One dreary J-term afternoon, I stumbled upon a TikTok that made me want to return to Oxford as soon as possible. It was advertising the Butler County Donut Trail, and I immediately knew I had to do it.
Completing the Donut Trail is simple — visit every doughnut shop in Butler County. After picking up a “passport” at one of the shops or printing out the online version, all you have to do is buy a doughnut at every shop and get your passport stamped. Once you’ve filled out the entire passport, you can turn it in to the Butler County Visitors Bureau for a free Donut Trail T-shirt.
There’s just one small issue — Butler County has more doughnut shops per capita than almost any other county in the country.
When the trail first began in January 2016, there were nine doughnut shops on the passport. Now, that number has increased to 13 (a perfect baker’s dozen) with shops located in Middletown, Hamilton, Fairfield, West Chester and Oxford.
“We developed the idea of the Donut Trail to highlight local, artisan mom-and-pop doughnut shops across Butler County,” said Tracy Kocher, vice president of marketing and communications for the Butler County Visitors Bureau and co-founder of the Donut Trail.
More than 27,000 people have completed the trail in the last five years, including people from all 50 states and 22 countries. One shop, Ross Bakery, even has a map on the wall full of pushpins from visitors all around the world. Between printed and online versions, the Butler County Visitors Bureau has distributed around 400,000 passports.
“It attracts so many people from outside of the area to come and visit us, and that’s really the mission of the Visitors Bureau in general – to inspire people to travel and experience the wonderful things that we have in Butler County, and the Donut Trail does that very, very well,” Kocher said.
Kocher also said that while the Donut Trail brings people into Butler County in the first place, they often stay to experience other attractions the county has to offer.
“The Donut Trail is a lot of times the way people are introduced to Butler County, but they experience other things inside the destination while they’re visiting us,” she said.
This influx of people coming to Butler County has helped increase tourism and has also greatly strengthened the local economy.
“We actually did an economic impact study of [the trail],” Kocher said. “So based on that study, we kind of have a formula to determine how much economic impact it has brought into the county, and that is about $5 million so far to date.”
I recently completed the Donut Trail with my boyfriend, and the experience was more fun than either of us imagined. We started at the Oxford Doughnut Shoppe at 7 a.m., and from there, we proceeded to make our way across the county over the course of the next five hours.
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Throughout the day, we ran into more Donut Trail participants than we could count. One group, complete with doughnut headbands and matching shirts, appeared to be completing the Donut Trail as a birthday celebration. There was a line out the door at every shop, and some offered additional items like coffee. Two doughnut shops, The Donut Dude and Holtman’s Donuts, even offered vegan or gluten-free options.
After the first four shops, we started to lose steam but were soon rescued by Kelly’s Bakery in Hamilton and its newest menu addition — iced coffee. This was the first shop we encountered that served iced coffee, and it was the pick-me-up that we needed to finish the rest of the trail strong.
Although most of the doughnut shop workers had probably been up for hours (one shop opens at 3 a.m.), you’d never know it by how cheerful and friendly they were, often asking us about our experience on the trail and giving us advice on how to finish. We also spotted a previous year’s Donut Trail T-shirt at almost every shop we visited, proudly worn by shop employees.
Completing the Donut Trail definitely isn’t an easy feat, however, and there are a few tips and tricks that are good to know beforehand.
First: Plan out your route before you go. We drove over 80 miles round trip, starting in Oxford and ending in West Chester. The route you choose to take depends on where you plan to start and end, but planning it out beforehand makes the navigation process much easier.
Second: Start early. A lot of the doughnut shops sell out by late morning, so if you plan to do the entire trail in one day then you’ll likely want to start before 7 a.m. You don’t have to complete the trail in one day, though. You can take as much time as you like!
Third: Don’t try to eat all of the doughnuts if you’re completing the trail in one day. After the third donut of the morning, I was already full, so there’s no way that I could eat another 10. Instead, we piled them in the backseat of my car and brought them home to share with our friends. I would recommend bringing a marker to write the name of each shop on the bag, or keep a note in your phone listing the type of doughnut you bought at each shop to reference later, because it’s nice to know where each of them are from!
In the end, we arrived back to Oxford almost six hours after we started, exhausted and with a car full of doughnuts.
We now plan to complete the Donut Trail every year during the rest of our time at Miami, collecting T-shirts and bringing along our friends to introduce them to our new favorite Butler County tradition.