I-70 Ohio and West Virginia play areas
January 22, 2015 6:51 PM   Subscribe

In May we will be taking a family trip out east by car. We plan to stop for lunch somewhere east of Indianapolis, and then for a play/running-around time somewhere between Columbus, Ohio, and Wheeling, West Virginia, on I-70. Where? (Also, where should we spend the night?)

We'll leave early and stop for lunch somewhere east of Indianapolis; then we intend to stop east of Columbus in the afternoon to let the kids run around for a little while, somehwere on I-70. This is our planned route between Columbus and Washington DC. Where would be a good place to stop East of Columbus to let them run around? State parks, good rest stops, city parks right of the highway, even really good McDonalds Playlands? We can make either a stop just to let the kids run, or a stop to see something cool where they can incidentally run while we look at cool stuff.

We'll then drive on to somewhere between Wheeling, WV, and Washington, DC., to stay the night around Washington or Monessen or Uniontown, PA, or Cumberland, MD, (or even so far as Hagerstown, I suppose). Is there are particularly good spot to stop?

We are open to alternative routes if you have an opinion on I68 vs I70 and whatnot. (Plan on 70 to Pittsburgh, then 43/40 down to 68 in Maryland and 68 to DC; also considering 70 from Pittsburgh all the way to DC; willing to detour for something cool.)

We'll be driving on probably a Wednesday and a Thursday, so weekday driving, not weekend.

(We'll be going West out of DC on Sunday and Monday, retracing the same route, if that influences your answer! Probably leaving DC around lunchtime and stopping somewhere after Wheeling, WV, for the night. We'll make stops on the way back for leg-stretching as well!)

The event we're driving to is all the way in the District and we're staying at a hotel in the District, so we'll be driving all the way into the city, not stopping in VA or MD.
posted by Eyebrows McGee to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I did the I-70 Columbus to Pittsburgh drive a bunch a couple of summers ago, and sadly, did not really remember seeing anything interesting, except perhaps giggling slightly when I drove past Zanesville but maybe some other central/eastern Ohioans can chime in (but then again, that's going through/near Amish country, so there probably aren't very many active MeFis from that area).

Are you open to stopping in Columbus? We have a Topiary Park in the shape of A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte, along with a bunch of other somewhat more pedestrian city parks.
posted by damayanti at 7:49 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I'm willing to make any stop as long as we don't get stuck in traffic ... I have very active 3 and 5 year olds and while they can go 5 hours at a stretch in the car with the help of Wreck It Ralph on repeat, its better for everyone if we only go 3 before stretching our legs and letting them run. A rest stop playground where we read our books is totally fine as long as they have a little room to run and climb. A Civil War Battlefield where we can learn something is equally fine as long as they can play.

It doesn't have to be a fantastic lifetime memory stop ... Just a climbing structure or running area not too far from the highway. Or a super-cool kiddie exhibit! Either one!

It's 12.5 hours for us to DC, so we want to get past Indy and lunch around noon, which puts us in Columbus around 2. We'll stop sometime between 2 and 5 for running around time and maybe dinner, and then drive a bit further, hoping to do 8 or 9 hours of driving over a 12 or 13 hour day, and leave us with just 4 the next morning to get into DC where many aunts and uncles await to spoil them.

We're quite flexible on timing in both direction, just looking to stop every 3 hours for food od tunning time, and make it to DC my midday the second day ... And leaving DC we'll leave after brunch on a Sunday and have all of Sunday and Monday to get home.

We'll do museums, state parks, random playgrounds, highway authority rest area play structures ... Its all good!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:25 PM on January 22, 2015

As somebody who's done the Columbus->DC drive more than a few times, there's not a ton that's actually exciting or, uh, inspiring for running around that's really right on I-70 east of Columbus. Unless maybe they're really into the idea of running around discount crockery stores near Zanesville?

The one thing there is is the Wilds (official site, maps link), a safari/conservation area near New Concord run by the Columbus Zoo and a childhood favorite of my central Ohioan pals--although getting the whole experience would cause the costs and time of the stop to shoot up pretty fast. There's also a couple state parks (Salt Fork, Egypt Valley) not far north of there, but neither is particularly interesting--reservoirs, some trees, some walking paths, RV dump stations, that sort of thing.

An alternate route would be to take US-33 south from Columbus to US-50 at Athens, then over across Blennerhassett Island (where Aaron Burr did his thing!) to Clarksburg, WV, then I-79 north to 68. This adds a little bit more than half an hour to your total OH-DC driving time but a) avoids the part of Pennsylvania where you're forced to reckon with how big and boring Pennsylvania is and b) takes you within spitting distance of Old Man's Cave in the Hocking Hills, which is a totally cool open-air cave you can wander through and see cave drawings and learn about native peoples and early settlers and bootleggers (or not, it's just a cool cave); plus, it's free! There might also be activities at the Wayne National Forest HQ, (which is literally on the route) but I've never actually been in. Blennerhassett Island has a museum, but it's pretty boring and will probably be closed by the time you get there.

No matter what: I wouldn't take 70 east of Pittsburgh, where it gets cosigned with 76 as the Pennsylvania Turnpike; the Pennsylvania Turnpike is the absolute pits. In fact, if you're taking 70 past Wheeling, I'd recommend getting on 79 at Laboratory, PA and taking that south to 68 in Morgantown (see the majestic pumpkin-crown of the WVU Coliseum! the only-ever implemented personal mass transit system! do not actually bother seeing these things.) before linking up with 70 at Hancock, MD.
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 8:32 PM on January 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

I concur with Bridge. 70 east of Washington is a miserable boring drive with nothing worth while to see. Take 70E->79S->68E It's a beautiful low stress drive.

70 vs 68

You can stop at Dorsey's Knob in Morgantown and let the kids run around its quick on/off of 68.
posted by jmsta at 3:05 AM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

When we do this drive, we stop in Columbus at COSI. There's a great room there for the underfive set, and if you already have membership at another museum, COSI might be reciprocal. We usually stay about two hours in the middle of our eight hour drive and then we do the remainder with just rest stop / meal / gas stops with our one kid.

If you're really adamant about stopping east of Columbus - sorry, there isn't much. You can use google and find city parks to stop at, and there are always the games of running around the rest stops, but it's pretty much dead until you get to Zanesville, which isn't anything more exciting than Walmart. I've always meant to stop at Dawes Arboretum but in 12 years of that drive, we have not found that particular exit worth stopping at.

Depending on time of day and age of kids, there's Cabela's just east of Wheeling, there's Moundsville a little south of Wheeling, and there's Oglebay right in Wheeling, which is just a big pretty city park. I especially like the Good Zoo for kids in Wheeling. If you have zoo membership anywhere else, you might be able to get in for half price. The Good Zoo is just small enough to do in a half day. We usually try to stop at Cabela's since it's right off 70, but it has goofy hours that make it often closed when we come through. That Sheetz at the Cabela's exit has OK cheap sandwiches, and there are also a million restaurants - for food, there's really not much between Columbus and Wheeling.

68 is prettier than 70. There are more stops since it isn't Penna pike and anywhere you stop is going to be neat. If you take 68 you can stop at Cooper's Rock in West Virginia. When you get into Maryland on 68, stop at the rest stop of Sideling Hill. Unfortunately the museum isn't there anymore, but it sounds like the rest stop still is.

As you get into Maryland, anywhere you pull off for a park along the Potomac is good. We once had a lovely emergency kid stop visit to Fort Frederick to chase geese. There are also outlet malls in Frederick, although by the time we get that far, we're usually into Must Keep Going. From there, the next good place to stop is South Mountain.

And then, depending on where you're going in DC and at what time, there's somewhere to stop pretty much every exit.

When we were traveling with a baby that needed frequent unplanned stops, we just read attractions signs, picked exits, and also using our phones to drive to the nearest little patch of green. We met some adorable small towns by just taking the next exit and driving to the local city park that way. We've never felt unsafe or like we took the wrong exit by doing that. The other thing that makes the trip more interesting, especially as you get out of Ohio and into WV/MD, is to use your smart phone to google the name of the exit or town or underpass + history. There's amazing history in all the towns as you go east.

Coming back, I strongly recommend use a map to plan your hotel stops. Because I've never gone Indiana to DC in one trip, because we live in the middle and go both places frequently, I don't know exactly where the hotels are, but I do know you can go hours and hours without finding one. What we do is we map the Hampton inns, because that usually indicates hotel clusters.
posted by arabelladragon at 5:00 AM on January 23, 2015

We always do 70>79 to Morgantown then 68 and vice versa as jmsta notes. The time difference "officially" is a matter of a few minutes either way, but MrLith is usually driving and tends to drive a little faster than average speed which is easily done on the interstate but harder to do along 43/40.

On the westbound trip we usually stop at Zanesville and its bounty of cheap interstate motels. Blacklick Metro Park just east of Columbus may be your best bet to stop during that segment and stretch.

If you do take the route through Morgantown, Cooper's Rock is easy to get to from the interstate and is a nice 30 minute stopover. The rest stop/WV Welcome center on 68 right near the MD border is nice as far as public rest stops go, but I don't know if it has playgrounds because we usually hit it around 9 pm on Dec. 23 with high winds and some sort of frozen precipitation.
posted by drlith at 5:21 AM on January 23, 2015

Oh, also, we have camped at Barkcamp State Park which is not far from the interstate west of Wheeling and it's a quite a nice little state park.
posted by drlith at 5:29 AM on January 23, 2015

I can think of two minor running around spots. There is the field of giant corn cobs in Dublin (northwest side of Columbus but easy to get to) which is fun to run around. In Putnam Hill Park in Zanesville there is an incredibly long metal slide built into the side of the hill.

Oh, there is also the National Road/Zane Grey museum a couple of miles east of Zanesville.
posted by plastic_animals at 5:45 AM on January 23, 2015

I have driven between DC and Tulsa several times and I-70 is the worst of the routes. It's boring and flat through Ohio (even more boring than I-35 through Kansas, which is saying something) and the Pennsylvania Turnpike section is miserable (there's not really anything to do or see unless you get well off the Turnpike). Personally I always found the worst part to be the downhill slope as you cross into Maryland, since I drove a small car and there were invariably lots of terrible Maryland drivers going way, way too fast for conditions. I guess if you have no problem going 85mph (or more) so you're not paranoid somebody will rear end you on the interstate, then maybe this won't bother you.

It's not what you're asking, but from Indianapolis I'd be tempted to go via Louisville or Cincinnati to get to I-64, since the bourbon-and-horsey-country around Lexington and through eastern Kentucky is much nicer to drive through than any part of Ohio or Pennsylvania I've seen from an interstate. From I-64 you can take I-79 to I-68 to I-70 or I-81 to I-66 (pick your poison).

If you have specific reasons for going via Columbus, then I'd take the directions above to get onto I-68 as soon as practical, because there's not really anything to see on or near I-70.
posted by fedward at 6:58 AM on January 23, 2015

Columbus has a number of parks downtown, like the Topiary Park listed above, and there's also a carousel at Columbus Commons.

As for east of Columbus, I went to college in Granville, OH, which is a cute town. There's a couple good places to eat there and some historic (and known as haunted) inns. Just outside of it between Granville and Newark is Cherry Valley Lodge which has an indoor waterpark and is probably a lot more affordable than the bigger name places.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 8:09 AM on January 23, 2015

Wheeling has Oglebay, which is sorta dumb but has an up-close-and-personal small zoo that's an easy loop. There's a fair amount of decent food in that area too. The big draw at wheeling these days is the dog track and the casino and, of course Cabelas.

There's also a toy museum that is AWESOME, and I mean AWESOME, but it's surprisingly pricy. I think it's like $11 a person or something, but it's AWESOME and there are a lot of toys to play with.

I work in Morgantown, which is an hour south and ENTIRELY not worth your time. No seriously. Just get on 68 and motor east as fast as you can. HOWEVER, at exit 15 off of I68 is a relatively little known state forest called Coopers Rock which is ABSOLUTELY worth spending up to a day or more at. If you let me know when you're coming and I'm available, I'll even take you down where the rock climbing happens, and/or into the cave, and/or show you some of the lesser known trails. All the trails are day-hikeable in comfortable shoes. There is water available at the park and junkfood snacks, but no real food, and then no real food afterwards until you go back down the mountain either direction.

The park has a pretty rad overlook into the Cheat Valley, you can walk all the way down to the headwaters if you're feeling froggy that day. There's also an adjacent County park called Chestnut Ridge, with no-license-required fishing for kids, a swimming lake, and big open fields to play or picnic in. (Lots of picnic facilities at Coopers too.) Camping at both places.

If you want to divert a wee bit south, I'll take you to the waterfalls at Valley Falls state park, and you can watch insane kayakers do 10-15 foot class V drops. No swimming...but it's very very pretty. I can share some pics with you if you'd like to know what I'm talking about. After Valley Falls you pop across to my little town (on 79) and eat the largest soft serve cones you've ever seen at a mom-and-pop ice cream shop, OR the largest banana splits and sundaes you've ever seen at a very "theme" oriented diner. Here in WV we've earned our title as kings of 'beetus.
posted by TomMelee at 9:37 AM on January 23, 2015

Former Wheelingite here. Oglebay Park is a city park but at over 1600 acres park doesn't really do it justice. I'd also say that it is not right off the interstate but more like a 15-20 minute drive up some pretty and winding roads. The exit you'd use for the park has a fair amount of restaurants and a hotel there.

I've never been personally, but I think Kruger Street Toy and Train Museum was what was referenced above. Another city park, Wheeling Park is near the exit you'd use for the museum.
posted by mmascolino at 10:34 AM on January 23, 2015

We ended up stopping in Blacklick Woods just East of Columbus and right on the interstate, with very nice trails for hiking and a great nature center for observing birds, and we met a fellow mefite there. We let the kid run around for about an hour mid afternoon, which let us keep them in the car until dinner without fussing.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:00 AM on May 9, 2015

(On the way home my kids projectile vomited for two solid days, so we didn't get to stop anywhere.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:02 AM on May 9, 2015

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