The beautiful floodwall murals are only one of many things to do in Portsmouth, Ohio.
Where the Scioto River meets the Ohio River, lays the sleepy small town of Portsmouth, Ohio. Stroll the magnificent floodwall murals, hunt for antiques, or take a peaceful hike through Shawnee State Park.
Use this guide to start planning a weekend to explore this small charming town in southern Ohio.
Where Is Portsmouth, Ohio
Portsmouth is located in Southern Ohio, and lies on the north bank of the Ohio River, across from Kentucky, just east of the mouth of the Scioto Rivers. Portsmouth can be accessed through State Route 52, Scenic Ohio River Scenic Byway, in addition to route 23.
Distance To Portsmouth
Cincinnati: 103 miles ~One hour and fifty minutes
Columbus: 91 miles ~ One hour and thirty-seven minutes
Cleveland: 233 miles ~ Three hours and fifty-one minutes
History of Portsmouth
The first permanent settler from the newly independent United States to live in the vicinity of what would become Portsmouth was Emanuel Traxler in 1796. Henry Massie formally laid out Portsmouth in 1803. He named the town Portsmouth after Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Located at the intersection of the Ohio River and the Scioto River, Portsmouth grew quickly due to the traffic on the rivers.
Portsmouth’s growth resulted in the town becoming the Scioto County seat. The town was thriving with the success of businesses such as Scioto Valley Firebrick Company, Mitchellace, and the Selby Shoe Company. In 1928, the Portsmouth Spartans joined the National Football League.
The Great Depression of the 1930s was a difficult time for Portsmouth, but the great flood of 1937 was disastrous. The Ohio River crested more than twenty feet above flood stage. The flood left thirty-five thousand residents homeless and destroyed sixty percent of all of the homes in the community.
The floodwalls were built in hopes of preventing another devastating flood. As the city rebuilt new businesses came, but the city never saw the success that it had in earlier years. Today the city is home to Shawnee State Univerity and the popular floodwall murals.
The Top Things To Do In Portsmouth Ohio
The Portsmouth Floodwall Murals
The Portsmouth Ohio Floodwall Murals are an iconic Ohio landmark that portrays the local history through exquisitely painted murals. Over 55 murals adorn the floodwalls, each depicting a moment in time.
Portsmouth, Ohio, is a river community that has seen its share of disastrous floods. However, after the great flood of 1937 that wreaked havoc on the small town, the city built flood walls to protect it. In 1947, 20ft cement walls stretched 2,000 ft between the heart of the area’s riverfront and Front Street. While the walls were effective in keeping floodwaters at bay, they were an eyesore to residents who had lost their beautiful view of the river.
In 1992 the city approached local artist Richard Dafford with an opportunity to turn the floodwalls into a work of art. Dafford met with town historians to gather historical facts, ideas, and events to turn into murals that would become the famous storytellers of Portsmouth’s rich history.
Today guests can take a self-guided tour of the Floodwall murals.
Raven Rock State Nature Preserve
One of the best places to get a scenic view of the Ohio Valley is Raven Rock State, Nature Park. The preserve offers a panoramic view of the Ohio River valley. Weathering of the sandstone has resulted in three natural arches, the largest with a 10-foot span.
IMPORTANT PLANNING TIP: ACCESS IS BY PERMIT ONLY. GET YOUR PERMIT HERE.
Riverfront Park In Portsmouth, Ohio
Wonder what lies on the other side of the floodwall murals? With a few different entry points, visitors can access Riverfront Park. The park sits on the banks of the Ohio River, there is a picnic area and a playground. The park has seen some damage from flooding, but it is a great spot to go for a walk, enjoy a picnic or watch the barges float by.
This stadium, formerly known as Universal Stadium, was home to the National Football League’s Portsmouth Spartans in 1930. The Spartans played here from 1930 to 1933 when the franchise moved to Detroit as the Detroit Lions.
Ohio is home to incredible historical sites featuring earthworks that Native Americans built over 2000 years ago. The Hopewell culture created gathering places, places for ceremonies and rituals, and effigy mounds. Horseshoe Mound is one of the last remaining historic earthworks in Portsmouth that is open to the public. The park is home to a play structure and picnic tables.
To see other incredible earthworks in Ohio add Serpent Mound and Hopewell Culture National Historical Park to your itinerary.
Shawnee State Forest
A great place to take in the scenic outdoors is a visit to the Shawnee State Forest in Ohio. It is the largest state park, encompassing over 63,000 acres. It is often referred to as “The Little Smokies of Ohio.” There are a variety of ways to explore beautiful Shawnee State Park. It is full of hiking trails, boating, fishing, swimming, mountain biking, and more.
They even offer a Shawnee State Forest Auto Tour. The Auto Tour lets you enjoy the gorgeous forest without leaving the comfort of your car. There are plenty of stops to get out, do a little hiking, picnic, and more.
Go Antiquing In Portsmouth, Ohio
Don’t miss out on visiting Portsmouth antique stores! Right next to the floodwall murals is an exceptional place to go antiquing called Unique Antiques Warehouse. They have a variety of truly unique finds. It is easy to spend an entire morning browsing their collections. Then hop over to Ghosts in the Attic Antique Mall to continue your hunt for that perfect treasure.
Southern Ohio Museum and Cultural Center
The Southern Ohio Museum and Cultural Center is housed in the handsome Beaux Arts style building that once held the community’s largest bank in the heart of Portsmouth’s downtown. There are two permanent installations featuring the largest single collection of works by native son and well-known American Scene painter Clarence Holbrook Carter (1904-2000) and “Art of the Ancients,” containing 10,000 prehistoric Native American objects from the Charles and William Wertz Collection.
Three other galleries feature group and solo exhibitions of well-known and emerging contemporary Ohio and regional artists. The Museum also offers a 100-seat theatre for music and performing arts, a gift shop, a reading room complete with more than 1000 volumes, a student art studio, a docent-centered tour program, an off-site circus arts studio, and year-round programming designed to enhance the exhibitions.
Planning Tip: The Museum is closed Sundays and Mondays. Check their schedule for hours.
Where To Eat In Portsmouth, Ohio
Portsmouth Brewing Company
Stop into Ohio’s oldest operating brewery that was built in 1843. Try the Red Bird Ale, a revived recipe from the 1840s then stay for appetizers or dinner! This microbrewery makes all of its beer and is conveniently located near the end of the floodwall murals.
Address: 224 2nd St, Portsmouth, OH 45662
Lofts Coffee Company and Roastery
This charming coffee shop roasts and grinds its own coffee. Lofts Coffee is a must during any visit to Portsmouth. However, they didn’t stop with coffee. Lofts offer an assortment of entrees, pastries, salads, and even cocktails. It is the ideal spot for brunch in Portsmouth, Ohio.
Address: 842 Gallia St, Portsmouth, OH 45662
Market Street Cafe
This quaint corner store cafe is serving up tasty sandwiches, salads, and breakfasts! They are only open till 4 pm, so plan accordingly. Market Street Cafe is a great spot to order a sandwich to-go to take on a picnic to Riverside Park or hike in Shawnee State Park.
Address: 212 Market St, Portsmouth, OH 45662
Locals and visitors alike will rave about the Scioto Ribber, which is known for its smoked meats. Ribs and chicken are to die for, while steaks are grilled to perfection. The Ribber is family-friendly and a great spot to stop at for dinner!
Address: 1026 Gallia St, Portsmouth, OH 45662
Where To Stay In Portsmouth, Ohio
Our preferred spot to stay when visiting Portsmouth is the Shawnee Lodge. The lodge is a quick 20-minute drive from the floodwall murals but is situated in the middle of Shawnee State Park. The views are gorgeous; there is a restaurant on-site, along with plenty of other great amenities.
Please read our full review of Shawnee Lodge and schedule your visit!
We hope you enjoyed our list of the best things to do in Portsmouth, Ohio during your next trip. Check out our related articles for more great small towns to explore in Ohio.