From 50-foot waterfalls and untouched forests to beautiful glacier-carved valleys, Ohio is an outdoor lover’s paradise. Meeting planners who want to incorporate the great outdoors into their events should host conferences near these spectacular scenic locations, which include the only national park in Ohio, several state parks, national forests, valleys, rivers and, of course, Lake Erie.
Marietta was the first organized settlement in the Northwest Territory in 1788. At the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers, the scenic area is great for outdoor activities, like kayaking, canoeing, hiking in Wayne National Forest or rock climbing at Baker Run. Groups visiting the area for a meeting or event can take a ride on a sternwheeler, go on a historic trolley tour, or walk or bike along the four-mile-long Marietta River Trail that runs along the rivers. Marietta is also a hub for six trail systems, with more than 200 miles of mountain bike and hiking trails within a 45-minute radius of downtown.
There are two historic hotels downtown within walking distance of entertainment, shopping, dining and the rivers. The Lafayette Hotel has 77 rooms and meeting space that can accommodate 500 people. The Hackett Hotel Marietta is a boutique hotel with only five rooms, but the Adelphia music hall next door can host groups of up to 80 people. Marietta College can host up to 3,000 people in five campus buildings, including the Dyson Baudo Recreation Center. To get out on the rivers for a remarkable meeting or teambuilding experience, planners can book a ride on the Valley Gem Sternwheeler, which can serve groups of up to 165 people.
There are 12 hotels in Marietta. The Quality Inn has 120 rooms and can host groups of up to 800 people. Meeting planners interested in something a bit more rustic can host an event at the Barn at White Pine Acres, which can accommodate nearly 300 people. The Campus Martius Museum can host meetings of up to 50 people. To see more of Marietta, meeting groups can book a scavenger hunt through the Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau that will get them out of their conference rooms and out into the community.
The area around Lima and Allen County, in the northwestern part of the state, is known for its woods. The city built a river walk along the southeast bank of the Ottawa River to entice visitors to enjoy this scenic location in the heart of Lima’s downtown. The Johnny Appleseed Metropolitan Park District includes more than a dozen parks, such as Fort Amanda Memorial Park, where Fort Amanda once stood. The fort was a major supply depot for the American Army during the War of 1812. The historic Miami and Erie Canal Towpath Trail travels between the nearby village of Spencerville and the city of Delphos. The canal was built from the mid-1820s to 1845 to help transport goods from Toledo to Cincinnati.
The Veterans Memorial Civic and Convention Center and the Allen County Fairgrounds are the largest meeting venues in Lima. The Civic Center includes a 14,000-square-foot exhibit hall, 14 meeting areas, the 1,800-seat Crouse Performance Hall and a banquet facility. Crouse has a three-story lobby with floor-to-ceiling windows that is great for banquets and cocktail receptions, and Windows on the Balcony and Mezzanine, an area with views of the town square, can hold 100 people seated or 200 people reception style. The convention center is connected to the 100-room Wingate by Wyndham hotel.
The Schmidhorst Pavilion is an outdoor covered arena at the fairgrounds with seating for up to 500 people, and the Nutrien Events Center has 35,700 square feet of trade show and meeting space. Lima recently developed a Downtown Outdoor Refreshment Area, or DORA, which is open from noon to midnight. Visitors can grab a drink at one of the bars downtown and enjoy it while exploring the area.
The Hocking Hills are 10,000 acres of unbroken forest in south-central Ohio with gorgeous rock formations, waterfalls and rivers. In the past five years, the area has made a point of boosting its lodging, corporate retreat and meeting capabilities to entice meeting planners to the area. Cellphone service in the area is spotty, but most of the area’s lodging do have Wi-Fi, and when the meetings are over, attendees can make good use of the nearby Hocking Hills for a bit of outdoor adventure.
The Glenlaurel Inn is a small resort patterned after a Scottish village that sits on 123 acres with a beautiful gorge and waterfalls. Its link-style golf course has Scottish flair, with its sand tees and antique hickory shaft golf clubs. The Manor House on the property has 7,000 square feet of meeting space, and several other locations on property can serve as breakout spaces. Attendees can enjoy nearby zip lines, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, rock climbing, and wine and beer tastings.
The Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls in Logan offers guest rooms in its cabins, lodges, yurts, cottages and geodomes. The 75-acre property is in the middle of uninterrupted woods and is surrounded on three sides by Hocking Hills State Park. It can host groups of up to 50 people in its 2,500-square-foot banquet hall.
Malabar Farm State Park was once the home of Pulitzer Prize-winning author and conservationist Louis Bromfield. Visitors can tour the Big House, hike the nature trails, visit the working farm or host small meetings and events of 50 to 200 people. The Ohio State Reformatory, a historic prison in Mansfield, is now a meeting and event venue. The huge Gothic building is “slightly odd and creepy but beautiful,” said Amy Weirick, a spokesperson for Explore Hocking Hills. The building served as the set for the movie “The Shawshank Redemption.”
There are plenty of ways to enjoy Lake Erie in Ohio, from the cities of Sandusky and Toledo to some of the beautiful islands on the lake itself. The two most popular meeting spots are on Kelleys Island and South Bass Island, where the popular tourist town Put-in-Bay is located.
Part of the thrill of hosting a meeting on one of the islands is getting there. Groups hop on the ferry from Port Clinton or Marblehead to travel across the scenic lake to either island destination. Many groups will host their main conference event on the mainland and then host off-site events on the islands. But for groups that want to stay on the islands, the Put-in-Bay Resort and Conference Center has 4,600 square feet of indoor meeting space that can host groups of up to 400 people. It also has a poolside deck and beautifully landscaped courtyard for outdoor dining and events.
The Niagara Event Center can host events of up to 500 people. In their downtime, attendees can get out on the water, explore caves, wander nature trails and enjoy wonderful restaurants and live music nightly.
The Kelleys Island Brewery has indoor and outdoor spaces for meetings and events and is adjacent to Kelleys Island Venture Resort, the only hotel on the island, which also has a 1,600-square-foot meeting room. Groups can explore the island by foot, organize group fishing expeditions or a day sail, and explore the many kayak trails in the area.
Sandusky has a new pier with restaurants and entertainment, and the area is full of wineries. The Kalahari Resort is the largest hotel in the area and is known for its top-notch convention center. Cedar Point Amusement Park is another main draw to the area offering fun and a handful of unique meeting venues.
The Cuyahoga Valley between Akron and Cleveland is one of the most beautiful spots in Ohio. Home to the only national park in the state — Cuyahoga Valley National Park — the area preserves 33,000 acres of pristine forests, rolling hills and a 60-foot-high waterfall called Brandywine Falls. A great way to view the national park is via the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, which takes visitors through the valley along the Cuyahoga River where passengers can see myriad wildlife and the beautifully preserved scenery of the park.
Two of the valley’s most iconic attractions, Hale Farm and Village and the Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens, are a must-see for groups visiting the area; they are also unusual meeting venues. Hale Farm and Village, which is in the national park, is a village set in the mid-1800s that features more than 30 historic structures, many of them moved to the property to help preserve them; costumed interpreters; and skills demonstrations, like glassblowing, broom-making, and spinning and weaving. Groups can host gatherings on the 90-acre grounds or inside the 1850 Greek Revival meetinghouse or newly renovated gatehouse.
The Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens in Akron features a 65-room Tudor Revival manor house, a restored gate lodge and about 70 acres of grounds and formal gardens. Groups can take a self-guided tour of the manor house, as well as host meetings, luncheons, dinners and parties on the property.
The Sheraton Suites Akron Cuyahoga Falls is a full-service hotel near the park that has 207 guest rooms and meeting spaces that can accommodate groups of up to 380 people for a banquet and 500 people theater style. The Sheraton is only a 10-minute drive north of downtown Akron.
The John S. Knight Center in Akron is the largest meeting venue in the valley and features a 29,000-square-foot exhibition hall, a 12,000-square-foot ballroom and 12,600 square feet of additional meeting space.