“Why are you going to Ohio?” was the general response I received when sharing my travel plans for the Midwest. But as an ever-curious travel writer, I wanted to see for myself what Ohio had to offer. As someone who’s spent most of my life in the sunshine of Southern California, I didn’t expect to find much more than farmland, cold temperatures, and die-hard Ohio State fans. While I spotted these daily throughout my trip, I quickly learned that the Buckeye State has far more to offer than one might think.
Specifically, I spent a weekend in Hocking Hills State Park. Only an hour outside of Columbus, Hocking Hills is a wilderness haven for both outdoor adventurers and those just looking for a relaxing weekend off the grid. With waterfalls, rock-climbing, zip-lining, wellness experiences, homey log cabins, and lush landscape views all within less than four square miles, Hocking Hills turned out to be one of my favorite trips of the year. The balanced mix of adrenaline-junkie activities, nature-inspired spa experiences, and the low-key small-town feel in Hocking Hills left me rejuvenated.
I’m breaking down where to stay, adventure, chill, eat, and drink in Hocking Hills, Ohio. If you’re in the market for an outdoorsy weekend away, this might be a great option for you too.
PART I — Where to Adventure
Explore the Hiking Trails
What shocked me most about Hocking Hills was its diverse nature, which I was able to appreciate through the many accessible hiking trails. My first stop was Old Man’s Cave, one of the most trafficked outdoor areas for locals and visitors alike. As soon as you step onto the trail, you’re met with towering boulders and trees, running creeks, and walking bridges. You’ll walk through tunnels, climb down stone stairs, and explore giant rock formations that look like a scene from a fantasy film (0f course, the Hollywood kid in me kept thinking about how great of a movie set the trail would be). You can spend an entire afternoon exploring Old Man’s Cave or do a leisurely one-mile loop. The walk is doable for all fitness levels and is a great way to get a taste of the unexpectedly beautiful biodiversity.
Another hike you can’t miss in Hocking Hills is Rock House. Slightly longer and steeper than the short loop at Old Man’s Cave, Rock House is an outdoorsman’s wonderland. I visited immediately after fall foliage peaked, so I was able to take in the hundreds of colors I don’t typically experience in the seasonless environment of L.A. My nature-loving heart swooned at the crunch of freshly fallen leaves under my every step. No matter what season you visit, though, the hike is well worth seeing the massive cave you’ll find about halfway through the scenic loop. It’s a 25-feet high, 200-feet long, and 20-feet wide structure that sits on a 150-foot cliff of Black Hand sandstone. Yes, it’s as cool as it sounds. You can climb into the cave’s many crevices and hang out in the cool shade while you take in the many natural spectacles that surround it.
Go Zip-Lining Through the Woods
The thrill-seeker in me couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take in Hocking Hills’ natural wonders from high above the ground in the form of zip-lining. My three-hour, adrenaline-filled adventure with Hocking Hills Canopy Tours turned out to be the highlight of my trip. When you sign up for a tour (I participated in the “original” canopy tour), two lively and experienced instructors will help you soar above treetops on a secure network of cables and sky bridges suspended above the forest floor. Throughout the excursion, you’ll overlook caves, rock cliffs, the Hocking River, and tons of unique flora and fauna. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a bald eagle flying alongside you. This was the ultimate fun-filled activity that combined nature and risk-taking into one afternoon. I couldn’t stop smiling and laughing until the end of the tour — maybe because I was trying to cope with the fear of plummeting to my death, but still, it was a fantastic time.
Hocking Hills Canopy Tours also offers a variety of adventure outings, including an off-road segway adventure, climbing and repelling packages, and a “Super Zip” experience, which is a single quarter-mile-long zip-line that reaches speeds up to 50 miles per hour.
Book a Hocking Hills Canopy Tour here.
Take an Outdoor Adventure Course
If you’re ready to get up close and personal with all the breathtaking nature to be found in Hocking Hills, take an outdoor course with High Rock Adventures. For anyone from beginners to those looking to up their fitness game, the small eco-centric business offers guided sessions in repelling, rock climbing, eco-tours, nature therapy, and a rock relay challenge, as well as one-off events and workshops. Depending on which kind of adventure you sign up for, you might repel down 100-feet-tall cliffs, learn about the many woodland plant species and edible medicine growing in the area, or connect to the healing effects of nature with what High Rock Adventures calls “forest bathing.” I did a guided nature hike, and it made me better appreciate the many beautiful ecosystems that can be found in nature.
Immerse yourself in the woods of Hocking Hills State Park and book a High Rock Adventures tour here.
PART II — Where to Eat
I’ll be honest, Hocking Hills isn’t somewhere people visit for the extravagant culinary scene. Between the small-town diners, cafés, and hotel restaurants, there isn’t a whole lot to choose from. However, there are a few gems that’ll satisfy every foodie’s stomach.
For a nicer, sit-down meal, head to Kindred Spirits. The quintessential woodsy restaurant, which is part of the Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls property, is one of the most popular dining options in Hocking Hills. For good reason, too. Not only is every dish cooked to savory superiority (I ordered the maple bourbon-glazed salmon — yum), but the all-wood interior, fireplaces, and plaid-covered seating throughout the restaurant offer a feel-good, cozy ambiance. Kindred Spirits’ menu changes seasonally to ensure the freshest ingredients, but you can generally expect to find a variety of protein-packed entreés, pasta dishes, and a handful of hearty appetizers to choose from.
While you’re waiting for a table, you can grab one of the restaurant’s signature cocktails at the bar. I ordered a fruity concoction made with stone fruit vodka, which was the sweet, boozy kick I needed.
Book a reservation at Kindred Spirits here.
The Ridge Inn
For a classic diner experience in Hocking Hills, there’s no place better than The Ridge Inn. It offers home cooking and casual dining, which is exactly the kind of meal you’ll need in between exploring the great outdoors. With menu items like pork roast with mashed potatoes, roast beef, grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, and homegrown fried apples, you’re sure to feel full and satisfied by the end of your meal (if you can even finish it).
On weekends, The Ridge Inn also offers special menu items. Be sure to dine in on a Friday for the freshly-made glazed doughnuts. Trust me, you won’t regret it. Wash down your doughy treats by heading across the street to the Laurelville Fruit Farm, which is a family-owned business that sells homemade frozen apple cider from a third-generation orchard.
Follow The Ridge Inn on Facebook to stay updated on the seasonal hours and house specials here.
PART III – Where to Drink
Hocking Hills Winery
It’s not likely that you’ll find all-night ragers or clubs in Hocking Hills, but there are still plenty of places to get your booze on. The Hocking Hills Winery is a good place to start. The venue feels more upscale than the other casual diners in town thanks to the twinkling lights and nearby vineyards, so it’s ideal for a weekend night out. The winery offers a couple of tasting options (either four or six tastes) or wine by the glass or bottle.
If you go on a Friday or Saturday night, you’ll probably get your wine served with a side of live music. The local band, laidback scene, and, of course, the flowing wine make Hocking Hills Winery the ultimate drinking spot in town.
View the Hocking Hills Winery menu here.
Hocking Hills Moonshine Distillery
If you’re looking for something stronger than wine, make your way over to the Hocking Hills Moonshine Distillery. Located in the heart of town, the distillery offers tastings and tours of the property where you can learn the history behind the corn liquor and how it’s made from start to finish. The tour will show you the entire process, from the mashing to distillation to the final filtering process.
For the tasting, you can try four different flavors of Hocking Hills Moonshine. My favorite was the Granny Apple, mostly because the sweet syrupy twist helped soothe the intense burn of the ultra-hard alcohol. The moonshine recipes vary from the original 80-proof to 120-proof, so it’s safe to say you’re going to be feeling good by the time you leave. If one of the many available flavors particularly piques your interest, you can purchase a full bottle of moonshine for yourself.
Learn more about Hocking Hills Moonshine Distillery here.
Le Petit Chevalier Winery
If you’re traveling with someone special and want a more romantic setting, the Le Petit Chevalier Winery is your best bet in Hocking Hills. Sitting atop a hill that overlooks sweeping country views (including sheep roaming through the property’s vines), the family-owned winery and vineyard feature estate-grown wine bottled on-site. You can taste the diverse wine selection while you munch on charcuterie snacks and soak in the calm countryside scenery. I’m always on the lookout for something on the sweeter side, so I was inclined to try the variety of fruit wines available. The blueberry, strawberry, and apple flavors created a subtly sugary yet tart take to each sip.
If you want to enjoy the property to the fullest, you can even choose to stay at Le Petit Chevalier Winery. The owners turned the top floor of the winery’s central building into an Airbnb that’s just as inviting and romantic as the rest of the experience.
Reserve a tasting at Le Petit Chevalier Winery or book your stay here.
PART IV — Where to Stay
Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls
If you’d prefer to embrace the wilderness from your nightly lodging, book a stay at Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls. The green-certified bed and breakfast is immersed in the woods and helps connect you to the wilderness of the state park. Accommodation options include a cabin, yurt, or a “geodome” that makes you feel like you’re one with the woods. I stayed in a cabin, and, just like pretty much everything else in Hocking Hills, it offered the homiest environment. The personal outdoor decks made for nature watching, the rocking chairs, rustic decor, and board games were like something you’d find at your grandma’s house. The sign-in book filled with guests’ personal stories and signatures was an especially heartwarming touch.
The giant bathtub in the center of the cabin’s main room was easily the most enticing part of it all. The tub comes complete with cozy robes to dry off in, essential oils, and yes, massaging jets. It was glorious and the perfect way to wind down after a long day of adventuring, drinking, and eating my way through Hocking Hills. If you want to take your relaxation a step further, you can take advantage of the property’s spa by getting a salt scrub and mud wrap, massage, or facial.
Book a cabin, yurt, or geodome at Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls here.
Glenlaurel Inn & Cottages
Glenlaurel Inn & Cottages is the kind of place that makes you feel like you’re in another country without actually needing to renew your passport. The Scottish-themed inn is meant to transport you to the elegance and romance of the Highlands of the U.K. It’s where luxury meets peacefulness and nature.
The property sits on a 140-acre estate with hiking trails and waterfalls. You’re able to explore the Hocking Hills woodlands within just a few short steps from your cottage, hotel room, suite, or croft. If you really want to embrace the Scottish culture of Glenlaurel, you can even play a game of Scottish Links Golf on the property’s course, which reflects the links-style courses built as far back as 400 years in the British Isles.
Guests can indulge in gourmet breakfasts, as well as a nightly seven-course freshly prepared candlelit dinner. The menu changes daily, and the in-house head chef prepares every meal with high-quality, seasonal ingredients. And let me tell you, this place is classy. The dining area’s ambiance is elevated with traditional bagpipe music, a steakhouse-worthy dress code, and poetry read aloud by the waiter before serving your meal.
If you want to live like you’re in Scotland for a weekend, book a stay at Glenlaurel Inn & Cottages here.
PART V — Where to Chill
Hocking Hills Sauna Pods
As much as I love adventure, sometimes it’s nice just to chill out. In Hocking Hills, you can do just that while still admiring the outdoors. Detoxify your system and sweat out last night’s wine tasting by sitting in the Hocking Hills Sauna Pods. The barrel-shaped cedar saunas are propped up on stilts with a floor-to-ceiling fish-eye window giving you a view of the forest. You can play your own music on the pod’s Bluetooth speaker and bask in the built-in mood lighting while you let the high temperatures and dry heat zen you out. Ahh, I’m feeling more relaxed just thinking about it. The sauna pods fit up to four people, and you can reserve them for one hour, two hours, or for a full day so you can come and go as you please.
Reserve your pod here.
Hocking Hills Serenity Salt Cave
Avid crystal users and sage burners will love the Hocking Hills Serenity Salt Cave, a wellness studio that immerses you in a room full of powerful salt from the Himalayas. This is otherwise known as halotherapy, which is thought to provide a variety of healing benefits to the body through its calming, detoxifying effects. Here’s how it works: you sit in the salt cave for 45 minutes while lounging back in a zero gravity chair and listening to soothing music. Does it actually work? Who knows. But it was relaxing, to say the least — and yes, I bought a Himalayan salt lamp to bring home with me.
Book a halotherapy session at Hocking Hills Serenity Salt Cave here.