Rockbridge Most visitors to Ohio’s beautiful Hocking Hills come for scenic hikes, for comfortable or plush lodgings (or spartan, if you’re into it), or even for the area’s small and growing foodie scene.
But adventurous visitors looking for more diversions will also find plenty of off-the-beaten-track activities to choose from.
Rock Climbing: High Rock Adventures
My first step was to dooze at High Rock Adventures in Rockbridge (10108 Opossum Hollow Road, www.highrockadventures.com). The site contains 150 acres of gorgeous natural woods and rock formations and offers a variety of activities, including rock climbing, climbing, and a “rock challenge” as well as eco-tours, naturopathy, and “forest bathing.” Activities are offered for all skill levels, including beginners.
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I’d never quite beat myself up prior to my visit to High Rock last week, but knowledgeable guide Martin Strange put me totally at ease – even that first leap of faith.
We donned our climbing gear at the High Rock Visitor Center and followed a strange, winding green path to steep sites above magnificent sandstone formations born in the ancient sea that once covered the area.
Along the way, Strange stops at several places to point out fun and attractive plants and trees, especially those like sassafras and witch hazel, which have culinary or medicinal uses.
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Once in the landing zone, Strange demonstrated the very simple and safe technique we use for descending – deep breathing – inclines.
We climbed a rocky road and reached our first starting point. As I planted my feet and leaned back into space, I tried to remind myself that what I was doing was, statistically speaking, safer than driving from Columbus.
As it turns out, it was a lot more fun, too. After that breathtaking first step I was able to enjoy the excitement of what I was doing, and the amazing beauty of my surroundings as seen from a whole new angle. Now I can’t wait to go back and try rock climbing.
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Compression liner: Hocking Hills Canopy Tours
Hocking Hills Canopy Tours in Rockbridge (10714 Jackson St., www.hockinghillscanopytours.com) offers zip lines through deep woodland and over the scenic Hocking River. The site has become popular since it opened in 2007 as one of the first major destinations for zip lines in the Midwest.
The popular Canopy tour of the site combines a thrill of fun with beautiful treetop landscapes and a bit of a natural history lesson.
I’ve compressed the Canopy Tour a few times and still can’t decide which is best – the bird-like experience of hiking through the treetops, or the sweeping view of the beautiful Hawking Valley. Or maybe it’s always the clever and always helpful crackle of the expert guides who accompany each group.
The site also offers Tour X, a more “extreme” zip experience with longer and longer zip files.
On my last visit, I tried, for the first time, the site’s SuperZip, a quarter-mile canoe across the Hawking River. It’s also the only zip you can make horizontal, stretching like Superman and flying, if not faster than a speeding bullet, at up to 50mph, which feels pretty cool when you do. SuperZip has two parallel zip lines, so you can race a friend to the Metropolis.
Tours are often sold out, so it’s wise to book in advance.
Kayaking: Touch the Earth Adventures
A gentler—some might even say spiritual—experience awaits guests of the guidance service Touch the Earth Adventures (touchtheearthadventures.com).
Owner and guide Mimi Morrison, who says she found her spiritual connection to the water and trees of southeastern Ohio, offers a variety of excursions, including a range of kayak tours of the regional lakes or on the Hawking River.
Tours include bird trips by kayak. Sunrise and moon oars. and astronomy / kayaking night tours among many others.
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I was in a group that joined Morrison at Lake Logan, in Fenton County south of Logan, to paddle around at sunset in search of North America’s largest, and perhaps cutest, beaver.
A storm had just passed, clouds still formed an ominous but beautiful backdrop stretching behind the lake as the sun set and the sky darkened.
Before we set off, we heard the unmistakable call of an emigrant, a rarity in the area and something Morrison, and of course the rest of us there, had never heard of.
In some cultures, the haunting cry of a deer is a harbinger of evil. I say deceptively on those cultures. There are few things more beautiful, and more touching of the heart, than the cry of a sunset at sunset. And while we never heard the sound of the moon again, we did try a quiet, calm and beautiful paddle to a cove of several beaver lodges. Along the way we were accompanied by flocks of swallows flying just above the water, diving into pounding, at times, their invisible prey. At one point, a bald eagle (no need to add the word “majestic”) silently flew over our heads across the lake.
When we got to the inn, several kayak makers saw the heads of beavers while the ferrets swam to and from their lakeside dwellings. I did not hear, though I heard, around me, the sharp cracks of the distinctive tail-slap alarm on the surface of the water.
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As night fell, we rowed back and heard a fish jumping around, possibly catching swallows from the opposite direction.
When we were on our way back, a fish jumped into Morrison’s kayak, to her dismay.
“This is the first time this has ever happened to me,” she said. “It felt like a shark.”
When we were finally able to retrieve it, the fish turned out to be small, unlucky. Perhaps the moon had called for him.
Steve Stevens is a freelance travel writer and photographer. Email it to [email protected]