Stretching from western Pennsylvania to southern Illinois, the Ohio River creates a fertile valley filled with beautiful views, national parks, historic sites, and riverfront cities. Planning a road trip through the area sparks an enormous number of possibilities. Whether you enjoy exploring nature or discovering a new city (or both), you can find plenty of options to pique your interest in the Ohio River Valley.

Day 1: Pittsburgh

The largest tributary of the Mississippi River, the Ohio River begins in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This city offers plenty to see and do, so why not start your road trip off by exploring a few of the top sights? If art is your thing, check out the Andy Warhol Museum, located inside a historic building downtown. The National Aviary is a zoo that boasts more than 150 bird species, including the Eurasian eagle-owl. For exhibits that focus on dinosaurs and geology, visit the top-rated Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

Days 2-3: Southern Ohio

Winding its way through the landscape, the Ohio River serves as a border between Ohio and West Virginia. The scenic route along the southern edge of Ohio includes miles of natural beauty and plenty of small, friendly towns. Popular parks in the area, such as Forked Run State Park in Reedsville, Ohio, offer opportunities for camping, fishing, swimming, hiking, and boating.

In Cincinnati, check out the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, an interactive museum focusing on the effects of slavery in America. Exhibits highlight key individuals, such as Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela, as well as impactful events. For lighthearted fun, the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal includes a children's museum, natural history exhibits, and an OMNIMAX® theater.

A white riverboat with a bright red paddle sits on the Ohio River with a clear blue sky in the background
Source: Shutterstock

Day 4: Louisville

Louisville is the largest Kentucky city along the Ohio River, and it's a great place to enjoy a walk by the water or a hike on the nearby Louisville Loop, a 50-mile trail system that links parks and neighborhoods in the area. While you're in town, check out Churchill Downs, the racetrack that hosts the fabled Kentucky Derby every spring. The onsite museum provides an informative history of the derby. From the water, explore the scenic Ohio River Valley aboard the Belle of Louisville, a traditional steamboat built in 1914. Advance reservations are required for lunch and dinner cruises.

Horses with jockeys race on a bright green race track in the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, Kentucky
Source: Shutterstock

Days 5-6: Indiana and Illinois

As you follow the river westward, stop off in Evansville, Indiana, to visit Angel Mounds State Historic Site, a Native American earthworks settlement abandoned around 1450. The area contains hiking trails, a museum, and a gift shop.

From there, head west into Illinois and enjoy the views along the Ohio River National Scenic Byway in Shawnee National Forest. Recreational options in the area include camping, hiking, fishing, and horseback riding. Check out Fort Defiance Park in Cairo, Illinois, a former Civil War outpost with great views of the Ohio River flowing into the Mississippi. Equipped with 16 basic campsites (no toilets or showers), the park offers a rugged experience for die-hard campers.

Days 7-8: Kentucky

When you're ready to begin the journey back to Pittsburgh, take a southern route out of Cairo and across the river into Kentucky. Be sure to stop at Land Between the Lakes, the largest inland peninsula in the U.S. This national recreation area features beautiful scenery, abundant wildlife, hiking trails, and a working farm that demonstrates life in the 1850s.

Head northeast to Lexington, Kentucky, and visit the Mary Todd Lincoln House, the historic childhood home of President Abraham Lincoln's wife. The period furnishings and other items on display belonged to the Todd and Lincoln families. Ashland, the estate of 19th century statesman Henry Clay, is also nearby.

If you can't get enough of Kentucky's horses, check out Kentucky Horse Park, which houses the International Museum of the Horse. The operational horse farm has a theme park type of atmosphere with horse-drawn buggy tours, pony rides, and much more.

Days 9-10: West Virginia

Continuing northeast, make a few stops to enjoy West Virginia's beautiful section of the Ohio River Valley. In Parkersburg, pay a visit to Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park, where you can tour a historic mansion, ride in a horse-drawn carriage, and take a trip on the Island Belle sternwheeler riverboat.

Before ending your trip back in Pittsburgh, make one last stop in Wheeling to see the charming Kruger Street Toy & Train Museum and visit Oglebay Park, where you can stay in a historic lodge (with modern amenities) and enjoy everything from a round of golf to a zoo and ice skating.

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