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The first time I navigated the windy roads through the Hocking Hills, the surrealness of it all – Ohio, really? – was more like a trip through a very pretty postcard your favorite aunt sent you. It was serene and magical, neither of which I expected from a Midwest state I once considered flat and boring.
Not even an hour outside of Columbus, the Hocking Hills – with its stunning naturescapes, simple pleasures and restorative retreating – is neither. So, naturally, I made a return visit earlier this year, in April. Here’s why everyone should experience this little piece of heaven on earth, and why I’m already making plans for the next time:
The Inn at Cedar Falls
Waiting for me, after watching my cell’s service bars die off the closer I got to the Inn at Cedar Falls and arriving at a secluded gravel driveway, would be a place so special that it’s become a perennial favorite of mine. I feel right at home – but comfortably away from it – in the cutely named cottages that affable innkeepers Ellen Grinsfelder and Terry Lingo are known for. A lot of love went into each place, where journals are kept on a nightstand, with handwritten entries from previous guests chronicling their experiences (and from the journal in my room, that sometimes includes baby-making). Family-operated since 1987, the property boasts the amenities of a blue-ribbon resort, like a full-service spa in the woods and a wonderful farm-to-table restaurant (don’t leave without trying the berry cobbler) that offers classes on cooking some of their famed dishes. http://www.innatcedarfalls.com.
Ohio is all flat, right? Wrong. This majestic landmark in the southernmost reaches of Hocking Hills is the largest “recess cave” in the state – it’s not classified as simply a cave since it doesn’t completely lack light – and really something to marvel. Situated in a gorge of sandstone extending one-quarter mile, created by the erosion of a small tributary called Queer Creek (not even kidding), are a towering waterfall, a small plunge pool and honeycomb-looking rocks. Wildflowers, such as trout lily and jewelweed, sprout seasonally, and a large ledge hangs over the gorge, where, once, early inhabitants sought shelter (Ash Cave is named after the huge pile of ashes found under the shelter by former settlers). The recess was once a workshop for Indians who cooked and fashioned arrow and spear points and skinned and dressed game. http://www.hockinghills.com/ash_cave.html.
Pencil Sharpener Museum
Make it a point – get it? – to stop at this one-of-a-kind museum: a shed of unique pencil sharpeners, none of them the same. Every sort – ones that pay homage to Barbie dolls, the Eiffel Tower and Disney characters – is housed in this little magical treasury that’s a marvelous haven of a man’s kitschy obsession. The man is Paul A. Johnson, a former pastor who began his collection over 20 years ago. It all started when his wife bought a couple metal-car sharpeners. Two became nearly 3,500, which are now – after Johnson’s death in 2010 – exhibited in this charming museum at the Hocking Hills Welcome Center at 13178 St. Rt. 664 S. in Logan, Ohio. There, the whole world can share in the peculiarity of a man and his sharpeners.
You know the “circle of life” from Mufasa, but you’ve never heard it told like this. In the depths of Saltpetre State Nature Preserve, Wehyehpihehrsehnhwah – or just simply Ron – offers fascinating and inspiring tales of his people, dwellers of the Hills for hundreds of years, and his appreciation for not just his life, but the life around him: the trees, the animals, the land. Through stories and music that harmonize with the surroundings, he takes you on a spiritual and enriching cultural journey that puts you in touch with the world around you. https://hockinghillsadventuretrek.com.
The treetop hop
Dashing through the treetops on a network of cables and adventure sky bridges suspended high above the forest floor, the Hocking Hills Canopy Tours overlook a cave, rock cliffs and other earthly creations during its one-and-a-half mile stretch. The nearly three-hour nature quest zips 10 lines as an informative (and hilariously entertaining) guide or two dishes on the local history of the surrounding area, including native vegetation and the animals. Really bold? Try the SuperZip, a quarter-mile long excursion that swoops over the Hocking River at up to 50 mph. But brace yourself. I screamed the whole way down. http://www.hockinghillscanopytours.com.