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

Planes, trains, automobiles and more showcase stunning Hocking Hills fall color

Leaf peepers wowed by region’s spectacular aerial, off-road Segway, train and kayak tours

Conkel's Hollow

LOGAN, OH — More than 10,000 acres of unbroken forest in Ohio’s Hocking Hills region — dotted with outdoor adventures and wildly unusual lodging options — offer some of the nation’s best fall foliage. Travelers will never forget views of the idyllic blend of fiery red Maples, blazes of orange Sassafras and yellow Hickory, brushstrokes of brown Oak and pops of green Hemlock and Pine. Though they’re encouraged to book their accommodations quickly via ExploreHockingHills.com, as lodging fills up quickly in fall, the area’s high season.

The area is an easy, scenic drive from most major cities and an hour from Columbus. The region’s ribbons of winding roads are so much fun to drive, they’re where expert automotive writers and engineers head to test-drive new car models, including the pros at Car and Driver. Visitors seek out the Hills for some of the most beautiful drives, hikes and tours in the country. Miles of varying elevations and twisting roads ensure picturesque views of the vibrant fall leaves that wait around every corner.

Carved eons ago by glaciers, the Hocking Hills’ extraordinary rock formations, rushing waterfalls, soaring cliffs and craggy caves draw visitors from around the globe. Travelers can immerse themselves in the beauty of the region with a hike to Whispering Cave, Rock Bridge, Old Man’s Cave, Ash Cave, Conkle’s Hollow, Cedar Falls, or on any of the region’s many hiking trails. For those seeking more expansive views of fall color and the unspoiled geological footprint of ancient times, Hocking Hills Scenic Air Tours flies visitors high above the forests and waterfalls for better-than-drone eye candy. The seriousness of Harry Sowers’ 40-year pilot pedigree and the depth of his area knowledge are skillfully juxtaposed against his endless stream of goofball puns and ba-dump-bump one-liners.

Hocking Hills Canopy Tours, with its Super Zip and an XTreme Canopy Tour that takes travelers right through a waterfall and into a cave for a truly unusual birds-eye view of the season’s splendor. Meanwhile, an off-road Segway tour gives visitors a ground-hugging experience that’s a total departure from the usual scenic autumn ride.

High Rock Adventures takes visitors on guided eco tours and heart-pounding rappelling trips, giving adventure seekers a ringside seat for what may be the most beautiful autumn scenery on earth. Guided night, sunrise and daytime kayaking trips with Touch the Earth Adventures helps travelers reconnect to the earth and to one another while as the area’s magnificent fall show reflects on the water. Horseback riding and the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway offer even more ways visitors can immerse themselves in fall foliage, while other guided or self-led hikes and adventures let leaf peepers make the most of Hocking Hills’ autumn beauty.

The season’s crisp nights often mean crystal-clear skies, punctuated by the absence of city lights. Guests can experience the stunning sea of stars and planets made visible by Hocking Hills’ dark skies at the just-opened John Glenn Astronomy Park. (The lack of city lights means that the region’s night sky is nothing short of dazzling.)

A stop at the Bowers & Daughters Apple House in Laurelville is another way to experience fall in the Hocking Hills. The third-generation, 107-year-old, family-owned Laurelville Fruit Farm produces a wide selection of hard-to-find apple varieties. The Bower family also makes some of the freshest, juiciest cider available, thanks to a perfect blend of apples and pasteurization that doesn’t cook the flavor out of the cider. Fresh apples and cider, along with vinegar with mother, apple butter and local honey are available to take home. For a really special treat, Laurelville cider is also offered in frozen slushy form to enjoy on site.  At Hocking Hills Orchard in Logan, apple expert Derek Mills offers variety tastings, apples for sale and select dates to pick your own.

When you’re looking for a place to lay your head after a day of adventure, the area is home to a dizzying variety of lodging choices, offering the perfect accommodations for any budget or lifestyle. From cozy cottages, historic B&Bs and charming inns, to well-equipped cabins and massive lodges that sleep more than two dozen, many offer fully loaded gourmet kitchens, entertainment centers and game rooms — ideal for huge groups. Most are outfitted with deluxe amenities, such as a pool table, foosball, gas grill or telescope for viewing fall color and local wildlife — or for stargazing. Large hot tubs offer the perfect way to experience Hocking Hills’ magnificent star-filled skies. Primitive or deluxe camping, authentic Sioux tipis and Mongolian yurts, vintage train cabooses, treehouses and more offer unusual overnight options.

Located 40 miles southeast of Columbus, Ohio’s Hocking Hills region offers once-in-a-lifetime experiences that make every day feel like Saturday, with plenty of free activities. Unique gift and antique shops, artists’ studios and hands-on activities add to the allure of the Hocking Hills as the perfect place to unplug. Complete traveler information is available www.ExploreHockingHills.com or 1-800-Hocking (800-462-5464).

 

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Comp or press rate trips and images available. MEDIA Contact Amy Weirick, amy@WeirickCommunications.com, M: (614) 296-8513 or O: (614) 848-8380.