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From its charming small towns to its delicious Chillicothe restaurants, Ross County offers everything an intrepid leaf-peeper could want in a fall day trip. The Native American earthworks are a humbling sight too. / Image: Brian Planalp

Drive Through Ross County For Americana, Haute Bar Food, And Fall Foliage

We do our fair share of urban exploring ‘round here, delving into the dusty crags of Cincinnati’s inner core. But now that the trees are all orange and yellow and red, it’s time to get out into that gorgeous Ohio countryside. And there’s no better place to do it than Ross County.

There are treasures to be found out here, treasures that go beyond rich colors and sweet autumn smells. Ross County’s small towns—Bainbridge, Frankfort, and Kingston—are exemplary of rustic Americana. The area is likewise flush with breathtaking Native American earthworks. Round out your trip with a bite in Chillicothe, and it’ll be an experience you’re sure to remember fondly.

EARTHWORKS

Two thousand years ago, the land of Ross County was among the most important cultural centers in North America. There the Hopewell people made impressive advances in math, art, trade, and astronomy. But their most enduring legacy are the two-dozen enormous earthwork complexes around the Paint Creek and Scioto River valleys. These impressive feats of labor and engineering showcase towering mounds and broad embankments set against that beautiful fall foliage.

I want to be careful not to underrepresent how impactful it is seeing these earthworks in person. They bring an extraordinary sense of context to our place on this continent, similar to Stonehenge or Machu Picchu. Your thoughts are with the people who built them, but your feet are in the present, and the contrast is both edifying and a little somber. At any rate, do remember your camera.

If you can only see one earthwork complex, we recommend the Mound City Group because it’s the only one that’s fully restored. But there are five sites in all, and if you can get to all of them you definitely should. Here’s a link to more info about the earthworks.

CHILLICOTHE

From the earthwork complexes, head into historic Chillicothe. (Those Italianate buildings remind you of anywhere specific?) The boutique shopping here is top notch, so have a look through the stores and maybe grab a few unique stocking stuffers—or maybe something larger.

By now you’ve probably worked up an appetite. Here’s our two favorite Chillicothe restaurants (but you can go here for a full rundown):

  • R Kitchen on Paint: This place looks like it would be at home in OTR or Oakley. It has a long bar, aesthetically refined decor, and delicious American fare. The pretzel bites are every bit as good as the pretzels from Servatii (that's really saying something!), and the burgers are outstanding.
  • Old Canal Smoke House: The appetizer menu offers haute bar food (coconut onion rings, smoke house shrooms, nest of armadillo eggs). Meanwhile the rest of the menu is all brisket, ribs, and steak. In all, it's an outstanding restaurant that’ll have you jealous of the Chillicothe residents that get to eat here every week.

Don’t sleep on a place called Crazy Dogs Grill either. Like Senate in OTR, they use the humble hotdog as a canvas for greater things. Perfect for a casual stop during your fall outing in Ross County.

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For more information about traveling around Ross County, visit the Chillicothe Visitor’s Bureau’s website.

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