In October, I was gifted with the opportunity to work alongside a group of travel writers in the Hocking Hills area of Ohio as I photographed a PR tour of various Inns and Restaurants for a NYC-based travel writer. Having lived in Ohio for years once I was surprised to have not already been there, but curious to get to know such a “hidden gem”.
Sometimes, the smallest things can affect the biggest changes in our lives. What the trip to Hocking Hills taught me, is that: my childhood dream of shooting travel articles for National Geographic is not dead, my soul is recharged by traveling to new places, and the life lived in reaction to things instead of in passionate pursuit…is a life not worth living.
The writer kindly consented to help me describe our trip to Hocking Hills for all of you – he’s the professional writer, so it seemed more than fitting! Enjoy his eloquent words with my images in tandem; and as soon as you get a chance: check out Hocking Hills. It’s a little slice of Appalachian Heaven in your backyard [if you’re reading this from Ohio]. Also, wedding clients: please consider HH for a unique “destination wedding” experience that doesn’t take you too far away from home but still gives you that getaway feeling!
Initially the drive seemed ordinary. It seemed mindless. We left Columbus an hour earlier and it seemed exactly that – Middle America. But suddenly that familiar flat landscape and endless interstate transformed into a web of winding roads. We drove through hills and intense and impressive fall foliage brightened the October overcast afternoon. We arrived somewhere new.
Nestled In the southeastern corner of the Buckeye State, Hocking Hills, delights visitors. It’s a different Ohio. The true natural wonderland, sculpted by glacier runoff provides a chance to reconnect to nature while its American Appalachia charm may just provide the perfect lens to see it.
As our first stop we checked in to The Inn at Cedar Falls. Here our gracious hosts opened more than the doors to their inn, but the passageway to an experience. It’s a place where you learn Ellen’s name is spelt with two Ls and how one can trade in a BMW for a romance with a carpenter. Here you also sample fine wines by a roaring fire and relax after a hike. Here you feel at home.
The Inn’s resident chef, Anthony might teach seasonal cooking classes to some guests, but his nightly creations delight all the guests. The combination of intense French Culinary Institute training (New York City), an approachable style, seasonal menus, and an emphasis on locally grown ingredients combine for a fusion of food that delivers a taste of joy to every palate.
Then after a night’s rest and a hearty breakfast we set off for a hike to Old Man’s cave. The accessible trail in the Ohio State Park might only take 30 minutes, but with our tour guide and nature enthusiast we spent nearly two hours connecting with the land and the history it tells. Here among the cavernous trails you find nature in its simplest form along with stories of the land’s early settlement. After leaving, you owe your elevated mood to the simple fact such places remain protected for future generations to share. Thank you.
To continue the journey, we headed to another inn bestowed as a member of the prestigious ‘select registry.’ There you travel from Ohio to Scotland. The Glenn Laurel Inn private cottages enable romantic getaways, but again it’s the call to dinner that delights. From servers pouring your wine (its still prohibition in the county, but you can bring your own) you head up stairs to the prepared dinning room. And as expected the meal entices, but it’s the reading of Scottish poetry by the kilted Inn Keeper that enchants.
Afterwards we all had options on how else to see and enjoy our time in nature. From aerial flights in a small Cessna Skyhawk to ATVs on private trails options exist for everyone. We all enjoyed connecting at different speeds, in different mediums, and at different events.
Our next and final night we continued with the European theme but essentially traveled back in time to the middle ages. Ravenwood Castle is something you expect to see in medieval Europe, not Ohio. The new owners continue to improve the experience and whether you stay in the castle they call home or in the local village cottages they aim to please with comfort and service (including early wake-up calls).
Yes, the next morning the knock on the door came early. Cold, dark, and damp the day started at 6am with a fresh cup of coffee for the few of us that signed up for the optional sunrise kayak. Promised to be one of the true highlights, I tended to doubt my decision as we drove the 20 minutes to one of Ohio’s man made lakes. But make no mistake, the beauty of that morning man alone did not make.
We arrived at the State Park to see Mimi, owner of EarthTouch Adventures already unloading Kayaks. At first we gazed into the dense fog filled lake and then helped unload and bring the equipment to the shore. Eventually, one by one we entered our Kayak and drifted out into the lake to explore. We paddled thru thick lake-touching clouds and continued deeper into the still dark water. Each one of us left behind more than just the shore that morning. We all allowed ourselves a chance to get lost in time. A chance to get lost in ourselves; a chance to be lost in the moment’s majesty.
Eventually we positioned ourselves to watch darkness diminish with the first rays of daylight over the mountains. Floating peacefully on the frigid water the sun warmed not just the day, but our soul. The vibrant autumn colors of nature awoke and the trees’ brilliant crimson, rust, and gold outshined the once thought to be similar colored kayaks. Mimi read an emotional poem to officially mark the day’s beginning that followed with a moment of silence and serenity if not tears.
Afterwords, everyone paddled back, but I stayed behind. Inspired I opened my journal to pen a few words….
“I paddle back to return to the world, but I don’t leave here empty; in fact I am full. Full of promise; full of possibility. The days ahead will be different.”
Yes, that morning kayak became the highlight of my days in Hocking Hills; it seemed perfectly scripted for the perfect ending.
Actually, I never thought I’d miss Ohio, but the airport good-bye proved challenging. Not because I left a place, but because I left an experience and because I left special people who traveled with me on the journey. For that, Ohio and the Hocking Hills will forever hold a special place in my heart.
Craig Zabransky is a freelance travel writer; you can follow his work and thoughts on Twitter: @StayAdventurous