When it comes to a good road trip, half the fun is getting there. En route to Dayton, Ohio, at the heart of the Miami River Valley, back roads beckon with hilly curves and the promise of red and gold foliage.
Start down U.S. Route 127, switching over to State Route 503 in the village of Seven Mile. The pleasant, winding trip runs through farm country and forests. Ohio's fall foliage should peak in early- to mid-October, but even if the leaves are past their prime, the drive is a nice break from the busy highway.
At the northern terminus of SR 503, make a pit stop in West Alexandria and head east for apple picking at Tükens Orchard and Farm Market.
One of the few places between Cincinnati and Dayton where visitors can pick their own produce, the orchard boasts 3,500 apple trees and 38 varieties of apples. In October, Jonagold and Sun Crisp varieties are at their peak, followed by Granny Smith and Pink Lady in the tail end of November.
"Once you get back in the orchard, it's a whole different world," says Mary Hora, who runs Tükens with her husband Frank. "Most people just want their kids to have a wholesome experience. It's just real clean, scenic and a lot of greenery."
Tükens has no fee for apple picking or the petting zoo and no age restriction. Even very young children are welcome. Many of the low-hanging branches can easily be reached by young tykes.
Bring a family picnic. After you stroll through the rows of fragrant apple trees, you can lunch by the lake at one of the picnic tables.
Make sure to visit the petting zoo, where goats, a potbellied pig, a miniature horse and Peruvian llamas are the stars.
On the way out, visit the farm market housed inside the renovated, antique barn. Grab some locally produced cheese and an apple cider slushy, which is just as refreshing as it sounds.
Hit the road east and travel back 800 years at Sun Watch Indian Village and Archaeological Park, the reconstructed site of a Fort Ancient Indian village nestled along the Great Miami River.
The reconstructed village is arranged in its original layout. Spend $2 for an audio tour to learn about the astronomical alignment of the village and the ancient culture's traditional building and harvesting techniques.
Head north to the heart of Dayton's metropolitan area, where the Dayton Art Institute overlooks the city skyline.
"The Dayton Art Institute is one of the true cultural treasures of Dayton, both for its collection and its landmark building• Few cities the size of Dayton have an art museum with such a broad collection, spanning nearly 5,000 years of art history," says Eric Brockman, marketing and communications manager.
The DAI is known for its Asian, European and American art. Be sure to view Monet's "Waterlilies," a gem of the museum's permanent collection. The Experiencenter is a popular interactive gallery for children.
After Nov. 12, the exhibit American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell will be on display, filled with the painter's iconic imagery and storytelling. The exhibit examines personal, cultural and artistic influences on Rockwell's work, as well as his complex creative process, from idea to final printed image.
Follow the river north and take flight at Dayton's stellar aviation attractions, to be expected of the home of the Wright Brothers.
See how it all began at Carillon Historical Park, where the original 1905 Wright Flyer III, the world's first practical airplane, is located. Plenty of other historic landmarks dot the park's 65 acres, including the 1835 B&O "Grasshopper" steam locomotive and the first automobile self-starter.
Deeds Carillon, for which the park is named, houses 57 bells in a 151-foot-tall tower, making it the largest carillon in Ohio. Larry Weinstein, the official carillonneur, performs concerts throughout the year.
Nearby, you can take a tour of Orville Wright's mansion home, Hawthorn Hill, named for the hundreds of hawthorn trees adorning the property. Be sure to check out the large metal water storage tank, which Orville designed as part of a system to collect and filter rainwater for use around the home.
To the northeast, the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force has a collection of more than 360 aerospace vehicles and missiles, from World War II fliers to modern stealth aircraft.
Though the sheer size of the exhibits can be overwhelming, highlights include the Presidential Gallery and the World War II collection.
The World War II collection houses the hulking B-29 "Bockscar" that dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, a stark contrast to the sleek and deadly Ryan BQM-34F "Firebee II" Supersonic Aerial Target in the Research & Development Gallery.
Mill Pond Acre B & B
After a day of apple picking, art appreciation and aeronautical history, it's time for rest and relaxation. Just six miles from the Air Force museum, Mill Pond Acre Bed & Breakfast is in the heart of downtown Fairborn. Only a short walk from restaurants and shops, the property's gardens and goldfish pond offer a relaxing setting.
Proprietor Debbie Downes, a retired Air Force dietitian, makes a health-conscious breakfast for her guests and accommodates many military families and personnel visiting the nearby Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
"I'm retired military, so I do have that familiarity with the military population," Downes says.
The main house of the B & B has three different rooms and a separate cottage offers a more private and secluded setting.
Wind down with a cup of tea and some crisp apples, and enjoy.