via the half-mile long (800 m) Cedar Falls Trail and is a stunning destination.

Surrounded by serene grottos, thick woodlands, and some of the most breathtaking scenery in Ohio, the falls and the trail leading to it is well worth the 45-minute drive from Athens.

15- Relax at Sells Park

For an outdoor experience a little closer to Athens, check out Sells Park, a beautiful 23-acre (9 ha) public park complete with a large pond, hiking trails, woodlands, and endless scenic views.

The park is the starting point of the Athens Trail Network, where a collection of individual nature trails branch out from the park and toward other parts of Athens.

The park is conveniently situated near the campus of Ohio University and is one of Athens’ most visited outdoor venues, making it a fantastic destination to escape from the hustle and bustle.

16- Traverse Hockhocking Adena Bikeway

The Hockhocking Adena Bikeway, also known simply as “The Bike Path” or “The Athens County Bike Path”, is a 21-mile-long (34 km) bicycle-centred pathway that crosses the town.

The bikeway passes by several of Athens’ most prominent landmarks and is often used by locals as a greener and healthier way to get to work, school, the shop, or anywhere else they’d like to go in Athens.

Named after the region’s first inhabitants, the bikeway can be cycled, walked or jogged and features restrooms, food stalls, repair stations and parking along the path.

17- Enjoy the Sunset at Conkle’s Hollow

Forming part of the Conkle’s Hollow State Nature Preserve, Conkle’s Hollow is a cool and deep gorge measuring a staggering 200 feet (61 m) in height.

The gorge is one of the deepest in Ohio and is made up of Black Hand sandstone that’s been eroding for over 350 million years.

Two hiking trails provide visitors access to the gorge, one being wheelchair accessible.

While there’s not much else to see at the gorge, it treats visitors to some of the most impressive views in all of Southeast Ohio, stretching across the hilly landscape for as far as the eye can see.

Conkle’s Hollow is at 24858 Big Pine Rd, Rockbridge, OH 43149.

18- Enjoy Strouds Run State Park

Strouds Run State Park is the go-to outdoor recreational area for Athenians, featuring scenic views, a freshwater lake and over 36 miles (58 km) of hiking trails.

The park borders Athens, Canaan Township and Ames Township and is open to the public year-round.

From fishing and camping during the summer to cross-country skiing and sledging during the winter, the park is one of Southeast Ohio’s premier public parks and is always worth stopping at for a great day in nature.

Strouds Run State Park is at 11661 State Park Rd, Athens, OH 45701.

19- Discover Downtown Athens Historic District

Downtown Athens Historic District has an impressive collection of Victorian-era buildings dating back to the 1850s.

The area forms part of the town’s city centre and features 88 contiguous contributing buildings of various designs and sizes.

The area is ideal for a stroll to take in all the renovated and restored historic buildings and is one of the best free attractions in Athens.

20- See the Impressive Kennedy Museum of Art

The Kennedy Museum of Art is a world-class art institution inside The Ridges, formerly the Athens Lunatic Asylum.

Forming part of Ohio University, the museum was established to bring works by great artists to Southeast Ohio through several permanent and rotating exhibits.

Collections include ceramics, paintings, sculptures, prints and jewellery, which visitors can admire at no cost as admission is free.

A venue for arts and culture not just in Athens but the entire Southwest Ohio region, the museum is a great place to tour and is widely regarded as one of the town’s best free attractions.

Kennedy Museum of Art is at 100 Ridges Cir, Athens, OH 45701.

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Jessica Shaw is a storyteller who has lived in four U.S. states - Missouri, Georgia, Ohio and Illinois - and has visited many others. She loves history and nature and is a big fan of road tripping.