It’s only an hour up the road, but many travelers forget to think of Greene County as a terrific tourist destination.

That’s despite the fact that Greene County boasts the No. 1 free attraction in the state of Ohio — the National Museum of the United States Air Force — as well as wonderful historical and holiday fun, family activities galore, and fantastic shopping opportunities.

“There’s the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center, shopping in Yellow Springs, historic Clifton Mill, our ‘Rails to Trails’ bike paths, the Greene Town Center, and more,” observes Alan Raney, Communication Specialist for the Greene County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Here’s a tour of Greene County’s many highlights:

Clifton Mill

Clifton Mill is the largest operating gristmill in America (with an 18-foot waterwheel), which features a year-round breakfast/lunch restaurant, The Millrace, and a gift shop where the biscuit and pancake mixes are available for sale. Built in 1802 by Owen Davis, a Revolutionary War soldier and frontiersman, the mill takes advantage of the natural power of the concentrated water funneled into the gorge. Each December, Clifton Mill also transforms its surrounding grounds and river gorge into a winter wonderland adorned in 3.6 million festive lights. 75 Water St., Clifton. 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. December light show is $8-$10 and hours are 6 to 9 p.m. (937) 767-5501 or www.cliftonmill.com.

E.J. Nutter Center

This 11,500-seat multi-purpose complex hosts numerous national stage acts, country music stars and pop concerts such as Faith Hill and Sting. In addition to first-class entertainment, the Nutter Center is also home to Wright State University Division I basketball, family shows and concerts, and amateur sporting events. Campus of Wright State University, Fairborn. (937) 775-3498 or www.nuttercenter.com.

Greene Town Center

A 72-acre site with 800,000 square feet of retail, entertainment and restaurant space — all in a pedestrian town square setting — The Greene is one of the newest additions to Greene County’s shopping scene. Check out one of the state’s largest bookstores, Books & Co., or stroll through dozens of high-end fashion and jewelry stores at this posh mall. When you get hungry, head to Fleming’s Steakhouse, Funny Bone Comedy Club & Café, or the Cheesecake Factory. I-675 and Indian Ripple Road, Beavercreek. 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 6 p.m. Sundays. (937) 490-4990 or www.thegreene.com.

Huffman Prairie Flying Field

The Wrights made hundreds of test flights at the 84-acre Huffman Prairie Flying Field. Huffman is also where more than a hundred pilots, including some of the country’s first military flyers, trained at the Wright School of Aviation. It’s here that the first commercial airfreight flight took off in 1910 (bound for Columbus). Displays include replicas of the brothers‚ 1905 hangar and launching catapult, as well as the Wright Memorial, a 17-foot-high pink granite obelisk. Wright-Patterson AFB, Gate 16A. 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Tuesdays and Thursdays through Sundays. Free. (937) 425-0008 or www.nps.gov/daav.

Mall at Fairfield Commons

One of the largest malls in Ohio, you can find anything here from Build-A-Bear Workshop and Frederick’s of Hollywood to Franklin Covey and Williams-Sonoma. 2727 Fairfield Commons, Beavercreek. 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily (closes at 6 p.m. on Sundays). (937) 427-9031 or www.mallatfairfieldcommons.com.

National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center

The National Afro-American Museum houses some 10,000 square feet of exhibits about race in America. A permanent exhibit is the centerpiece of the museum: From Victory to Freedom: African-American Life in the Fifties, which tracks the changes for the post-World War II generation. Temporary exhibits include African-American Dolls: The Stories They Tell (showing through February 2010), and Journey of Hope in America: Quilts Inspired by President Barak Obama (Dec. 1 through April 16). 1350 Brush Row Road, Wilberforce. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. $4, $1.50 students. (937) 376-4944 or www.ohiohistory.org.

National Museum of the United States Air Force

The National Museum of the United States Air Force is the largest aviation museum in the world, holding more than 200 aircraft, missiles, and more. The facility is also the No. 1 free tourist attraction in Ohio, visited by some 1.2 million people annually. Displays include early models built by the Wright brothers and such famous World War I craft as the Sopwith Camel along with B-29 Superfortresses from World War II, including the plane that dropped an A-bomb on Nagasaki in 1945, and the only B-2 Stealth bomber on permanent public display. Wright-Patterson AFB, Area B.
9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Free (there is a charge for IMAX films). (937) 255-3284 or www.nationalmuseum.af.mil.

Puzzles Plus

Owners Brian and Sandy Woodruff call their store a “puzzle supermarket,” and that’s an apt description. With thousands of jigsaw puzzles, brainteasers, games and dinner mystery party kits, this is a one-stop shop for every puzzler’s need. Fairfield Plaza, 1273B N. Fairfield Road, Beavercreek. 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays. (937) 320-1679 or www.puzzlesplus.net.

Xenia Station

Xenia Station is the hub of Greene County’s extensive “Rails to Trails” bike path network. From this staging area, you can travel as far south as Loveland (43.9 miles) and Milford (52.3 miles), as far north as Yellow Springs (9.8 miles) and Urbana (37.8 miles), as far west as Eastwood MetroPark in Montgomery County (15.2 miles), or as far east as the bridges of Madison County (28.7 miles). Xenia Station is located on Miami Avenue near South Detroit Street (U.S. 68). Look for the B&O caboose. Restrooms are located in the replica of the original telegraph office. There are numerous trailside bicycle repair shops, including K&G Bike Center in Xenia and Village Cyclery in Yellow Springs. (937) 372-3591.

Yellow Springs

A recent Budget Travel magazine story named the village of Yellow Springs as one of the “10 Coolest Small Towns in America.” Crafts, antique and gallery lovers will find more than 60 locally owned shops here. Favorites include Yellow Springs Pottery, Rita Caz Jewelry, Tom Hawley Clockworks, Kimball’s Antiques Mall and Glen Garden’s Gifts. Try lunch at the perennially popular Winds Café, or grab a burger and malted at Young’s Jersey Dairy. (937) 767-2686 or www.yellowspringsohio.org.