Shawnee Lookout Park – North Bend, Ohio

First Lookout

A great park with loads to do! We went in search of a hike that was family friendly but still reasonably difficult. I love the outdoors. I’m not happy to simply stroll down paved paths all the time. I do not mind the paved paths that many parks offer but occasionally I want something a little more rustic. This park has that!

Ohio River View

Upon entering the park you will pay for either the day or a year pass. The year pass is only $10. It gets you into all Hamilton County Parks. If you live in the area and will be visiting the parks more then three times it makes sense. If you do not buy a year pass it is $3 to enter. You can get a park map at this time. It’s helpful in getting around but not necessary. At the end of the road, up a small hill is the small parking area for Miami Fort Trail. The path leading to the Shawnee lookout is dirt and rock. Very hilly! If you enjoy a little history this is a fun trail as well. There are signs for various historic sites along the trail. This was once a Shawnee camp. There are burial mounds and storage pits with markers. Wildlife is every where you look. We encountered frogs, bugs, butterflies, a snake, mushrooms, and many types of trees and plants, including flowers. You feel the technological world slip away for a while. It’s a nice feeling. It makes me feel lighter to let go of everything in the world when I step into the trees. There are views throughout the path. You simply have to stop and look when you get to the first viewing spot. It is a great view! At the end of the main trail is Shawnee lookout point. The view from here is amazing! You can see three states from this point: Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky! It’s a neat thing to know that you are seeing all three at once. The only issue with the view is the fact that it is marred by the bridge for the interstate.

Shawnee Lookout Point-South View
South View from Shawnee Lookout Point

If you do the entire trail including the small loop path this is perhaps an hour to an hour and a half. Keep in mind that we had a toddler in a lightweight jogging stroller with tires made for this kind-of stuff. This was handy except for the various stairs along the way. The long set of stairs on the small trail were the worst with the stroller! I highly recommend that if you bring a stroller to make sure it is lightweight and to bring two adults! I carried the back while my husband carried the front. You go down the stairs and directly up another set. Please be warned! If you are not decently fit I suggest sticking to the main trail and not bringing a stroller. Some of this trail even without the stroller would be hard for one person to haul a 20 to 40 pound toddler down. If you are the outdoorsy type of family, like we are, this is right up your alley!

Nature can be surprizingly beautiful

 

This is out where the path is barely visable!
Jump little froggy
There is no substitute for letting a child get hands on with Nature.

There are other things to do at this park besides hike. As you leave the path parking lot and go down the hill you will see a park on the right side. There are bathrooms here. They are a long way from nice but they get the job done. Next to the bathrooms is a decent park with small tee pees. They are cute and a good photo op for mom. Behind the playground is a huge field. Bella, my 1 year old, enjoyed running through this field. Ivy, my 10 year old, was more intrigued by the dragonflies that were at the back of the field. She is an inquizative, adventurous spirit, like her mother in many ways. I am proud of the fact that I have passed this on to her.

Next to the playground is a covered picnic area. It is large and has easy access to the play equipment. Across the parking lot, up a small hill is a more secluded picnic area. There are picnic tables set up in a small clearing in the woods.

Inside the big tube at the playground
A huge empty field to run is a toddlers dream!

Sliding

After we were done with our potty, snack and play break we went to check out the historic log cabin and spring house school. This was a neat learning opportunity. The log cabin is a transplant that somebody donated. They had it moved to the park. The spring house school is original to the area. It is the stone building in the photo. The upstairs was used as a school house. The down stairs was used as a spring house for drinking water. The grounds around the two buildings are pretty. Behind the cabin is a herb garden. There is also an old timey fire pit, a stone well, and rock paths. There are signs to tell you the historical points.

Cabin

Herb Garden
The Spring House School
Door to the spring house in the basement.

There are additional things that we did not get to on our trip. There is a visitor center with archaeological exhibits, bathrooms, snack bar and pro-shop. Some other things to do here include golfing, fishing, and boating. We spent about four hours on our trip to Shawnee Lookout Park. I would like to go back and enjoy some of the other things they offer. There is also two additional hiking trails.

The Details:

Website: http://greatparks.org/parks/shawneelookout.shtm

Price: $3/day or $10/year pass

Hong Dragon Chinese Restaurant – Versailles, IN

Is it possible to get decent Chinese food in a small country town in Indiana? I would have thought no but then I stopped off at Hong Dragon in Versailles, IN. This is not fancy Chinese food but the food is great and so are the prices. After a day of hiking or boating at Versailles State Park this is one of the best options for affordable food in the area. If you are looking for something really hot order the General Tso’s and tell her extra, extra spicy. They will ask if you are sure. Say yes and pay extra if it’s asked but it normally is not. If you do not like your food spicy try their vegetable Lo-mein. It is inexpensive and a real treat. I also liked their Sesame Chicken, Fried rice, Crab Rangoons, Egg Rolls, and their Lo-mein varieties. They make everything fresh. It takes about 20 minutes on most nights to get your food. You can call ahead but I found it more interesting to stay and enjoy the family dynamic of the place.

On a side note: This place is easy to miss when heading down South Adams toward Madison. They are by a Dairy Queen. If you pass all the stores & businesses and hit houses and countryside you have gone too far. Turn back and try again.

The Details

Location: 1014 S Adams St, Versailles, IN

Phone: (812) 689-3088

Cost: Less than $10 a person

Barnes and Noble – Florence, KY

I honestly just stopped by the Barnes and Noble in Florence, KY to get a book but it turns out they have loads of fun things for the kids to do.  Enough to occupy them for an hour or two.  They have this amazing train table.  The kids played with it for a while.  They have a stage in the back corner.  They didn’t have anything that day but apparently they have free shows and story hours there from time to time.

They also have a huge Children’s section!  A fun place to take your children for a day outing.  They can play for a while.  Then you can let them pick out a book. Be forewarned, this could take a while because of the selection.

They also have a summer reading program.  It’s free to sign up.  It’s for children in grades 1 through 6.  They simply read 8 books.  Fill out the form with the titles of the books they read.  Then drop it back off.  They get to pick a free book off a list of age appropriate books.  I highly suggest anything that gets kids to read!

Chateau Laroche – The Historic Loveland Castle – Loveland, Ohio

A Castle in Ohio?? A must see!

We greatly enjoyed our recent trip to Chateau Laroche – The Historic Loveland Castle and museum. It is a magnificent sight to see. The castle was the life’s work of one man, Sir Harry Andrews. You begin your trip by coming down a narrow winding road. At the bottom you turn right. It seems like just another country lane until you come around a bend in the road and there sits a huge castle fit for a king (or a Queen). They have a paved parking lot at the front for visitors. You get out of the car and just stand in awe for a minute of the size and grandeur of what you see. As you walk up you see a small sign that reads “Please see front desk immediately upon entry. Private property.” This seems like fine advice but you will find yourself trying to drift to the many beautiful places on the way to the front door. We went in early spring and the flowers were just beginning to bloom. I bet the gardens alone are a sight in the summer.

Front Garden

 As you enter the front door you are greeted with a wall of photos and a small counter. This room is also their gift shop. After a moment to adjust to the much dimmer lighting you realise that most of the walls in this room are covered in photographs. The wall opposite the register is covered in pictures of the castle throughout the years. You get a visual scene of how the castle grew over the years. Next to these rather impressive photographs are many of the man himself. They tell the story of his life. You get a small view into the life of what must have been a fascinating man. To have the idea to build a castle is perhaps a little mundane but to actually build it with your own two hands is extraordinary. In this area is also a small room blocked by a barred door. It was his office. They have left it the way he had it complete with a typewriter sitting on the desk.

Original Office

You pay your entry fee and the man behind the counter says “Have you ever been here before?” I say “No, This is our first visit.” He says “You are in for a treat. We don’t have tours here. You just explore at your own pace. The place is quite large. Take your time and enjoy yourself.” I say “Thank you. Where do you suggest we start?” He says “Take the stairs over there(and he points to the set leading up). Then come back down and check out the dungeon. Then go back out and look at the grounds. Oh, and this is the only door in or out. All the rest are locked.” I say “OK, Thanks” and we move on. The fact that there is only one door in or out kind of worried me but after seeing the place I understand why. They have blocked off things that were unfinished or they felt were unsafe. A lot of what would be the first floor is that main large room and open courtyards.

We went up the circular staircase. There are many rooms on the second floor. There is a huge dining hall housing an equally huge wooden table. His bedroom is found here. It is also blocked off by a door of bars. It is still filled with his furniture. There is a large balcony overlooking part of the grounds and the river. A small room near this balcony holds something neat to see for children and parents alike. There is a small sign that reads “Spyhole.” Under it is a hole drilled into the rock with a small piece of glass at the end. When you look through it you get a view of the front door and anyone who might be standing there. This room also holds some neat little log chairs. My youngest really enjoyed these because they were her size. There are four more rooms on this floor. They have suits of armor in them. The back room holds an interesting surprise. They play an interview of the man who built the place. You get to literally hear him explain why he began the castle in the first place. You get some personal information like the fact that he never married because the girl he was in love with married someone else while he was in the military. You can buy a DVD of his interviews and stories in the gift shop. We didn’t buy this so I can’t tell you much about it. One of the other visitors was telling me about it in the parking lot as we left. We are not souvenir people. I don’t normally take much home with me except pictures.

Sir Harry Andrews’ Bedroom
The Dining Room

In this area of the castle is when I first noticed the rocks with places under them in the wall. There are rocks that were sent to him from other states and countries set in concrete throughout the castle. They are labeled beneath with where they came from. This turned into a hunt to see how many we could find. Ivy, my 10 year old, found this very interesting. She not only looked to find the rocks she also felt the desire to examine the rocks when she found them. They have been learning about rocks this year in school. She looked at the ones from other areas but also the ones that were taken out of the river there. She found many fossils. She said she could not wait to tell her teacher about the castle, the rocks and all the fossils she found. I would also like to point out the doors to any perspective visitors. There are intricate doors everywhere even the ceiling. The one in the room with the interview playing is simply amazing. It is pieces of wood pieced together in puzzle fashion. It must have taken quite a while to create.

We then took the stairs to what would have been the roof courtyard but they have a barred door here as well. This was one of my few disappointments with the place. Yes I would have liked to walk out there but I completely understand why they couldn’t have people out there. I also liked seeing it through the bars but I wish they would have allowed you room to turn around at the top of the stairs. A sign warning you that the stairs dead end would have been appreciated. We started climbing with my husband out in front and all of the sudden it ends. We almost ran right into each other. With toddler in arm trying to negotiate the turn around on very steep stairs is extremely difficult.

We then went back down to the main area and signed the guest book which we missed upon coming in. It’s neat that you get to sign the book showing you have been there. After that we proceeded down the stairs to the Dungeon. It’s not much. A small basement. On the back wall is a jail door. Inside is a skeleton in shackles. This was kind-of funny. Then it was back outside to enjoy the grounds. This was my favorite part. The grounds are beautiful with the castle like a perfect backdrop. There are some really neat things outside as well. The arch and the canopy of sticks & plants were great photo ops. There is a dragon in the rock garden. My youngest got a kick out of swinging the gate open and closed. It made squeaking noises. She would just laugh. There are many places to sit down along the way. There is a picnic area by the river as well.

Bella Playing in the Gardens

The River

My only major issue with the place and information I would like to pass on to all other parents is the fact that they don’t have a bathroom. There have port-a-potties in the parking lot but that is all. If your baby needs a diaper change you will have to do it outside or in your car.

The Details:

Price: (at time of visit-2011)-$3.00 per person

Website: http://www.lovelandcastle.com/  (They have directions on the site.)

Hours: Summer hours-Monday-Sunday 11am to 5pm

Winter Hours:Saturday and Sunday 11am to 5pm (weather permitting)

Sharon Woods – Sharonville, Ohio

Sharon Woods park was a fun outing. There are many small waterfalls sprinkled throughout this rather large park. We started out our trip with some play time at the playground near the harbor on Sharon Lake. It is a very nice park. There is an area for big kids and a play area for the toddler crew. There are baby swings but not swings for the big kids here. My oldest found this a little disappointing. There is a small rock wall and an area that looks like rock that has places to climb up and tunnels to climb through. There is a snack bar right by this park. In the summer there are fountains here but we went in spring before they were up and running. After some play time we decided to check out the harbor and lake. There is a boat house located here where you can rent boats. It was much to cold out for us to even consider a few hours on the water. I also must warn you that boat rentals are not cheap!

Isabella loved playing “Peek-a-boo” through the holes at the playground. She was giggling the whole time.

The Lake

At the bottom of the stairs was a paved path that circled the lake. We decided to go for a walk. My husband went back to the car to grab the stroller. We went with the jogging stroller on this day. The path does wrap up and around to the parking lot so you do not have to carry the stroller down the stairs. You do however have to wrap up and around the playground. After we had Isabella strapped in the stroller, we were off. There were many ducks on the lake and the path. They were almost too used to being around people because you could walk right up to them. It was neat for our oldest who loves animals but if you have a child that would try to touch them I would suggest watching closely because these ducks will not run away easily. We walked along the path for a while then my husband says “What’s that noise?” I stopped and sure enough I could hear something. I said “It sounds like water.” He just starts walking across the small road. I asked “Where are you going?” He answered “It’s coming from over here.” Ivy who had followed him across the street yells “WOW! Mom you have to see this! It’s a waterfall!” I cross the street. It was where the water ran out of the lake through the dam. It was not a “waterfall” but it was still neat. We stood there for a few minutes.

There was another path on that side of the road that led up into the woods. It had a large sign. I walked over to see what it said. It looked like something we could do. It was 0.7 of a mile one way through the woods. It lead to the other side of the park and was marked as moderate so we thought we would be able to get the stroller down it. We began down it and figured if we got to a place where we could not get the stroller through we would simply turn around. It thankfully never came to that. The path was very nice. It followed along the water. There were many real waterfalls along the way. There were also educational signs to read beside the path. At one point it crosses the water. The cliffs here are quite a sight. Since it was spring we did not encounter a lot of people on the trail. There was a few places we had to work a little to keep the stroller moving but it was not bad at all.

This is a little climb down but not too bad.

Taken from the water.

When we got to the other side there was another path running along the road. It passes a couple small waterfalls. These are neat and very easy to access because they are right along the road. One even has parking by it. My only complaint about these was the fact that they put concrete around the falls to keep them from washing out. While I can understand wanting to preserve the beauty of the falls, I am simply a purest. I think that people should let nature take its course on things like this. When people do this to a natural site it feels more like a man made item. Still pretty but it loses a little something.

The girls and I next to the waterfall by the road

Ivy was standing on a rock in the middle of the water.

When we got a little further down there was a large bridge leading across the water. On the other side there was a large park with a little log cabin. This park is one of the large wooden ones. Ivy was happy because there were swings nearby. Two large picnic areas are close by as well. The Sharon centre is near here too. There is a free nature area inside. We took advantage of this. The girls favorite part was a large aquarium with a “log” running through it. The kids climbed inside to watch the fish and turtle swim around. It was very neat. I had one problem with this as a mom of a toddler. The outside edge of the “log” is concrete and you have to really keep an eye on them. They could fall and hurt themselves but more likely is a child running their head into the top of it when trying to climb inside. It is made to crawl through but my toddler could just stand in it. There is an area at the back with chairs for the adults to take a much needed break. The whole back wall is made of windows that look out on a nature area. While we were there we saw birds, chipmunks and a raccoon. In this room there is an area to stick your hands in and guess what you are grabbing. This would of been much easier if they actually all had stuff in them. About half of them were empty. There is also a table with crayons and papers for the kids. As you walk toward the door leading out there is a great photo op wall and a tree to walk through.

The trees here are huge!

There is something called the “Heritage Village” here too but we did not go. You have to pay to get in. It was looking like it was going to rain so we just headed back toward our car. It looked neat so I would like to go back sometime. We were almost back to the lake when it started to sprinkle. By the time we made it back to the car it was raining. I was glad we did not have to be out in the rain for long.

There are a few other things to do at this park including an 18 hole golf course (not sure of pricing) and an indoor play area that costs $2.50 a child. There are ample picnic areas and tables throughout the park. I would also like to give some credit where credit is due. The restrooms were some of the nicest I’ve ever seen in a park. They were clean and well stocked with toilet paper, soap and paper towels. I was honestly shocked by this! Quite impressive!

The Details:

Heritage Village is $5.00 for adults, $3.00 for children ages 5-11, Children under 4 are free.

Admission to the park was $3.00 for the day.

Website:  http://hamiltoncountyparks.org/parks/sharonwoods.shtm

Location: 11450 Lebanon Rd. Sharonville, OH 45241