Hiking oasis is a short trip away
After two years of sticking close to home, you might be ready to venture a little farther away this summer — say, over the state line into Ohio. Just one tank of gas will take you to Hocking Hills State Park in about three hours, but you may decide to stay for several days. The park and its surrounding area of the same name contains more than enough to keep everyone busy. Four-legged friends are welcome, too — as long as they’re leashed.
“Whether you are looking for a scenic getaway, thrilling experiences, unique lodging or the crown jewel of Ohio’s state parks, Hocking Hills is a must for your bucket list,” says James Martin, community communications director at Explore Hocking Hills. “The winding hills make for spectacular drives, so much so, that Car and Driver magazine has tested cars on our roads since at least 1989.”
The park is located in one of the most scenic parts of the state, making the drive fun. Once you arrive, make the Visitors Center your first stop. The outfitters for some of the activities, such as zip-lining and canopy tours, kayaking, canoeing and tubing, are independent contractors, so you can depend on the staff to help you decide which ones are right for your situation.
Other possibilities include bird watching, horseback riding, mountain biking, archery, rock climbing and rappelling, swimming and fishing in Lake Logan, and eco-touring. Traverse the woods with a guide who will teach you about local geology, history, and flora and fauna, while you scramble around rock formations and squeeze through narrow stone passageways. The John Glenn Astronomy Park serves as an unexpected, worthy stop for space buffs and kiddos, alike.
Of course, one of the most popular activities is hiking. With more than 25 miles of trails (now all designated one-way) meandering through the Hocking Hills State Park, you’ll pass spectacular natural features such as sandstone outcroppings, gorges that allow you to peek into the earth’s subsurface, recessed caves, old-growth trees and waterfalls.
Each trail has its own history and legends. The one past Old Man’s Cave is so named because a hermit actually lived here in the 18th century, and is where he’s buried. Ash Cave Gorge is the shortest of the trails at a quarter-mile and is wheelchair accessible. Cantwell Cliffs is in a remote location but worth the hike to get there since it is possibly the most picturesque of all the trails.
Wait, there’s more?
Making a weekend or family vacation out of it? Hocking Hills State Forest is directly adjacent. Its draw is the variety of lush vegetation you’ll discover. Because of Ohio’s location, examples of Southern plants, such as Virginia pines, sassafras and chestnut oaks grow on the dry ridges while northern hemlock, sugar maple, red oak, basswood and hickory trees populate the cool, moist gorges.
In the event of a rainy day, consider turning to wine-tasting at the Hocking Hills Winery or taking a peek at the Paul A. Johnson Pencil Sharpener Museum, browsing at the Logan Antique Mall or taking the kids to interact with the animals at Fox’s High Rock Farm. Be sure to pick up a piece of local art at Dusty Blues Hocking Hills Gallery. August visitors may be in time for the annual Hocking Hills Bigfoot Festival, where one can partake in a celebration of food, music, arts, performances and the “Squatch and Seek” activity.
So, you wanna stay awhile?
You want more? OK, 20 minutes away in Lancaster, the children in your group will love AHA! A Hands-on Adventure Children’s Museum or watching a demonstration of glass-blowing at the Ohio Glass Museum and Glass-Blowing Studio.
Camping enthusiasts can also take home at Hocking Tills. Choices abound, from primitive camping, camping sites with electricity and camper cabins. The main campground has toilets, showers, laundry facilities, a camp store and swimming pool, as well as a horseshoe pit and volleyball court to keep everyone entertained.
Those who prefer more creature comforts can book a self-catering cabin through the Department of Natural Resources that includes two bedrooms, a full kitchen, bathroom and fireplace. Whatever you decide, be sure to book ahead. These facilities fill up and don’t accept walk-ins.
Just a short drive outside the park will bring you to every other kind of cabin you can imagine — from tree houses to luxury lodges. Some of them have irresistible names such as My Little Heaven, Sweet Serenity and Lovebirds Landing. Amenities can include fireplaces, decks or porches, hot tubs and fantastic views.
Logan offers many more lodging possibilities, from VRBO and Airbnb options to chain hotels and locally owned bed-and-breakfast inns. One of the most desirable is the certified-green Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls, which is surrounded on three sides by the park. Here you can choose cabins, geodomes, cottages or yurts. The staff promises that breakfast the next morning will include fresh fruit, locally roasted coffee, and the innkeeper’s Rooftop Garden Omelet, Berrylicious Smoothie Bowl or Best Ever Pancakes. For an extra fee, they’ll deliver the meal to your door.
You don’t have to leave here, either. Spend a luxurious afternoon having a relaxing massage or facial at the onsite spa. After that, dine at the restaurant, Kindred Spirits, where most of the ingredients are locally sourced and Martin says the food is “second to none.” Headed back to the park the next morning? They’ll pack you a brown-bag picnic lunch for you to take along.
Looking for eclectic dining options to accompany your trip? Logan provides several attractive meal choices, too. One favorite is the Olde Dutch Restaurant, which sits at the edge of a stand of stately oaks that locals call Rempel’s Grove. The historic spot, once reached by canal, has been the scene of a reunion for Union soldiers after the Civil War as well as political debates. Amish cooks provide such home-cooked specialties as chicken and dumplings, meatloaf, and beef liver and onions. Remember to save room for pie!
Is Mexican food more your family’s style? La Cascada (named for the waterfalls in the park) offers traditional dishes and daily specials in a cantina setting. The owner of Maya Burrito, Maria North, hails from the Yucatan and says her goal is to bring Mayan cuisine and culture to the area.
At Millstone Southern Smoked Barbeque you can start out with Big Pig Nachos and move on to Texas beef brisket or ribs. The people here are happy to pack your dinner up in case you want to take it back to your tent or cabin, gather around a campfire and dig in.