ROCKBRIDGE – Most Ohio Visitors Are Charming Hocking Hills come for the scenic hikes, or for the cozy or luxurious (or spartan, if you like that) woodland accommodations, or even for the area’s small but growing foodie scene.
But adventurous visitors looking for more entertainment will also find plenty of off-road activities to choose from.
Climbing: High Rock Adventures
My first stop was a doozy at High Rock Adventures in Rockbridge (10108 Opossum Hollow Road, www.highrockadventures.com). The site contains 150 acres of woodland and beautiful natural rock formations and offers a wide variety of activities including rock climbing, abseiling and a ‘rock challenge’, as well as eco tours, soul therapy nature and “forest bathing”. Activities are offered for all skill levels, including beginners.
I had never abseiled before my visit to High Rock last week, but knowledgeable guide Martin Strange put me completely at ease – until that first leap of faith.
We put on our climbing gear at high rockfrom the Strange Visitor Center and followed a winding, leafy path to our rappelling sites atop magnificent sandstone formations born from the ancient sea that once covered the area.
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Once in the abseiling area, Strange demonstrated the very simple and very safe technique we would use to get down – take a deep breath – down the cliffs.
We climbed a rock strewn path and arrived at 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, much safer than the car ride from Columbus.
It turned out to be a lot more fun too. After this breathtaking first step, I was able to enjoy the thrill of what I was doing and the incredible beauty of my surroundings seen from an entirely new perspective. Now I can’t wait to go back and try rock climbing.
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Zipline: Hocking Hills Canopy Tours
Hocking Hills Canopy Tours in Rockbridge (10714 Jackson St., www.hockinghillscanopytours.com ) offers ziplines through the deep forest and over the scenic Hocking River. The site has become popular since opening in 2007 as one of the first major zipline destinations in the Midwest.
The site’s popular Canopy Tour combines thrill park fun with beautiful treetop scenery and a natural history lesson.
I’ve done the Canopy Tour several times and still can’t say which is better – the bird’s eye experience of buzzing through the treetops or the bird’s eye view of the beautiful Hocking Valley. Or, perhaps it’s the ever-witty, ever-informative patter of the expert guides who accompany each group.
The site also offers an X-Tour, a more “extreme” zip experience with more and longer zips.
And during my last visit, I tried, for the first time, the SuperZip, a quarter-mile zip across the Hocking River. It’s also the only zip you can do horizontally, stretched like Superman and flying, if not faster than a speedball, up to 50 mph, which is pretty cool when you do it. SuperZip has two parallel ziplines, so you can race a friend in Metropolis.
Tours are often fully booked, so it’s wise to book in advance.
Kayaking: Touching the Land Adventures
Owner and guide Mimi Morrison, who says she has found her own spiritual connection to the water and trees of Southeast Ohio, offers a variety of outings, including a range of kayaking trips on regional lakes or on the Hocking River.
Tours include kayaking bird watching; sunrise and full moon paddles; and nighttime astronomy/kayak excursions among many others.
I was part of a group that joined Morrison at Logan Lake in Vinton County south of Logan for a sunset paddle in search of America’s biggest and perhaps cutest rodent. from the North, the beaver.
A storm had just passed and the clouds still formed an eerie but beautiful backdrop that stretched behind the lake as the sun set and the sky darkened.
Before we even left we heard the unmistakable call of a migrating loon, something rare for the area and something Morrison and, of course, the rest of us had never heard there.
In some cultures, the haunting cry of a loon is a harbinger of evil. I say trust these cultures. There are few things more beautiful, more touching than the cry of a loon at sunset. And although we didn’t hear the loon again, we did experience a serene, peaceful and beautiful paddle to a cove with several beaver lodges. Along the way we were accompanied by flocks of swallows flying just above the water, occasionally dive-bombing their unseen prey. At one point, a bald eagle (it’s redundant to add “majestic”) flew silently overhead across the lake.
When we reached the lodges, several kayakers saw beaver heads as the rodents swam to or from their lakeside dwellings. I didn’t hear it, though I heard, all around me, the high-pitched creaks of their characteristic tail-slapping alarm on the surface of the water.
As night fell we paddled back and heard fish jumping around us, possibly chasing the swallows prey in the opposite direction.
On the way back, a fish jumped into Morrison’s kayak, startling her.
“It’s the first time it’s happened to me,” she said. “It was as big as a shark.”
When we were finally able to retrieve it, the fish turned out to be an unlucky little sunfish. Maybe the loon had called him.
Steve Stephens is a freelance travel writer and photographer. Email him at [email protected].