While interstate driving is efficient, it can whisk you right by interesting sites, many within a few miles of the exit ramps. On the 389-mile stretch of I-80 between Pennsylvania and Illinois, you can learn about gristmills and presidents, hike along a historic canal and climb one of the highest sand dunes in the country. Pick your stops and take two or more days to explore the Ohio and Indiana attractions that lie just off the road.
Northeastern Ohio’s Mahoning River Valley
As Pennsylvania’s Appalachian Mountains fade into the background, I-80 crosses into Ohio’s Mahoning River Valley near Youngstown. Follow the river south for a few miles to Mill Creek Park and visit Fellows Riverside Gardens. The garden features more than 10 acres of flowering plants and, in the spring, 40,000 tulip, crocus and narcissus bulbs burst into color. Nearby, an 1845-era mill shows how the creek powered big stone grinders to produce flour. Before leaving the area travel a few miles north to Niles, and visit the National McKinley Birthplace Memorial honoring the 25th U.S. president. Grand columns span the Greek Classic building. One wing includes a museum with displays of McKinley artifacts, including his law desk.
Cuyahoga Valley and Rock and Roll
About 55 miles west of Youngstown, enter another valley--this one created by the Cuyahoga River, often called the “crooked river.” The Cuyahoga Valley National Park extends 22 miles along the river, winding through deep forests and hills and offering fishing, canoeing and kayaking. The park has more than 125 miles of trails, including the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail, enabling visitors to walk along a canal that once carried goods from Lake Erie to the Ohio River. Less than 22 miles north of I-80 sits Cleveland, Ohio’s second-largest city, which is home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The museum features exhibits chronicling the rise of rock and roll music, highlighting such great artists as Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, James Brown and Chuck Berry.
Sandusky, West to the Indiana Border
About 60 miles to the west, stop and enjoy Cedar Point, the famed Sandusky amusement park on the shores of Lake Erie. Sixteen roller coasters provide thrilling rides. The park is open from May to early November. Just south of I-80 in Milan, Ohio, the Thomas Edison Birthplace Museum provides a glimpse of what life was like during the inventor’s childhood. The museum includes some of Edison’s inventions, including the phonograph, complemented by historical photos. Less than an hour west of Toledo, stop at Sauder Village near Archbold where costumed craftspeople demonstrate mid-19th-century skills such as blacksmithing, weaving, woodworking and broom making. See how early settlers drained a swamp to establish the town. Parts of the village are closed in the winter, but shops, restaurants and lodging are open year-round.
Through the Hoosier State to the Illinois Border
After crossing the border into Indiana, stop in Shipshewana, a town known for its Amish and Mennonite traditions of a simple life. Browse historic downtown shops that sell Amish furniture, quilts and other handmade items. The town hosts auctions throughout the year, from antiques and toys to art and horses. Farther west, the University of Notre Dame in South Bend offers campus tours that include the Hesburgh Library with its famous “touchdown Jesus” mural, interestingly placed within sight of the football stadium’s goal posts. Giant sand dunes rise above Lake Michigan at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore just east of the Illinois border. Trails lead hikers through forests, marshes, prairies and sand dunes, some with expansive views of the lake and, in the distance, Chicago skyscrapers.