Driving in late afternoon and getting the lay of the land in Vinton County is fun — rolling to steep hills, hairpin curves, tunnel-like tree canopies over gravel roads and exciting switchbacks. We marveled at some of the roadside stone formations and the feeling of being far, far away from everything.
We listened to utter silence, except for a few thousand crickets, which tend to blend into their own kind of woodsy silence so that they become beautiful, peaceful background music.
While we paddled a canoe, the lake is open to kayakers, paddleboarders and anglers with their own small boats. The park dock house even offers canoes, kayaks and paddle boats for rent. They also have several small pontoon boats perfect for fishing, sightseeing and picnicking.
While the views and the remoteness are nice, the food we found is on a whole other level. I knew it was going to be a great dining experience at the Lake Hope Lodge, operated by Eric Lee and a partner, when he showed me his smoker. Three words: Big, hot, smoky. Inside the massive black monster: A half dozen fat-swollen beef briskets quietly smoking their way toward some crazy-good nirvana. The meal included a finely shredded slaw, a plate of greens, squash and other local veggies sauteed and fresh bread baked on site. Lee’s wood-fired pizzas include local components like goat cheese from a Vinton County farm. “Whatever we find around that’s good,” he said. All the meats served are Ohio raised. The breads and desserts are made on-site, including an amazing cheesecake drizzled with some type of berry-ambrosia-gunk. But the Lodge isn’t just briskets and cheesecakes — it’s microbrews, salads, burgers and steaks and the like. All with the same idea: local, regional, Ohio.
Vinton County was once home to dozens of massive iron furnaces built of stone, all of which ceased operations a century ago or more. And like most Ohio counties, Vinton was home to many covered bridges. We found a few.