By Wendy and Mike Pramik
Posted On: Dec 8, 2021
When planning a vacation, many folks feel they have to choose between running themselves ragged or planting themselves somewhere without much to do. That's not true of a vacation in Ohio's Hocking Hills, the natural playground that encourages exploration but also assures relaxation and solitude when called upon.
Here you can hike winding trails through lush forests, soar amid the treetops on a zip line and explore scenic caves and other recesses in the Appalachian foothills. Then kick back in your cozy cabin or slip away to a private sauna.
Whether you're seeking action or relaxation in a stunning setting, your options are boundless in the Hocking Hills.
Hike More, Worry Less
It just takes stepping into a quiet forest to realize that nature’s good for the mind and spirit. Breathing in fresh air and appreciating landscapes and wildlife can help relieve stress, too, especially when paired with exercise in the form a long trek through the trees.
"Hocking Hills is an ideal place to relax and revive, thanks to Mother Nature," says Karen Raymore, executive director of the Hocking Hills Tourism Association. "The region is a natural work of art."
Free to visit and open year-round, Hocking Hills State Park is known for rock formations, rushing waterfalls and recess caves that formed during the ice age. Nature lovers will also delight in the area’s trillium flowers and hemlock trees.
Start your adventure at the Hocking Hills Visitor Center, near the entrance to Old Man's Cave. Discover the best waterfall locales and ideal spots to plop down for a picnic. Trails vary in length and difficulty. The quarter-mile path to Ash Cave is wheelchair accessible. The journey to Whispering Cave features a hemlock-lined trail with a swinging bridge. Or you can venture out on a two-and-a-half-mile, rugged hike around the rim of Conkle's Hollow.
There are more than two dozen hiking trails in seven locations: Old Man's Cave, Ash Cave, Cedar Falls, Whispering Cave, Cantwell Cliffs, Rock House and Conkle's Hollow.
With millions of annual visitors, Hocking Hills State Park is a popular destination, especially on warm-weather weekends. If solitude is what you seek, go during the week. Set out at sunrise or late afternoon to avoid crowds. Better yet, visit less-frequented locations like Rock House, the area's only true cave, and Cantwell Cliffs, where you'll find sweeping views and remote gorges that some say are the most gorgeous in the region.
Reach New Heights
Relaxing and reviving isn't just about slowing down. Hocking Hills offers plenty of elevated adventures that will get your blood pumping, as well as contemplative ones designed to get you more connected with nature.
Strap on a harness for adrenaline-pumping climbs and rappels off stunning rock formations at High Rock Adventures on a private tract of land in Rockbridge.
"Our climbing, rappelling and rock challenges aren't what one would consider 'relaxing' in the traditional sense," says Steve Roley, High Rock's director. "They increase adrenaline and positive endorphins and add in an awesome unique exercise."
If you crave a more serene encounter, you can join High Rock's expert guides on gentle walks through the woods to learn about medicinal plants and sample the thirst-quenching qualities of the sourwood tree’s leaves. A new "forest bathing" experience helps people connect with nature through sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.
Get in touch (literally) with the trees at Hocking Hills Canopy Tours in Rockbridge, which offers several zip-lining adventures. Along the way, guides point out interesting trees, such as the American sycamore, with bark that resembles military camouflage, and the indigenous pawpaw tree, which produces a papaya-like fruit.
Glide upon the water via a nighttime kayak ride across 3,000-acre Lake Hope in McArthur with Touch the Earth Adventures. Owner Mimi Morrison takes participants on nature excursions, such as full-moon kayak rides, throughout the Hocking Hills area, inspiring you to tune out of social media and into the quietude of a croaking frog on a lily pad.
After a day of adventure, wind down with a spa service. Or make relaxation the sole purpose of a visit to the Hocking Hills, where wellness treatments go beyond a hot tub in a cabin.
Combine the healing powers of spas and nature by booking a session in a Sauna Pod, barrel-shaped saunas with fish-eye windows overlooking the beautiful Hocking Hills' wilderness. Connect your phone to the Bluetooth speakers, adjust the mood lighting and relax.
Hocking Hills Serenity Salt Cave in Logan offers halotherapy treatments that will leave you breathing easier. You'll inhale the salty air, like you would at the beach, which some claim relieves respiratory conditions such as asthma and bronchitis. Others say sniffing salty air for an hour simply leaves them feeling refreshed.