Hocking Hills is for adventurers–zip liners, jet packers, RV-ers, laser taggers, rock climbers, and… that ain’t ever gonna be me. Paleeze!
Hocking Hills is for campers. Did you know there are actual people, who pitch actual tents, and actually sleep in the woods? The woods, woods–with creatures and cold temperatures, without indoor plumbing or cable?! Really?! Why would someone do this to themselves?! Even a motel has indoor plumbing and cable, or so I hear, because I would never stay at a motel!
But Hocking Hills is for lovers and THAT’S the trip I took.
The hubster and I have been married for 10 years! Which sounds like a lot but isn’t really given that we’ve been a couple for 15 years and friends for 30. But still it’s a milestone! And what better way to celebrate your anniversary than to go away for what the Brits call a “dirty weekend.”
A weekend trip to Hocking Hills is perfect for celebrating your anniversary. Move over Virginia, Hocking Hills is for lovers!
Diary of a Lovers Weekend in Hocking Hills
The drive is beautiful if not memorable. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly Cincinnati’s cityscape becomes completely rural. We’re barely 20 minutes out of town before I see farms with cows and horses. It’s all cows and horses for about 2 hours until we arrive at the Getaway Cabins offices. It’s slightly past check in time, so there’s no one around. On a bulletin board outside, we see an envelope with our names on it. Inside are directions to our cabin, and a passcode. We drive down windy roads for another 10 minutes and lo and behold we arrive.
First impressions– this place is beautiful, heavily wooded, filled with deer, and totally private. There are other cabins on the grounds, but the spacing and angles allow for complete privacy. And that’s exactly what you want for a lover’s weekend. The cabin itself is cozy. It has one large wood paneled room with a bed, a couch, a tv (with satellite, score!), a fireplace, a kitchenette, a bathroom and a deck with a hot tub!
I can’t wait to call my sister and brag about the hot tub! Um, wait why can’t I make calls?!
Cell Phone Reception Issues
“Honey, something’s wrong with my phone!”
“Mine too! Look there’s no signal at all! I guess they don’t work up here. Come to think of it, it’s been a while since I saw a cell tower.”
And with that heaven turned to hell.
We left the idyllic cabin to find food, supplies and God willing a phone signal. 15 minutes out, we find a Walmart. Walmart often gets a bad rap but here in the middle of nowhere it’s nice to have one stop shopping, nicer still, our cell phones are working again! After we load up, we spend a “longer than I am willing to admit” amount of time in the parking lot catching up on social media while we have the chance.
Oh look, we might have WWIII with North Korea.
And Puerto Rico still doesn’t have fresh water or power.
Maybe we were better off unplugged.
We stop for dinner at one of those “nothing to write home about” chain restaurants and head back to the cabin.
It only took 30 minutes in the hot tub for me to forget my worries completely.
We make breakfast at the cabin, and begin to map out the day. This is really the only full day of the trip so we want to make it special. Friends advised us that the Cedar Falls trail and the scenic train ride are the two Hocking Hills “musts.” The train rides are only offered at noon and at 2:30pm. So, we opt to hike the trail in the morning, find lunch by the train station, and catch the 2:30pm train.
HIKING in Hocking Hills
For all my well documented lack of enthusiasm for adventure, you might be surprised I agreed to take a hike. (See what I did there). But hiking, is just WALKING and I can put one foot in front of the other as well as anybody else. As we approached the beginning of the trail, we find ourselves surrounded by people of all ages, and dogs. There were lots of dogs. The trail is downhill spiral until we reach a small creek at the bottom. Here you have two options, follow the trail to Old Man’s cave (which is about 2 miles long) or follow the Cedar Falls trail which dead ends into a waterfall and is about half a mile long. If you’ve been paying attention dear reader, you don’t even have to ask which trail we took.
I don’t know what to say except the views are STUNNING, breath-taking, really. You couldn’t ask for a more beautiful landscape (or better weather today, we got lucky). I could go on, but a picture (or several) is worth a thousand words.
It’s easy to make friends on the trail. You will find yourself either asking someone to take a picture of you, being asked to a picture of someone else, or politely telling someone they are fucking ruining your shot getting in the way of your selfie.
The hike back is slightly more grueling. Think about it, if you’ve hiked down to the base of a waterfall then the way back means going uphill. The only entity more miserable than I am at this point is a chihuahua. It’s giving her owner a look that I would caption: “You have got to be freaking kidding me, you know I’m small enough to pick up, right?!”
LUNCH in Nelsonville
The train ride is not actually based in Hocking Hills, but a small town nearby called Nelsonville. We decide to get our tickets early (what can I say, hubby was a boy scout- “always be prepared”). The people who worked at the train station were the nicest people you’ve ever met in your life. Being from Cincinnati, I’ve got Midwestern politeness down to a science but these people were more than polite, they were genuinely kind. Within minutes they’d gotten our life story, congratulated us on our anniversary, got computer tips from my IT husband, asked about my research in grad school, and gave us a restaurant recommendation for the “best French fries in town.”
The restaurant is housed inside sporting goods/hunting supplies store (just how fresh is the meat here?!). We sit down for a simple but quite satisfying meal of sandwiches and fries and they were NOT kidding about the fries—skin on, fresh cut steak fries, perfectly golden and just the right amount of salt-PERFECTION!
Lots of Camouflage
We still have time to kill so we wander around the store which is like nothing I’ve ever seen. There are rows upon rows of camouflage gear.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we present to you, the story of camouflage, a play in 3 floors
1st floor – restaurant, tchotchkes, a rock station, (with marbles, smooth rocks, natural magnets, various quartz etc), jam preserves and various local delicacies, and men’s hunting gear/boots – and camouflage
2nd floor – women’s boots and clothing, oh and camouflage
3rd floor – work gear (scrubs, other uniform-like apparel), kid’s stuff, Christmas stuff – and wait for it… camouflage! They even had bohemian styled tops in camouflage prints?!
Hubby: “I think this is a camouflage store, but I can’t really see it.”
If for one second you’ve been jealous of me for this trip with my husband, know that jokes like those are a feature not a bug and realize you don’t really want to trade places with me AT ALL, you feel better now don’t you.
Train in Nelsonville
It’s such a beautiful day, sun shining, mid 70s with a nice cool breeze (which suggests rain later but let’s enjoy this now). Our friends who suggested the restaurant also suggested we opt for the open- air car instead of the air -conditioned car “because it’s such a gorgeous day they’ll fill up first.” We follow this advice since they’ve been right about everything else so far. As we make small talk with the other passengers we realize we’re not the only couple celebrating our anniversary. There were at least 5 sets of us—a 5 year, a 10 year (us), a 20 year, a 30 year and 50 year! (40 could not be reached for comment).
We made friends with the 20 year couple, who live just north of us in Dayton. They love Hocking Hills. They are regulars, but this year they made their reservation so late they couldn’t get a cabin.
Her: “Everything was booked so we ended up in a motel.” Hubby and I exchange knowing glances.
Him: “Well at least the motel has cell phone service.” Touché dude, touché.
As the train is moving, Hubby is taking pictures and listening intently to the history of this mining town and the surrounding areas while the breeze and the slow rocking motion of the train are lulling me to sleep. As I awake, we appear to have gone back in time to the late 1800s. (Is this a train or a time machine cause I gotta tell you, as an African American the 1800s ain’t what I would’ve picked, but I digress). The train stops and we disembark to an immaculately preserved early settlement which currently acts as a living museum.
An Old Schoolhouse and a Blacksmith’s Workshop
There’s an old schoolhouse, a blacksmith’s workshop, and several other buildings that would have been residences. Each is furnished exactly as it would have been 2 centuries ago. Also, there are people in costume milling about and answering questions. We watch as a woman in period dress weaves a rug. Later we watch riveted as the Blacksmith makes tools and utensils.
Many of these items are for sale in the gift shop, which though housed in a vintage building is the lone giveaway that we are in modern times. (Well that and the fact that the tourists are in modern dress and that hubby and I get to be tourists cough cough). Still this era of history is fascinating and history books don’t exactly give you the sense of the life of everyday people. I guess this is like experiencing a bit of colonial Williamsburg, and it was an unexpected, pleasant surprise.
Time to Eat
The train ride was a couple of hours long so it’s already time for us to consider dinner plans. We start discussing options aloud and all of our new best friends from the train began to weigh in. “Yea the Mexican place is good, but is it really fancy enough for your anniversary?” “Ooh they should go to the place on the lake, it’s kinda pricy but the views are spectacular, but you could get lost if you don’t know where you’re going.” “You have that nice cabin, why not just throw some steaks on the grill” (well for starters neither of us eats red meat but make it salmon steaks and it could work). “Go to Athens it’s only about 15 minutes from here and you’ll have way more options.” We thank everyone for their suggestions as the train stops and we go our separate ways.
Go to Athens
Not long after we leave the train station, we pass a Kroger grocery store. Salmon on the grill sounds really good to us. We’re both good cooks. Sharing the kitchen is one of the ways we stay connected as a couple and dinner by the hot tub sounds divine. Only one problem though, we search high and low through the smallest Kroger I’ve ever seen and there’s no fresh seafood to be found. Puzzled we ask one of the workers “where can we find fresh seafood?” “At the Kroger in Athens, its only 15 minutes away.” You don’t have to tell me twice (except apparently you do). Athens it is.
We never made it to the Kroger. As soon as we took the exit and headed towards OU’s campus I saw a Bohemian clad White girl with dreads, a couple of dude Bros crossing the street with a keg, and a Black gay couple laughing and holding hands. We may have spent the afternoon in the 1800s, but we were now most assuredly in the present, a present that feels like the future. I knew we were getting out of the car and staying for the rest of the evening because I’VE FOUND MY PEOPLE!!!
We find an ideal parking spot on the main thoroughfare. It’s after 6pm so we don’t even have to pay the meter (of all my husband’s good traits I am most envious of his parking karma, if I were alone this never would have happened). We venture into a funky little store— the smell of patchouli incense is in the air, and Hall and Oates is playing on the radio. The store sells bohemian clothes, ironic t shirts (hubby purchased one with Mr. Rogers on it that says “it’s all good in the neighborhood”) cool jewelry, and an eclectic array of knick knacks like Band-Aids with Shakespearean insults. I might have died on the train ride because this is my version of heaven.
We ask the “way cooler than either of us” sales lady for a dinner recommendation. “It’s OU’s homecoming this weekend so all the pubs and pizza places will be very crowded, but if you don’t mind going higher end, you could probably get a table at Zoe’s, it’s a French fusion restaurant and it’s only a block away.” Yup I definitely died on the train…
Zoe’s is nestled on a side street just off the main thoroughfare. It looks like the quintessential romantic restaurant- white linen table cloths, soft candlelight, attractive wait staff dressed head to toe in black, exactly the kind of place to spend your tenth anniversary. There was no wait for a table. The staff doted on us and the food was A.MAZ.ING! Full bellied and happy, we headed back for our last night in our little cabin in the woods. This time we were looking forward to being unplugged and uninterrupted, and the hot tub was calling our names.
Since I didn’t actually die on the train, it may not have been heaven. But it was a HAVEN and one we both desperately needed. I guess you can’t appreciate the joys of being unplugged until you’re forced to do it.
Hubby says one day we should bring our daughter (who is way more adventurous than I am) to Hocking Hills. He wants to take her zip lining, says it will be “fun.” Maybe if they let me drink an entire vat at the Hocking Hills winery I’ll consider it. More likely I will just hide out in the Old Man’s cave. Oh, who am I kidding that’s STILL too adventurous, if it comes to that you know where to find me, at a motel, they’ll never look for me there.
Do’s and Dont’s When Planning a Trip to Hocking Hills
DO MAKE RESERVATIONS IN ADVANCE
Hocking Hills is very popular in the fall. The foliage and mild temperatures makes it peak tourist season. We reserved our cabin about 6 months in advance (3 months is probably sufficient but since it was our anniversary we didn’t want to take any chances).
DO GET A TOURIST BOOKLET
We never would’ve discovered the scenic train ride without the booklet. Not only are the many choices of activities documented but so are the directions to each place and unlike a big city, the lack of signage makes a small town tough to figure out on your own.
DON’T VENTURE OFF THE MAIN ROADS
When driving in Hocking Hills, you will want to stay on the main roads especially at night—1) they are the most well-lit (think reflective paint not actual lights) and the woods surrounding the road are filled with squirrels, and possums and deer (oh my) and unless you want to be a road killer it’s the path of least resistance. 2) if by chance you venture off the beaten path prepare to feel more lost than you’ve ever felt before also, folks who live off the beaten path aren’t afraid to let their confederate um freak flags fly…
DO TALK TO STRANGERS
This town is built on tourism, so tourists by and large are treated like VIPs. Some of our best experiences came through word of mouth, for instance we never would’ve found Athens on our own. So, talk and listen and be open to new experiences.
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