Three floors of majestic Kingwood Hall are decorated this year in a Peace on Earth theme. Photograph courtesy of Destination Mansfield.

The Legendary Lights at Historic Clifton Mill near Yellow Springs consistently garners top honors by Travel + Leisure for Ohio’s best light display. Photograph courtesy of Ohio.org

By SARAH JAQUAY
We’ve all heard the proverb, “It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” Especially when the days are getting colder and shorter. Ohioans can be grateful there are myriad venues to see the blaze of a million metaphorical candles known as holiday light festivals from the end of November through the end of the year. Since most urbanites know where to go in the 3 Cs: Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, it can be a fun adventure checking out displays located in unique attractions and in small towns that produce enormous seasonal wattage and delight visitors of all ages.
Kingwood Center Gardens in Mansfield is a colorful destination any time of year with its beautiful botanical gardens, a well-preserved historic mansion, duck pond and strutting peacocks. But during

Christmas at Kingwood (until December 30th), most of the color comes from lights. Visitors step into a winter wonderland with enchanting outdoor decorations, including the Snowman Circle and shimmering lighted trees. Kingwood’s Community Tree Walk is adorned with strikingly-decorated Christmas trees donated by local businesses and organizations. Don’t miss the splendor of Kingwood Hall, the late industrialist Charles Kelley King’s French provincial-style home. It’s decked out this year in a peace on earth on theme, with three floors of decorations while musicians play in the drawing room. Warm up in their display greenhouse where decorations highlight stunning tropical plants. Guests may want to linger in Kingwood’s Garden Gateway Visitor Center to shop for plants, home decor and unique gifts in the Garden & Gift Shop; make a holiday wish on the Wish Tree in the Exhibit Gallery or indulge in snacks and hot beverages at the Gateway Cafe.
When Travel + Leisure Magazine selects the best holiday lights in each state, Ohio’s perennial winner seems to be The Legendary Lights of Historic Clifton Mill in Clifton, Ohio. This festival also consistently ranks among USA Today’s 10 Best Readers Choice Travel Awards, including for 2022. Historic Clifton Mill is one of the largest water-powered grist mills still in existence and for the past 36 years Clifton Mill illuminates their premises with more than four million lights, including the covered bridge leading to the Mill, the banks of the Little Miami River and there’s even a 100-foot waterfall of twinkling lights. As their website notes, every night through December 30th, one flip of the switch “turns all the lights on at once transforming night into a fantastical winter wonderland which includes a miniature village, a Santa Claus museum, a toy collection and a spectacular synchronized lights and music show featuring the old covered bridge. Every night until Christmas Eve kids can peek into Santa’s Workshop to see Santa at work. Every 15 minutes or so, he will check his list then go up the chimney to load his sleigh.” Clifton is near the charming town of Yellow Springs. So after visiting Legendary Lights, weary travelers may want to spend the night in one of Yellow Springs distinctive lodgings, such as Jailhouse Suites or the Arthur Morgan House Bed & Breakfast. Another option is the Hearthstone Inn & Suites in nearby Cedarville. It’s a cozy, independently-owned hotel that’s just a 10-minute drive from Yellow Springs. Hearthstone is also close to the Little Miami Scenic Bike Trail (bike rentals are available on-site) and there’s hiking at nearby Indian Mound Reserve Park.
The hamlet of Gallipolis (pronounced gala-police) on the banks of the Ohio River is known as the “Old French City” because it was settled by Europeans fleeing the violence of the French Revolution in 1790. Lately it’s better known for its impressive holiday lighting display, Gallipolis in Lights. Last year, Gallipolis in Lights was chosen as the Today Show’s “Merriest Main Street.” The town was celebrating the 10th anniversary of lighting the entire Gallipolis City Park from dawn until dusk (this year from Nov. 22-January 1st) turning it into a winter wonderland. As their website states, “Visitors can explore the lights display to find that perfect photo op as holiday music plays throughout the park. There is parking located all around the park so visitors can also stay toasty in their cars as they take in the beauty and magic. If you keep your eyes peeled you may get a sight of Ole’ Saint Nick, who is known to be seen riding around the park.” This event started 11 years ago when a group of dedicated volunteers decided to create a Christmas gift to their community by taking their holiday lighting display to the next level. They’ve been doing it ever since. Admission and parking is free. So as the co-hosts of the Today Show exclaimed, “If you’re in that neck of the woods, go check it [Gallipolis in Lights] out!”
For more information about these displays and many others in Ohio, please see https://ohio.org/travel-inspiration/articles/ohio-holiday-lights-trail.