Great Miami Riverway

Explore, Shop, and Eat Along the
Great Miami Riverway

The small towns that form the Great Miami Riverway are more than just a “pit stop” for cyclists, walkers and kayakers. When planning your Riverway adventure, make sure you leave plenty time to explore the vibrant small communities like Franklin, Middletown and Hamilton.

By Douglas Trattner

Municipal Brew Works, photos by Megan Leigh Barnard unless otherwise noted

On the Great Miami Riverway, the adventure is in the journey. Follow along 99-miles of paved trails and waterways that take you past larger-than-life murals and sculptures, tributes to history and culture, unique local shops, thrilling adventures (from skydiving to surfing), and plenty of craft breweries and local eats.

As you hike, bike or paddle the Riverway – admiring the beautiful scenery of southwestern Ohio – note the many access points leading into the cities and towns situated on the banks of the river.

“There are 10 authentic, charming communities that dot the riverfront from Sidney to Hamilton and in each one of them you’ll find unique attractions, riverfront parks, and great restaurants and brewpubs,” says Dan Foley, director of the Great Miami Riverway.

New adventures are just a turn away. Read on to discover where to stop and what to do in three of those communities. Find more things to do along the entire Riverway on the interactive map.

First, Franklin

Kick off your Riverway exploration with a glimpse into the 20th century. The Harding Museum, a two-story, Revival Colonial structure, was home to Clarence Harding, vice-president of the Harding Paper Mills, and his family. Today, it attracts the attention of history and architecture buffs alike. One of Harding’s sons, Justin, served as juror at the War Crimes Trials in Nuremberg, Germany after World War II. His notes on the trial and other World War II artifacts are on display in the home. As you wander the home, you’ll see beautiful antiques, oriental rugs and stained-glass windows.

Travel further back in time with a visit to the Old Log Post Office, Ohio’s oldest post office. Overlooking the river, this humble structure was established in 1805 when President Thomas Jefferson appointed John N. C. Schenck as the city’s postmaster.

One short block away is the Museum of Spiritual Art, a house-turned-gallery that contains a beautiful treasure trove of spiritual artwork assembled from around the globe. Franklin is dubbed “the City of Murals,” largely owing to resident artist Eric Henn, whose stunning works depicting the town’s history can be enjoyed throughout the area. One can’t-miss creation is the brick arches mural at 4th Street and South Main, a beguiling trompe l'oeil masterpiece that fools the eye.

When hunger strikes, there’s no need to travel far as options abound in downtown Franklin. Pizza, Mexican, sandwiches and ice cream can be found on menus around the town.

Old Log Post Office, Great Miami Riverway 

Along the Riverway

Stick to the river and you’ll never be far from access to the Great Miami River bike trail and its connection with 330 miles of paved trails. In downtown Franklin, you’ll find easy access at 2nd Street and at 5th Street, right by the Old Log Post Office. Whether you cycle, paddle or drive, you’ll land in the middle of Middletown about seven miles downstream, an ideal spot to gather, refuel and plan next steps.

Meet in Middletown

With the opening of a brand-new bike trail section, you can now cycle on paved trails from Franklin all the way to Middletown, a city with hidden treasures. To explore the city while enjoying public art, cue up the Adventures through Art Walking Mural Tour on your phone. This one-mile, self-guided tour leads visitors to 16 murals, including some by Eric Henn. Or find treasures and leave your mark by embarking on the New Discoveries GeoTour – uncover 25 caches hidden around town.

Get a sense of the Great Miami River’s history with a visit to the Canal Museum, a realistic replica of a lock tender's house on the former Miami-Erie canal.

Adrenaline junkies keen on jumping out of a perfectly good airplane should reserve a spot at Start Skydiving, where they’ll experience a 45-second freefall (safely affixed to a skydiving instructor) followed by a five-minute glide back to earth.

If you’ve worked up an appetite adventuring, don’t worry, Middletown’s food scene has you covered. Treat yourself to a Pimiento Smash Burger or Fried Shrimp Basket at Gracie’s or opt for lighter snacks and fresh produce at the next-door Vitori’s Market. Order a flight at N.E.W Ales Brewing to sample their IPAs, porters, pale ales and more. Or visit Ohio’s only dedicated gluten-free brewery, Rolling Mill Brewery.

Don’t forget to save room for dessert! Central Pastry Shop has been serving delicious donuts, cakes and pastries galore for nearly 70 years. Fulfill your sugar dreams at the candy buffet and 225 flavors of glass-bottle sodas at Grandpa Joe’s Candy Shop.

Along the Riverway

For many, there is no better way to experience the Great Miami Riverway than on the water or on two wheels – and Middletown has multiple spots to help. At Spoken Bicycles you can rent a bike, refill your tires and even indulge in a refreshing Ohio craft beer or seasonal cocktail. After you get off the trail, take your pint outdoors to sip as you explore Middletown’s Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area.

Rent a kayak or bike from BAABs and then enjoy their bar and bistro when you’ve completed your trek. Their wing flights allow you to pick more than one sauce to satisfy the entire table and their signature pizzas are sure to hit the spot.

Easy access to both the river and the paved trail can be found at River Center MetroPark. Travel south for just over 13 miles and you’ll find your way to Hamilton.

Reach the Homestretch in Hamilton

Like cities all along the Great Miami River, Hamilton expanded quickly in the mid-1800s and boasts the grand architecture to prove it. Take a walk on High Street and you’ll pass the magnificent Butler County Courthouse, constructed in 1885. You’ll also notice the numerous sculptures and vibrant murals that decorate the town – and make for fun photo ops. Cross the river and you’ll find restaurants, brewpubs, local art galleries and shops featuring home décor, fashion, comic books, vinyl, candy, presents for your pets and more.

At mealtime, Hamilton comes alive thanks to a wealth of food and drink options scattered throughout downtown. From authentic Mexican at El Mariachi to ribs at Neal’s Famous BBQ to creative sushi at Basil 1791 to Tano Bistro, a chef-driven American bistro, all bases are tastefully covered. You can even pair a pint with a round of pinball at the Pinball Garage. This full bar boasts 24 beers on tap and over 30 pinball machines that’ll immerse you in the cosmic glamour of the 1970s.

On warm evenings it seems as though every person in town is enjoying a cold one on the vast patio at Municipal Brew Works, which is housed in a repurposed building from the 1930s. If a picnic lunch or dinner sounds nice, take your provisions down to Marcum Park. The park boasts views of the river, an in-ground water fountain (perfect for cooling off with a splash) and plenty of space to relax.

Float Troy, Great Miami Riverway