By Donald Anthony
Hocking Hills County, Ohio is the “outdoors” you’ve been looking for. It’s out in the woods and yet modern, laidback and relaxed. With a variety of individual and family activities, it’s less expensive than the big city and only about 10 hours from NY by car. You can leave before breakfast, arrive in time for dinner and avoid traffic along the way.
Before going, I did all my research at http://1800hocking.com. It’s the Hocking Hills Tourism Association’s website, and just about all of the area activities can be located from this one site. First, check out the variety of full-service cabins with clean modern kitchens, baths and in some cases even cable TV. A number of the resorts will even do shopping to pre-stock the refrigerator and include it in the bill. I stayed at the Getaway Cabins a series of log cabins scattered throughout the woods. They’re far enough apart to be private but close enough to say “Hi” or “Go away I want to be left alone” to your neighbors. The unit I was in was on the Trail Ridge. It was a no-pet cabin but pets can be accommodated in other units. I found the practical directions for the various facilities in convenient places; and on the back porch was a hot tub! Yea! The housekeeping staff had it all fired up and ready to use.
Attach:getaway_cabin.jpg Δ |Getaway Cabin
The first day was a leisurely hike with Mimi Morrison to Old Man’s Cave in Hocking Hills State Park. First, a moment was given to gather our thoughts, set our purpose and recognize that we needed this time with Mother Earth to renew our spirit, and then it was off to the falls and Old Man's Cave. The name of the cave is based on the legend of a hermit who lived in the area. The general quiet and peacefulness of the surroundings stood out as well as the natural streams and waterfalls. Mimi, our guide, gave us both the history of the area and food for thought along the way.
Attach:glenlaurel.jpg Δ |The Glenlaurel
That night’s dinner was at the Glenlaurel which is a singular experience of a "Brigadoon Nature." Brigadoon is a play about a Scottish town that appears and disappears periodically, but here, it’s you who appears for a meal in this Scottish atmosphere. From a piping-in ceremony to a regal manor dinner, traditional and antique decorations enhanced the eating experience. There were Scottish-themed decorations everywhere and even the design of the main inn, with its fieldstone and stucco, was enough to convince the most cynical that they were “away” for while. Surrounding the inn, in the woods, are some cottages and all are within walking distance to the main inn. There is also a walking trail to Camusfearna Gorge right on the property. The inn is a conference and spa center, although with the wonderful atmosphere, facilities and food, conference attendees may receive training and not realize it! Greg and Kelley Leonard host the Inn, Spa and Wellness Center.
The next morning, there was a hike was to Cedar Falls. While I thought it was an easy one, others found it a workout, so go take a hike, but check out the Hocking Hills website above. You can find hikes to fit all skill levels and several routes to the many falls. Guides can be hired for a group tour or you can just follow the marked trails.
That day’s lunch was at The Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls. What started out as Anne Castle’s dream became a phenomenal reality when Ellen Grinsfelder, her daughter, took over. Added to the mix is Terry Lingo who is a quiet fellow who lets his workmanship do the talking. And it shouts! Anne started a small inn with a commitment to personal, friendly attention. She hired Terry to do some work on the property and while the flowers bloomed so did love. As it turns out, Terry met and committed to both his loves here: the inn and Ellen, or rather Ellen and the inn. They built extensions to the main 1840s inn by attaching pieces of older cabins that were scheduled for demolition and a large meeting room fully outfitted with audiovisual equipment. They ended with over 27 units to accommodate guests, a management training section room and expanded into spa services. The inn is quite a "green" business with extremely low flush toilets, several stages of water recycling and a grass roof. The quality of workmanship is evident in both the joining of the woodwork and the consolidation of the rooms. The chef, Anthony Schulte, comes from the French Culinary Institute and has reworked the menu to reflect better nutrition without sacrificing taste.
After lunch, it was off to horseback riding at the Smoke Rise Ranch. The ranch can supply it all: riding, horsemanship clinics, and even a summer camp for both families and individuals with a full vacation package from self-cooking to a meal plan. For me, the best was the little familiarization instruction in the riding ring before going out on the trail. We covered safety and basic riding tips so that when we got out on the trail it would be more enjoyable.
Attach:pencil_sharpener_museum.jpg Δ |The Pencil Sharpener Museum
We stopped in at the Ridge Inn. This is neither is an inn nor does it overlook a ridge, but what it does very well is serve fast and filling meals with eye-opening coffee. The high test coffee was needed since we would later be attempting both a mushroom hike with Andrea Moore and a trip over mountains to the Pencil Sharpener Museum in Nelsonville. Two deep passions would be on display this day: passion for the morel with Andrea and a passion for the pencil sharpeners of (Rev) Paul A. Johnson. The morel hike with Andrea was in her woods and showed what techniques are used for the hunt. Rev. Johnson’s collection was a journey down memory lane. While the museum is opened to the public, a call ahead will assure entrance.
Attach:morel_hike.jpg Δ |A morel
After a morning of adventure, we stopped in at Etta's Lunchbox Café and Museum. The owner, LaDora Ousley, set a perfect atmosphere to have a customer or visitor feel relaxed and right at home. There are several kitchen dining sets from the ’50s and a big couch to eat lunch on. I even saw highchair that resembled one I sat in many years ago. While the main attraction is the Lunchbox Museum, have a bite at the restaurant, and don’t forget to say hello to LaDora. She took a little general store and made it a big tourist stop. Along the way, we learned that an academic education in business took a life of its own when she gave it practical application. Also view the exhibits of Timothy C. Seewer, the artist and chef in residence, whose creativity works both the palate and the soul.
Attach:ettas_lunchbox_cafe.jpg Δ |Etta's Lunchbox Café
For a nice evening meal, we attended the Grouse Nest Restaurant. It was fine dining at the top of a long hill. With fresh herbs right from the newly designed garden, there’s a quiet seating area on the back deck by the woods for a “calming down” period after the day’s activities. Then it’s inside for a well-deserved meal.
The night’s special evening consisted of a moonlight kayak trip on a lake with Touch the Earth Adventures. Here we met up again with Mimi Morrison who took us on the first hike of the trip. At the lake, she supplied fully equipped kayaks, gave safety and technique instructions and then added a comradeship sparkle with an insight into nature and a communication with the inner self. With each occupant wearing a light stick for identification, 11 kayaks went out on the lake. Only the sound of paddles and the occasional bullfrog looking for a date broke the quiet.
Our last day of adventure started out as a rainy morning but it soon turned into a wonderful day. We ate breakfast at the Diner D’Argento with the owners, Barbara and Luciano Minico. They call it the “Silver Diner” but the food was pure gold! In fact, it was so good, that I reviewed the dinner menu. Luciano said that if there was something special I wanted to eat; I should just call since they do catering too. They serve Italian style traditional dishes and even make their own cannoli and gelato.
Attach:ohio_zip_line.jpg Δ |The practice zip line
The final event of the week was a trip with the Hocking Hills Canopy Tours. We went on a practice zip line and then 10 overhead zip lines and two sky bridges. We saw caves, waterfalls and the Hocking River on a three-hour tour, all while being almost 70 feet in the air. Of course it is safety first, with double connections: main and safety lines. This canopy tour offers a guide team that is warm and friendly but with a no-nonsense attitude toward safety.
http://www.1800hocking.com - Hocking Hills Tourism Association