The Hills are Alive in Ohio

May 13, 2011
Filed under Feature Stories

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Ohio is widely thought of as flat and featureless farmland. However, tucked into the southeastern portion of the state lies a rolling wonderland known as Hocking Hills. Treasures such as waterfalls, sandstone cliffs, majestic hemlock forests, placid lakes and even massive caves can be discovered by those willing to dig a bit deeper into this hidden gem.

Visitors will be delighted by the endless tent- and RV-camping opportunities. The area contains more than 14 campgrounds with a variety of amenities. These campgrounds are spread throughout the region, each with unique activities to offer. Hocking Hills State Park has about 170 campsites, 159 of which have electricity. Surrounding it are four area campgrounds with full hookups available to accommodate RVs of all sizes.

For a truly full-service camping experience visit Hocking Hills KOA in Logan. With full hookups and amenities such as Wi-Fi, a heated pool, laundry facilities, geocaching and even a pet playground, every member of the family will find something to suit them. A special feature of this KOA is a gem mine. Children of all ages can search for hidden treasure in the 75-foot mining sluice. Collectors can purchase the gems by the bag or bucket.

Summer is the high season for the Hocking Hills region. Fall and spring hold their own unique benefits and can also be good times to visit.

Sensory Treats
In late spring, the rain in the Hocking Hills region produces something quite magical and delicious — morel mushrooms. These fungi are coveted in the culinary world — and for good reason. With a meaty consistency and a bold flavor, morels have become a delicacy of southern and midwestern cuisine. Local naturalist Andrea Moore guides hikers to some of the best morel hunting in the country. Searching among the decaying elm and other hardwoods hardly seems like a chore while strolling under the leafy canopies in search of a delicious reward. Finding morels is challenging, though, and many locals keep their patches secret.

For a taste of the elusive morel, without the hunting, try The Inn at Cedar Falls. This rustic inn brings a touch of culinary excellence to this region of Ohio. Chef Anthony Schulz takes pride in utilizing morels and other seasonal produce to create a menu unparalleled in Hocking Hills.

In fall the hills erupt with color as the diverse array of trees begin to change over to their autumn colors. Scenic drives are a popular way to take in the color, as are hikes. Old Man’s Cave is a popular hike year-round, but has its own appeal during this season of change. The winding route of Hocking Hills Scenic Byway begins near Rockbridge and meanders over rolling farmland, past cave entrances, waterfalls, and through idyllic rural hamlets. A scenic drive through this area, no matter what time of year, conjures up nostalgia for a bygone era of farming, hunting and a simpler lifestyle.

Endless Activities
A haunted cave tour is an excellent nighttime activity sure to entertain the entire family. Naturalist Pat Quackenbush guides tours regularly to Ash Cave. Hikers stroll along a short trail through an old growth hardwood forest to reach the cave entrance. Once there, Quackenbush tells ghost stories and debunks myths surrounding the caves. Ghost-hunting gear such as Geiger counters and listening devices are provided to help amateur ghost hunters seek out the supernatural said to haunt the cave.

A shot of adrenaline may be in order to liven the group from the ghost-hunting foray. Visitors can take to the treetops for this fix. Hocking Hills Canopy Tours has constructed an extensive network of cables that sends the brave soaring through the trees and over creeks and valleys.

The zipline canopy tour takes three hours and offers nature lovers an opportunity to get close to a variety of trees while looking down on the world below. Guides are friendly and experienced, and each is held to a high safety standard. All participants are required to go through a short training session on a low-cable course before taking to the trees.

The most recent addition to Hocking Hills Canopy Tours is the SuperZip. This drop will quench the thirst of any adventure junkie who wants to go higher, faster and longer. Leaving from a 75-foot tower, this zip covers a quarter-mile and reaches speeds of up to 50 mph. Needless to say, this is not for the faint of heart or those afraid of heights. It was also recently announced that Hocking Hills Canopy Tours will offer night ziplining and full-moon zipline tours this year.

For a more tame way to see the landscape from above, Conkle’s Hollow offers hiking trails that rise to a height of 200 feet above the valley floor. This rocky gorge reminds visitors of water’s power to carve and shape the land. Hiking the 2.5-mile rim trail around the top of the cliffs takes roughly two hours and will give hikers the chance to get up close and personal with the truly Appalachian landscape hidden away in Ohio. It is a treat to amble through the hemlock, birch and hardwood forest lining the rim. Steep vertical drops provide excellent views of waterfalls and adjacent cliff lines throughout the hike.

When it’s time for lunch, head to JimBo’s Bar & Diner for a Hocking Hills version of a “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” Located on state Route 56 in South Bloomingville close to Ash Cave, Cedar Falls and Old Man’s Cave, JimBo’s is the perfect spot to refuel.

In addition to winning acclaim for its hamburgers (check out the comments on TripAdvisor.com), JimBo’s is a favorite with motorcycle enthusiasts. If you like good burgers and pretty bikes, you’ll love this lunch stop.

Paddling the lakes and rivers of the Hocking Hills is a peaceful way to take in the bounty nature has to offer. Hocking River provides a relaxing trip for beginner paddlers. Few signs of civilization will be seen on this tree-lined stretch of water. Sandbars and islands dot the river and provide a place to rest or picnic along the way.

The lakes of the region are home to a wide range of waterfowl. Ducks, geese, herons, cranes and birds of prey nest here each year and make birding an exciting option. Lake Hope, Logan and Strouds Run Lake are all excellent choices for catching a glimpse of local birds.

For a more one-on-one feel, Touch the Earth Adventures provides personalized kayak excursions. Owner Mimi Morrison has years of experience identifying the flora and fauna of the area’s many waterways. Embarking on an early-morning paddle, Morrison takes paddlers out to catch a rare glimpse of the birds, creatures and plants that bring life to the hills. Watch the blue heron fish in the shallow waters of Lake Logan as the morning sun bathes the landscape for a truly memorable start to your day.

For a laid-back biking experience ideal for all ages, Lake Alma State Park’s three-mile paved path is an easy pedal. This picturesque trip takes riders alongside a scenic lake and through a shadowy forest. Lake Hope features 23 miles of single-track for mountain bikes. This dirt trail was designed to accommodate mountain bikers of all skill levels and is an excellent way to spend an afternoon getting to know the paths that meander through the hills.

A hot air balloon tour is the perfect way to top off a trip through the rolling topography of Hocking Hills. A chase vehicle follows the balloon and picks up riders after the craft gently lands in the open fields. Make a reservation in advance to ensure your spot. First-time riders are in for a treat as the winds carry them over the pastoral landscape. Wildlife can be easily spotted from the quiet perch of the balloon basket floating through the sky. An early morning start also assures good views of the waterfalls and rock formations that dot the landscape, and believe me, that’s one wake-up call you won’t want to miss.

Outdoor Escape
Visitors are taken back to a time when there was a focus on land and family through the sights and sounds of this iconic back-road paradise. Camping in “the hills” is a delight for even the well traveled. The area’s simplicity is a charming and relaxing respite from the hum of a fast-paced life.

However you decide to spend your time in the Hocking Hills area, you will surely be amazed by the endless recreational opportunities it offers. It’s a quick drive from several major cities in the Midwest, including Cincinnati, Louisville, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Detroit, making Hocking Hills an easy outdoor escape.

Before You Go
Hocking Hills Canopy Tours
740/385-9477; hockinghillscanopytours.com

Hocking Hills Hot Air Ballooning
800/606-1840; georgianmanner.com/hot-air-balloons.html

Hocking Hills State Park
740/385-6842; dnr.state.oh.us/parks/hocking/tabid/743/Default.aspx

Hocking Hills Tourism Association
800/462-5464; 1800Hocking.com

Hocking Valley Canoe Livery
800/686-0386; hockinghillscanoeing.com

JimBo’s Bar & Diner

Ohio ATV World
740/592-2500; ohioatvworld.com

Touch the Earth Adventures
740/591-9094; hockinghills.com/earthtouch

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