Spring Getaway to Ohio’s Hocking Hills

MIDWEST LIVING

Emerge from your winter cave, then go explore a new one—plus leafy glades and a college town—on a rejuvenating trip to Ohio’s Hocking Hills.

By Amy Lynch 

February 18, 2021

Rock House, Hocking Hills State Park

Rock House, Hocking Hills State Park | CREDIT: RYAN DONNELL

I’m halfway through the blind curve when I see them. Two deer, frozen in the middle of State-664 a few miles outside Logan, Ohio. I slam on my brakes, fortunately with enough room to spare. The does stare straight at me before they amble, unhurried, across the road and bound up an embankment, their cottony white tails disappearing into the trees.ADVERTISING

It’s not the only time I’ll catch my breath— or the last deer I’ll see—in the Hocking Hills region, a densely wooded pocket not quite an hour southeast of Columbus. “Hills” is something of a misnomer; this geologically diverse 10,000-acre swath of land includes not just rolling terrain, but also caves, waterfalls and Black Hand sandstone cliffs honeycombed by water, weather and time. Not surprisingly, the great outdoors is the region’s biggest attraction. Nearly 5 million people visit the Hocking Hills each year to forest bathe in the natural beauty, relishing a sense of peace that’s palpable and healing.

Pick a trail, any trail, and just start walking. At Hocking Hills State Park, a half dozen or so routes accommodate hikers of all skill levels.

Upper Falls section of Old Man's Creek

Upper Falls, Hocking Hills State Park | CREDIT: RANDALL SCHIEBER

A short, easy path leads to Ash Cave, a stunning 700-foot horseshoe-shape recess where Native American tribes once gathered for shelter and ceremonies. At Old Man’s Cave, another enormous shelf-like overhang, you’ll find Devil’s Bathtub, Sphinx Head and other quirky landmarks. A bridge over Upper Falls offers views over Old Man’s Creek, named for a hermit who in nearby Old Man’s Cave in the late 1700s. The more demanding Conkles Hollow trail, at a state-run nature preserve of the same name, delivers panoramic rim views of a wildflower-strewn gorge below.

When you’re ready to rest those aching leg muscles—and trust me, they will be—a hot bath likely awaits. The Hocking Hills is cabin central, and many rentals include jetted tubs for a soothing soak. Or better yet, sign up for a restorative slow flow yoga class at Bodhi Tree, a wellness studio outside Athens. (Most Hocking Hills visitors skip this town, home to Ohio University, but if you don’t mind a drive, it’s a fun dose of college-town vibrancy.) Bodhi Tree’s owners, Liz and Russell Chamberlain, found their way here via OU and liked it so much, they never left. They established a large vegetable garden with chickens and beehives, and for a spell, they sold at the Athens Farmers Market and hosted an Airbnb too. It all has the feel of a mini Shangri-la.

Bodhi Tree

Bodhi Tree, Athens, Ohio | CREDIT: RYAN DONNELL

“When I moved to Athens, I immediately fell in love with the easy access to trails, the lush environment, the robust local food system and all the people here who find a way to live the life they love,” Liz says. “Many people work hard to cultivate these aspects of the community, and that was, and still is, inspiring to me.”

That magnetism that held the Chamberlains? I feel it. I visited the Hocking Hills in 2017, returned in 2020, and I’m already plotting my next trip. No doubt, you will too.

GO

Nearly 60 miles of trails squiggle across the region, some in popular HOCKING HILLS STATE PARK, others in smaller nature preserves, and still more in rugged HOCKING HILLS STATE FOREST. Pop in to the HOCKING HILLS VISITOR CENTER in Logan for help making sense of it all. (Logan is also the nearest commercial hub for gas or groceries.) About 30 miles down US-33 in Athens, OHIO UNIVERSITY’S redbrick campus was chartered in 1787. Dubbed Harvard on the Hocking, it’s another nice spot to stroll.

Athens, Ohio

Downtown Athens | CREDIT: RYAN DONNELL

To learn about the area’s flora, fauna and Indigenous history, check out the state park’s ranger offerings, or sign up for a HIGH ROCK ADVENTURES ecotour hike (with optional rappelling). At HOCKING HILLS CANOPY TOURS, brave souls fly down the SuperZip—thus named because you’ll be lying flat and approaching 50 mph.

Capitalizing on the Hocking Hills’ unpolluted skies, the JOHN GLENN ASTRONOMY PARK honors one of Ohio’s favorite sons with a 540-square-foot observatory with retractable roof for stargazing. It’s open to the public 24/7 and offers astronomy programming.

Down the road at BODHI TREE in Athens, get a Thai massage or practice your tree pose in the yoga studio (or on the deck, overlooking a misty, verdant valley).

TASTE

In Logan, dig in to ribs and bacon-wrapped burnt ends at MILLSTONE BBQ or filet tips at HUNGRY BUFFALO. In a historic log cabin, cozy KINDRED SPIRITS at the Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls is the area’s best bet for fine dining. For a souvenir you can sip straight from the Mason jar, head to the HOCKING HILLS MOONSHINE distillery, where the 120-proof Buckeye Lightning (and lower-octane Granny Apple, Blackberry and Peach Tea) are made from closely guarded recipes.

In tiny Laurelville, homey RIDGE INN excels at fluffy yeast donuts and comfort foods like meatloaf. Drop in the century-old LAURELVILLE FRUIT FARM across the street for local produce in season.

Athens offers more diverse flavors. Try LITTLE FISH BREWING COMPANY, Middle Eastern RESTAURANT SALAAMCASA NUEVA for Mexican, or O’BETTY’S RED HOT for creative hot dogs— plus a year-round Saturday morning farmers market.

Little Fish Brewing Company Athens Ohio

Little Fish Brewing Company | CREDIT: RYAN DONNELL

Athens, Ohio

Athens Farmers Market | CREDIT: RYAN DONNELL

STAY

Whatever your definition of “roughing it,” the Hocking Hills has a rental (or campsite) to match. Scattered all around the region, CABINS BY THE CAVES sport fully furnished kitchens, satellite TV and stone fireplaces. If you’re OK sleeping with the ceiling pretty close to your nose, new HOCKING HILLS TINY HOUSES have an adorably mod vibe. For a posher stay, book a room, cottage or glamping yurt at the INN AND SPA AT CEDAR FALLS.

Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls

Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls | CREDIT: RYAN DONNELL

Ghost hunters are dared to explore Mansfield’s creepiest haunted venues

west cell block large(2)MANSFIELD, OH – Abandon all hope ye who enter Mansfield’s most haunted sites. Dignified as the Haunted Capital of Ohio, fall in Mansfield offers heart-stopping frights and eerie nights. Thrill-seekers and horror fans from around the globe have come to brave the five most haunted spots in the Midwest riddled with paranormal activity.

The most infamous site on any ghost hunter’s bucket list is the Ohio State Reformatory. Built in 1886, the daunting castle-like prison received notoriety as the backdrop of the Hollywood classic “The Shawshank Redemption” however something sinister lurked around the prison long before Morgan Freeman roamed the halls. Legends say that an old guard who was killed in solitary confinement still makes his rounds, jabbing visitors with his nightstick. There are various ways for visitors to experience the famous haunted prison first-hand, from two hour guided tours to private paranormal investigations. Every Halloween those who dare, are challenged to Escape from Blood Prison on Thursdays through Sunday nights starting on September 27th running through November 3rd.

At the Mansfield Fire Museum, strange happenings, such as a fire truck side mirror that appears to move on its own, has been experienced by both employees and visitors. Unexplained spin-chilling sounds when only one person is in the building, lights that flicker and shadowy figures of unknown people have been reported during paranormal investigations. Guests are welcome to schedule private paranormal investigations by calling (419) 564-5531.

Ghostly sightings also have been reported by staff and visitors alike at historic Malabar Farm State Park. Tales of flickering lights and appearances by the spirit of Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and screenwriter Louis Bromfield – and his beloved bull dogs – intrigue ghost hunters. In addition to spirited visits by Mr. Bromfield, the farm is the final resting place for the entire Rose family who was brutally murdered by their daughter Ceely in the summer of 1896.

A gruesome murder in 1929 scarred the Renaissance Theatre in Mansfield, with ghost sightings and unexplainable occurrences taking place for nearly 100 years. The exquisite grand baroque style theatre creates a beautiful backdrop for chilling ghostly encounters. Disembodied voices, haunting laughter and eerie music have been heard echoing from the theatre—long after audiences have gone.

The Gill House was home to one of the area’s founding families, some believe their spirits still call the property home. Visitors and volunteers at the house have witnessed footsteps, laughter, physical contact, traveling shadows and full body apparitions. Tours of the house are regularly scheduled, although guests are welcome to proceed at their own risk on their paranormal investigations of the property.

A destination unlike any other, Mansfield and Richland County, Ohio offers unusual travel adventures and experiences, such as spending the night in a haunted former state prison where Hollywood blockbuster movies are shot, world-class motorsports, skiing, hiking, biking, golf, and loads of other outdoor adventures attract families and visitors of all ages.  Complete visitor information and free visitor guides are available at DestinationMansfield.com.

 

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Comp or press rate trips, photos, video and interview opportunities available. Contact Amy Weirick, (O) 614.848.8380, (M) 614.296.8513 or amy@weirickcomminications.com.