Story & Photos by Matt Bayman
While much of the Northern Miami Valley is dedicated to farmland, the river corridors in the region are surrounded by trees, woods and parks. In the fall, these areas have the best foliage, displaying an array of orange, yellow, red and lime green treetops. This driving tour, which uses country roads in Miami, Darke, Auglaize and Shelby counties, passes through three such corridors—the Stillwater River, Loramie Creek and the Great Miami River.
Using roads that are close-to and near these corridors, drivers will not only see some of the best foliage in western Ohio, but also pass through wonderful small towns and by equally wonderful restaurants where menus include everything from broasted chicken and charbroiled salmon to world-famous pumpkin pie and pizza, and everything else in between.
Meals can be eaten inside or taken to a nearby park to enjoy. In fact, along with driving, this tour also visits a number of parks (including one state park) where short hikes lead to even more beautiful scenery and wildlife viewing.
Throw in some great statues and other interesting roadside attractions and a full day of foliage, food and fun can be enjoyed without traveling too far from home.
Starting and ending in Piqua, this tour can be taken several times during the fall. In the earlier part of the season, you will see more yellow and lime green foliage, while later in October and early November it will feature the deep orange and browns that many people favor. Both are equally stunning to see.
The following directions run counter-clockwise and start at the eastern terminus of Ohio Route 185, located on the west end of Piqua.
The Three Parks in the Corner of the County
The northwest corner of Miami County contains three parks that back up to the Stillwater River and that are located within a few miles of each other. Along with wooded areas that contain great fall foliage, each of these parks is known for its prairies, which often outshine the nearby trees when it comes to presenting the colors of the rainbow.
After heading west on Route 185 from Piqua, the first of these parks to be reached is Stillwater Prairie Reserve. While much of the beauty at this park can be seen from a vehicle, a walking path that follows a section of the Stillwater River and passes several prairies and ponds is well worth the time.
The next park is Goode Prairie Preserve, located on a terrace above the Stillwater River. A short hike here takes visitors around the tall and colorful wildflower field.
The final park is Maple Ridge Reserve. Along with hiking trails that pass the river, prairie and woods, Maple Ridge has an amazing display of mushrooms, especially in the fall. Keep your eyes toward the roots of tall and fallen trees to spot them.
Directions to Stillwater Prairie: Route 185 starts at U.S. 36 and Sunset Drive in Piqua. Follow it out of town to the west. Stillwater Prairie Reserve is located 7.4 miles on your left on Route 185.
Directions to Goode Prairie: Exit Stillwater Prairie Reserve to the left (west) and take the first right (north) on Fink Road. Fink Road dead-ends into Union Church Road. Turn left and Goode Prairie is located at the curve in the road.
Directions to Maple Ridge Reserve: Exit Goode Prairie the same way you came in and return to Route 185 and continue west (right). The entrance to Maple Ridge Reserve is located on your left, just after crossing the Stillwater River.
Lilacs in Webster and Statues in Versailles
After Maple Ridge Reserve, Route 185 follows the Stillwater River to an area just south of Versailles. The riparian corridor of the river is very colorful in the fall and this rural part of Darke County is especially peaceful.
After passing Stillwater Valley Golf Club, travelers come to the quaint and picturesque town of Webster, which is also home to Little Lilacs, a store that specializes in artificial floral arrangements, wreaths and hanging baskets for the garden. They are located at 9191 St. Rt. 185 and are one of many specialty shops found along this tour. Once in Versailles, along with places to eat and shop, take time to view the sculptures and architecture in the downtown (pictured here), much of it inspired by the town’s French heritage.
Directions to Versailles: From Maple Ridge Reserve, exit left (west) on Route 185 and follow it for 7.6 miles to Main Street in downtown Versailles.
Lunch Time and Bird Watching at Lake Loramie State Park
Between Versailles and Lake Loramie State Park are a number of unique dining options. For starters, the famous Keyhole Pizza is located in Newport. People rave about their pizza, regardless of their humorous tagline as having the “World’s worst pizza and warmest beer.”
Next to the Wilderness Trail Museum in Fort Loramie, and near the stunning St. Michael Church, is Brucken’s Neighborhood Pub, which is known for its broasted chicken dinners and steaks.
Finally, just before reaching Lake Loramie State Park on Route 362 is Morrie’s Landing. Stop here to enjoy charbroiled salmon and chicken, haddock filets, pork chop dinners and more, plus outdoor seating across from the lake.
Along with five different hiking trails that cover a total of 8 miles, Lake Loramie State Park has a bird observation blind (pictured below) where visitors can enter, sit quietly and watch life on the lake. There have been more than 150 species of birds recorded at the park. The blind is located next to the beach on Crawford Island, which is located near Morrie’s Landing.
There are a number of other great attractions and scenery to enjoy at the lake before continuing on the tour.
Directions to Lake Loramie State Park: In downtown Versailles, head east on Route 47, then go left (north) on Route 66 into Fort Loramie. In downtown Fort Loramie, turn right (east) on Route 362. This leads to the entrance of Lake Loramie State Park and Crawford Island. This totals about 14.7 miles.
Lots of Yogurt and a “Safari” in Anna
Follow the colorful shoreline of Lake Loramie to historic downtown Minster and pass by the largest yogurt plant in North America, Dannon Co. In Minster, dine at The Wooden Shoe Inn, Dutch Mill Café and other local hot spots, and see the magnificent St. Augustine Church and its impressive duel steeples.
After a peaceful drive through the countryside, arrive on the western end of Anna and view the giant animal statues at Anna Community Park. They are located at the entrance of the park and consist of a giraffe, two elephants, a kangaroo and a buffalo. People exit the nearby highway to come see them!
Directions to Anna Community Park: Continue north on Route 362, which becomes 1st Street in Minster. Turn right (north) on Route 66 and then right (east) on Route 119. Follow this until the Anna Community Park, a total distance of about 14 miles.
The Highest Point in Ohio in the Distance
At 1,550 feet above sea level, the highest point in Ohio is located in nearby Bellefontaine in Logan County. When traveling south on Route 65 in Shelby County near Maplewood, it is possible to see this high point from a distance of about 18 miles away, which is a unique geological feature in western Ohio.
This road also has some very pretty foliage, which mixes in well with the quiet farmland.
Directions to the high point: Continue east on Route 119 then turn right (south) on Route 65. After the road jogs, look in the distance to your east to see the peak of Ohio. From Anna to Route 47 is a little over 10 miles.
Amazing Scenery at Tawawa Park
The tour now enters the Great Miami River corridor in Shelby County, with Route 47 following the river to Tawawa Park in Sidney. But not before passing through Port Jefferson, where famous chicken dinners can be found at Hussey’s restaurant and popular cheeseburgers at the 47 Bar & Grill. Families of ducks and geese live in a pond next to Hussey’s for much of the year, which adds to the experience.
After the meal, take plenty of time to explore Tawawa Park, which may be one of the most spectacular displays of color in the region, especially later in the season. Ponds, a covered bridge, woods and a river all create the perfect backdrop for a fall stroll, especially along the Benjamin Trail. Or, a road wraps through the park and showcases much of the same beauty that can be seen on foot.
Directions to Tawawa Park: From Route 65, turn right (west) on Route 47 and follow it to Tawawa Park in Sidney, a distance of about 8 miles.
Downtown Sidney and Pumpkin Pie
In case you hadn’t eaten enough, or if you are able to wait, The Spot restaurant in downtown Sidney serves up its famous homemade pumpkin pie (and others) in the fall. Stop in for a piece, then explore the interesting downtown, which features historic signage, amazing architecture and places to shop, dine and relax.
Directions to Sidney: Exit the park the same way you came in, but turn left (west) on Route 47 this time and follow it to the Courthouse Square and The Spot restaurant, a total distance of one mile.
The Big Four and Little Four Bridges & Lockington Locks
Drive directly next to the Great Miami River and see some awesome landmarks and great foliage on this rural and heavily wooded section of the tour. Follow River Road (see page 44) past the Big Four and then Little Four railroad bridges, then come to what would have been one of the most impressive sections of the old Miami and Erie Canal in Ohio—Lockington Locks, which consists of seven canal locks (six together and a seventh out of view). Just up the road is Lockington Dam, constructed in 1919 in response to the Flood of 1913.
Directions to Lockington Locks & Dam: From The Spot restaurant, head south on Ohio Street. This will lead past the Big Four Bridge. Parking for the bridge can be found at nearby Roadside Park. Continue on and soon after the bridge, turn right on Sulphur Heights Hill (1.3 miles from The Spot). Then turn right on River Rd and follow it to Miami River Rd and then to Lockington Kirkwood Rd (a distance of 5.5 miles). Turn right and follow the road until it dead-ends in Lockington. Turn right on Miami Conservancy Rd and then the third left onto Museum Trail. Lockington Locks is on your left. To see the dam, continue west on Museum Trail. The dam is located just outside of town on Museum Trail/Fessler Buxon Rd.
Back to Piqua for more fun
The final leg of this tour follows the rim of the Great Miami River into Piqua. A great way to end the day or afternoon is in the historic downtown district, where the most antique shops of any place in Miami County awaits, plus baked goods, food and ice cream, clothing, organic items, a year-round Halloween and Christmas store (The Apple Tree Gallery, pictured below) and much more.
Directions to Piqua: Return back to Miami Conservancy Rd and turn right. Take the next left onto Piqua Lockington Rd, which leads to County Road 25-A in Piqua. Interstate 75 is to your left.