This Midwest City Is An Underrated Film-Buff Vacation Destination

When you really need a vacation, it can be liberating to finally disentangle yourself from work and all the other responsibilities of daily life back home. For a movie-loving traveler, the moment of escape might even leave you wanting to lift your arms to the heavens like Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) in "The Shawshank Redemption." We mention this film for a reason: In addition to holding the #1 spot on IMDb's user-rated chart of the 250 greatest films of all time, its appeal now extends to movie-themed tourism that brings flocks of people to Mansfield, Ohio.

The film is set in Maine, where the fictional Shawshank State Prison is located. That shouldn't come as a shock since it's based on a Stephen King novella, and many of King's stories are set in Maine, the author's home state. What may be surprising, however, is that "The Shawshank Redemption" was filmed in an entirely different part of the country: not New England, but the Midwest. In the city of Mansfield, you can find the real-life historic prison where the film was shot. It's just the first stop on The Shawshank Trail, a tour of movie locations that begins in Mansfield and takes you on the road through other parts of the Buckeye State.

Visit The Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield

On the surface, visiting a prison, of all places, might not seem like anyone's idea of a good vacation. However, another famous prison — the one on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco — actually ranks #3 on the list of the 100 most popular American tourist destinations. Compared to Alcatraz, which has appeared in many movies like "The Rock" and "Escape from Alcatraz," The Ohio State Reformatory is definitely an underrated travel destination.

The instantly-recognizable movie prison, featuring a limestone building with Romanesque architecture, underwent construction for a decade before it originally opened in 1896. It was first called the Intermediate Penitentiary, since it was designed as a halfway point for minor criminal offenders between juvenile detention and the Ohio State Penitentiary. In 1990, the then-maximum security prison closed, so it no longer held any real inmates when "The Shawshank Redemption" used it as a filming location.

The Ohio State Reformatory is allegedly haunted, and it currently serves as a destination for both evening ghost hunts and guided or self-guided daytime tours. The family-friendly "Hollywood Meets History Tour" will show you the warden's living quarters and more locations featured in "The Shawshank Redemption" and other films. "Judas and the Black Messiah" also shot scenes here, as did action movies like "Air Force One" and "Tango & Cash." Every August, Mansfield also holds a 4.6-mile race called the Shawshank Hustle, which begins and ends at The Ohio State Reformatory.

Follow the trail of The Shawshank Redemption

The Ohio State Reformatory offers a 4.5-hour Shawshank Bus Tour, which runs on weekends in the fall and spring. It puts you on The Shawshank Trail, which, starting in Mansfield, extends beyond the prison to 14 other filming locations. The trail's official website offers a virtual map and there are also signs along the way flagging the different sites as points along the movie-themed trail. Therefore, you can do it as a self-guided driving tour, too.

On The Shawshank Trail, you'll see locations like the grocery store where Red (Morgan Freeman) worked and the building where Brooks (James Whitfield) stayed while on parole. You can sit in the same park where Brooks fed the birds and in the same local theater where "The Shawshank Redemption" held its 1994 movie premiere. From there, the trail will take you along the same road and bus route that Red walked and rode on when he was released from Shawshank Prison.

Unfortunately, wind damaged the oak tree where Red unearthed a buried gift from Andy at the end of the movie. It was removed years ago from Malabar Farm State Park, but you can still see the cabin from the film's opening scene there. In Ashland and Upper Sandusky, Ohio, you can also see the bank, courthouse, and wood shop that appeared in key scenes. To visit the last destination of the trail you'll have to hop on a plane, as it's located in the US Virgin Islands, which doubled as the beaches of Zihuatanejo, Mexico, in the movie.