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Published on April 29th, 2018 | by Darren Paltrowitz


How I Spent 72 Hours In Ohio’s Beautiful Hocking Hills Region

I consider myself a well-traveled person, having lived abroad and been to over a dozen countries. But my travel within the United States has not been as extensive as I have hoped. Prior to April 2018, I had never set foot within the state of Ohio, so when invited by the Hocking Hills Tourism Association to visit the city of Columbus and its surrounding areas, I jumped at the generous opportunity.

The first surprising thing to me about Columbus, Ohio was the ease of getting there. Metro area New Yorkers have three major airports to choose from — LaGuardia, Newark and JFK — beyond smaller commercial airports in Westchester, Central New Jersey and Long Island’s Suffolk County. Despite all that airport access within close proximity, many U.S. cities are not easy to get to with a direct flight from New York. However, Columbus has direct flights via Delta Airlines and American Airlines from JFK, while Newark goes nonstop via United Airlines. While my itinerary said that the flight would be around two hours and 10 minutes, we actually arrived at John Glenn International Airport about 40 minutes ahead of schedule. In turn, it took less time to get to Columbus, Ohio from Long Island than it would have taken to drive to nearby cities like Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston or Washington D.C.

Before traveling to Columbus, my knowledge of the state’s capital was limited. I knew that the NHL’s Blue Jackets played there, as did the MLS’ Crew FC, the Cleveland Indians-affiliated Columbus, and the Ohio State Buckeyes. I knew that a lot of notable people had Columbus roots, including actors (e.g. Beverly D’Angelo, Josh Radnor, Tom Poston), athletes (e.g. Jack Nicklaus, Alexa Bliss, Jesse Owens, “Macho Man” Randy Savage), culinary executives (e.g. Dave Thomas, Guy Fieri), musicians (e.g. Joe Walsh, Twenty One Pilots, Dwight Yoakum, Rascal Flatts) and writers (e.g. R.L. Stine, James Thurber). I knew it was the home of plenty of corporate offices — including Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, Big Lots, White Castle, Siemens and Wendy’s — and the annual Arnold Classic fitness expo. But I had a lot to learn about its local cuisine and history as that is truly how a city can be measured.

I was hosted at Hocking Hills’ Inn & Spa At Cedar Falls for this visit. About an hour by car from the aforementioned John Glenn Columbus International Airport, this was a remote part of Ohio. The best thing about the Inn for some people might turn out to be a challenging concept for others folks: cell phone reception is practically non-existent. In turn, visitors must be present and enjoying whatever is in front of them. A mix of cottages, yurts, and cabin-like hotel rooms, the Inn & Spa is a very green destination. There is no pool, nor a fitness center, so you are truly there to unwind and take in the local surroundings. The staff quickly learns your name and the food served on-site is largely local.

Essentially everything seemed to be within a 20-minute drive of the Inn & Spa At Cedar Falls. The John Glenn Astronomy Park, which opens to the public in June, is just a few minutes from the Inn and will reportedly be an essential destination for stargazing. The Old Man’s Cave trail, which is part of Hocking Hills State Park, offers wonderful beginner-level hiking. High Rock Adventures is a popular local company in Rockbridge and gives eco-minded tours related to rappling, foraging, hiking and mountaining climbing. On its Edibles Eco Tour, tour leader (and co-owner) Steve Roley educated our group about survival tips with relation to plants and other elements of nature directly observed. Also visited in Rockbridge was Glenlaurel, a Scottish Inn – that is its official name, yes — which will literally make you feel like you are in the old Scottish country, Ohio accents aside.

Speaking of the Glenlaurel – as spread out over 140 acres — its cuisine is overseen by Chef Jean-Michel Matos, who had previously been Executive Chef for Norwegian Cruise Lines; Matos was also the recipient of “Chef Of The Year” honors from the Texas Chef’s Association. Meant to be fine dining where you are not tempted to look at a clock, all Glenlaurel meals start off with a poem read by a server. I had experienced a six-course dinner, which provided every combination of flavor, texture and food group that one could hope for. Filet mignon, a scallop-based soup, a lettuce-based salad with a sweetened dressing, creme brulee, a sherbet-based amuse bouche… More than enough food to make you satisfied, but not too much to make you feel stuffed. All the while, Glenlaurel innskeeper Richard regularly circulated and spent time with guests. Less than 50 seats are available for a meal at Glenlaurel, ensuring a personalized experience for all who dine there. Diners not looking to immediately return to their cottage are invited to relax at a nearby firepit following their meal.

The Columbus Washboard Factory is the last remaining washboard factory in the world. Tours are available, of course. However, this Factory is no longer based in Columbus, instead based in Logan where it presents an annual music festival in the area. Also in Logan is the Hocking Hills Moonshine Distillery, which also presents tours to visitors. Just a few blocks away in Logan was one of the biggest surprises imaginable for me. Todd Dean has what some people have called the world’s largest fan collection of KISS memorabilia. Among the memorabilia displayed were stage costumes, retail-sold products, and personal artifacts from band members from all eras of the band. Admission to Dean’s storefront, which also plenty of interesting non-KISS memorabilia, is donation-based. If official museums are more your thing, the Paul A. Johnson Pencil Sharpener Museum is just footsteps from the Hocking Hills Regional Welcome Center, featuring more than 3,400 pencil sharpeners.

KISS exhibition aside, another highlight of my trip to the Hocking Hills area was my trip to the Hocking Hills Canopy Tour campus. In addition to ziplining-focused Superzip tour, Hocking Hills Canopy Tours offers an Off-Road Segway Adventures experience. Prior to arriving in Ohio, I had never been on a segway before. I was nervous, of course, but tour guide Jeremiah “J.J.” Joseph provided a few minutes to training to get our small group on-board. After everyone felt comfortable on a segway, J.J. led us through an appropriately-paced trail-based tour. There were several stops along the way in which J.J. pointed out specific plants and vegetarian, noting their significance, in addition to a quick stop to see what locals call Young Man’s Cave. After my 90 minutes, I was hooked and spent another half-hour on a segway. Weather-permitting – as the temperature dropped around 15 degrees Fahrenheit from one day of the trip to the next – this is an essential stop for Hocking Hills area visitors.

Also worth visiting was Brewery 33. A tasting room with an outdoor area, including a food truck, Brewery 33 offers an impressive selection of craft beers made in-house. Whether you are into IPAs, experimental fare, or fruity lagers, there is something for everyone. While enjoying Brewery 33, we had the pleasure of taking in pies and subs from Pizza Crossing. Is it the best pizza you have ever had? Of course not – given that New York and New Jersey requires local water, as do the bagels – but Pizza Crossing has great pizza. Dare I say, it has a reputation for having the best pizza within the local area. While there was no pizza on the menu of the Urban Grille in Logan, one of my favorite meals on this trip was at this cozy spot, as located right off of the Hocking Hills Golf Club’s golf course.

Cell phone reception aside, another big change between New York living and time spent within the Eastern Appalachian region of Ohio is the importance of having a car. While Columbus has Lyft and Uber, the Hocking Hills area does not as of this article’s writing, or at least the lack of phone coverage made it impossible to find a car. In addition, restaurants and retail locations tend to close early by East Coast standards. In turn, you will have to do some planning to ensure you eat and drink to your liking.

Ultimately, I found Ohio’s Hocking Hills region to be comparable to the Hunter Mountain region of New York. It has waterfalls, hiking, paintball and all sorts of outdoor activities, while also giving plenty of farm-to-table dining options. Yet even though the Hunter area is in the same state as Long Island, when factoring in the time and cost of getting upstate to New York by automobile, a trip to Hocking Hills is pretty much in the same neighborhood. In other words, it is worth considering Hocking Hills the next time you are considering a down-home trip within a few hours of New York.

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About the Author

Darren Paltrowitz is a New York resident with over 20 years of entertainment industry experience. He began working around the music business as a teenager, interning for the manager of his then-favorite band Superdrag. Since then, he has worked with a wide array of artists including OK Go, They Might Be Giants, Mike Viola, Tracy Bonham, Loudness, Rachael Yamagata, and Amanda Palmer. Darren's writing has appeared in dozens of outlets including the New York Daily News, Inquisitr, The Daily Meal, The Hype Magazine, All Music Guide, Guitar World,, Businessweek, Chicago Tribune, L.A. Times, and the Jewish Journal. Beyond being "Editor At Large" for The Hype Magazine, Darren is also the host of weekly "Paltrocast With Darren Paltrowitz" series, which airs on dozens on television and digital networks. He has also co-authored 2 published books, 2018's "Pocket Change: Your Happy Money" (Book Web Publishing) and 2019's "Good Advice From Professional Wrestling" (6623 Press), and co-hosts the world's only known podcast about David Lee Roth, "The DLR Cast."

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