Ohio road trip for Chicago families: Hocking Hills

Picturesque natural wonders beckon families for outdoor exploring in the Hocking Hills region of Ohio. One hour southeast of Columbus, or a seven hour drive from Chicago, is one of the most splendid state parks my family has had the opportunity to enjoy. The dark caves, scenic gorges, photo op-worthy waterfalls and humongous trees delight the eyes, while the fresh outdoor air, cozy cabins and hot tubs under the stars are like giant reset buttons for the soul.

Hiking

Hocking Hills State Park encompasses more than 2,000 lush, alluring acres. The scenic, twisting drive through the hills stirs up your sense of adventure. With six separate points of interest, you can easily park, take a short hike and be enveloped in a new beautiful scene. Countless trails provide options for beginners to more advanced explorers. Our children, ages 5 and 7, felt comfortable and engaged the entire time.

Caves

Old Man’s Cave is the most visited attraction in the Hocking Hills area. Traversing this treasure with naturalist Pat Quackenbush (who also happens to be Chicago Cubs’ infielder, Addison Russell’s, uncle) was a pleasure. I don’t think my kids will ever forget the story of the old hermit who inhabited the cave. Gazing into the depths of the gorgeous, half-mile gorge was like peeling off the layers of stress that seem to accompany modern life.

Ash Cave is a massive, horseshoe-shaped cavern with a giant, natural sandbox that kids immediately dive into. As the children are sifting and rolling, parents can peer up at the cascading waterfall and savor some peace and quiet. Conkle’s Hollow is a state nature preserve with towering trees, Black Hand sandstone cliffs and one of the deepest gorges in Ohio. Don’t miss Cedar Falls for its serene ambiance and spectacular waterfall. My daughter and I enjoyed holding hands and hopping over the rocks.

Lodging

When you’re ready to rest, enjoy a modern, spacious cabin at Cedar Grove Lodging. We had two floors to spread out and make ourselves at home. The great outdoors were just outside our door. Sipping my favorite Chloe pinot noir on the porch swing while my kids played soccer in the grass was a fabulous way to relax.

The second part of our stay was spent in the Hocking Hills Caboose. Yes, a bright red train caboose parked in the middle of the woods. Our kids loved climbing up to their beds in the cupola and huddling together under the hushed sky for nightly fires. You really do gain a whole new perspective under the moonlight between the trees.

Adventures

High Rock Adventures guided eco-tours are great for thrill-seeking families. Hike up a giant rock, squeeze through tight formations and test your bravery over narrow bridges. Children can zip through the air on the Hocking Hills Canopy Tour DragonFly course. Eight zip lines, three bridges and one sky tunnel are assembled over a hill, where parents can watch their little ones jump and shout “Yahoo!” as they sail through the bright, blue skies.

If you can squeeze in some time in Columbus, we recommend the Columbus Zoo. Polar bears are the rage there, with above ground and underwater viewing areas in Polar Frontier. The Polar Playground resembles a tundra expedition and features a buggy, climbing structures and igloos.

Nosh

Dinner at Kindred Spirits, located at the Inn& Spa at Cedar Falls, is a supreme treat. To celebrate our last night of vacation, our family dined on delicious, locally grown, chef-prepared dinners in a 1840s log cabin. My husband and I savored the fresh fish and juicy steak. Our kids raved about the sensational desserts.

Don’t let the line outside Katalina’s (in Columbus) turn you away. It’s just a sign of the deliciousness you’re about to enjoy in this 100-year-old gas station turned hip restaurant. Bold flavors tickle your taste buds in Latin and Southern-inspired dishes that are homemade with fresh ingredients and lots of love. The only thing to disappoint you at this delectable café would be missing out on the last pancake ball–little pieces of heaven stuffed with Nutella, dulce de leche or pumpkin-apple butter.

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