Destinations like Hocking Hills, Ohio remind us that we don't necessarily have to travel far to discover beauty that runs deep. In a least expected place, about 1.5 hours southeast of Columbus, travelers discover a captivating Midwestern landscape marked by soaring cliffs, craggy caves and spectacular waterfalls.
Get a dose of mountain culture in Hocking Hills, where Appalachian flavors meet the Midwest way of life — Photo courtesy of Explore Hocking Hills
Among Ohio's natural crown jewels, eco adventure-seekers come to explore miles of trails, waterfalls, prehistoric caves and sensational cliff-top vistas. Visitors get off the grid by food foraging in the woods, off-roading on rugged Segway routes and pushing their adrenaline to the edge while rappelling down rock faces.
As an added bonus, the region's splendor has cultivated a thriving community of artists, meaning that galleries and antique malls abound. Music fills the hills at family-friendly festivals that celebrate the history and allure of the region's storied Appalachian culture.
Photographers flock to scenic spots like Devil's Bathtub — Photo courtesy of Explore Hocking Hills
Fly into John Glenn Columbus International Airport, followed by a brief Uber or Lyft ride into downtown. Consider hanging your hat at Hotel LeVeque, once deemed "the most beautiful hotel in Ohio" by Architectural Digest.
A beacon of hospitality since 1927, this central Columbus venue once served as an aerial lighthouse for Amelia Earhart (to this day, a rooftop light shines around the clock).
The gorgeous structure features celestial-inspired design elements that complement the original Art Deco architecture. Stargazing continues in the 150 guest rooms, where "stars" get projected onto the ceiling, and the spacious showers are worth a visit in themselves (enjoy bath products showcasing the work of local makers, too).
A beautiful view of Columbus at night — Photo courtesy of Experience Columbus
Before heading out into the hills, take a spin around the Midwest's fastest-growing city. Columbus has evolved into an exciting mecca for fashion and food entrepreneurs in recent decades, and things seem to be booming whether you're talking about just-arrived coffee shops, distilleries, black box stages or the boutique lineup in Short North.
In this capital city, be sure to make a morning pit stop at the Fox in the Snow, a sleek coffee shop known for its pecan sticky buns, custard-filled donuts and egg sandwiches.
Check out the Columbus Museum of Art, wander around the charming German Village area, and explore 33 acres of riverfront parkland. Before hitting the road, load up on snacks from bustling North Market, where you won't want to miss Momo Ghar's Himalayan dumplings.
10 reasons you need to explore Columbus, Ohio
10 reasons you need to explore Columbus, Ohio
Inn & Spa at Cedar Hills
Choose between 1840s log cabins, bed and breakfast rooms, charming cottages and cozy yurts — Photo courtesy of Inn & Spa at Cedar Hills/Explore Hocking Hills
Once in Hocking Hills, settle into your own tranquil cabin (or yurt!) at the Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls. This soothing retreat, tucked into rural Ohio on 75 acres of land, offers tasty home cooking in the dining room (think lamb rack, cornmeal-crusted trout and pumpkin ravioli), a pampering spa and a variety of accommodations.
For example, gaze up at the stars from your private yurt or settle into a cozy cabin where porch swings lure you to watch the glowing morning sun ascend through a thicket of trees.
Hocking Hills adventures
Adrenaline junkies soar through the treetops — Photo courtesy of Explore Hocking Hills
Join the friendly folks at Hocking Hills Canopy Tours for Segway off-roading expeditions and zip-line adventures that offer elevated views. High Rock Adventures/Hocking Hills Ecotours takes visitors of all skill levels (ages 6 and up) on climbing and rappelling expeditions on natural sandstone cliffs.
Hiking trails abound, with loads of flat, family-friendly routes lending themselves to leisurely strolls. Popular hikes include Ash Cave, Cantwell Cliffs, Cedar Falls, Conkle's Hollow, Lake Hope State Park, Lake Logan State Park and Old Man's Cave, named for the hermit who dwelled under the rock shelter in the early 1800s.
Since 2000, the Washboard Music Festival has brought joyful music-centered festivities to Logan — Photo courtesy of Explore Hocking Hills
Appalachian culture is alive and well in Hocking Hills, making this an ideal place to tap into the roots of our country. Visitors get to sample the flavors of moonshine, bluegrass music and quirky sites like a pencil sharpener museum and washboard factory (that's still in operation and offers tours of the workshop – where guests get to make their own tunes).
The biggest buzz, however, surrounds the John Glenn Astronomy Park, located in one of Ohio's few remaining zones where the night sky can be seen in its near-pristine state.
This observatory invites guests to experience the constellations with their eyes or through a large telescope, and a meticulously-designed plaza allows the sun's rays to fall upon a central point on the first day of each of the four seasons.
Soak up more local flavor at JimBo's Burgers and Beer or Brewery 33 (tagline: "German heritage with an Appalachian style"). In a posh setting, get whisked away to Scotland on Glenlaurel's serene 140-acre estate.
While some come for romantic overnights and rounds on the Scottish Links golf course, others pop in for a multi-course fine-dining experience in a setting marked by tartan, bagpipe music and a roaring fireplace.
In the end, you'll leave feeling intrigued by this beautiful, personality-filled side of rural southeastern Ohio. And – as happens with all successful travel journeys – you'll wonder what else is out there waiting to be discovered.