Driving southwest through Matamoras, a tiny civilization carved between water and woods, the Ohio River bends to the right. The river rules this landscape, so everything else bends with it: emerald hills, riverside farms of tomatoes and corn and back roads that hug its banks.

Driving southwest through Matamoras, a tiny civilization carved between water and woods, the Ohio River bends to the right. The river rules this landscape, so everything else bends with it: emerald hills, riverside farms of tomatoes and corn and back roads that hug its banks.

From State Route 7, scenic byway for much of the stretch between East Liverpool and Proctorville, the river flows wide and broad at this turn. It glistens, hazy from smoke, steam and a humid, oppressive heat.

I pull off, drawn by the water's enormity. As I walk to the guardrail, a sound echoes downriver. The low hum gradually builds into the steady drone of a motorboat, and one soon races by with a pair of skiers in tow.

Of all the facts about the Ohio River, this one might shock you most: People use it.

When I left Columbus for a two-day riverside trip, I wasn't sure. As I was packing and printing maps the night before I left, my roommates assured me there was nothing down there except dirty water and coal plants.

That's true - but only in part.

Pulling back onto the road, I soon hit the Leith Run Campground, the cushiest place to stay in the Marietta branch of Wayne National Forest.

Primitive campers and RVs enjoy clear views of the river from grassy sites nestled only a few feet from the water's edge. Unlike most of rugged, unimproved Wayne, this area offers a playground, boat launch, showers and outhouses. Spots fill quickly, the last camping day is Sept. 7, and reservations must be made at least five days in advance.

If it fills up, a number of private campsites operate along the river.

Those headquartered at Wayne can walk or mountain bike the Scenic River Trail, which is part of a 9.3-mile loop with trailside rock outcroppings and deep woods that block the sun during midday. Not up for the full length, I hike in about a mile and eat lunch atop one of the forest's giant, mossy boulders.

After hiking, it's only about 30 minutes to Marietta - the type of river town you hope for when undertaking a trip like this. Located at the junction of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers, the town named for Marie Antoinette was founded in 1788 and much later named one of the top 100 adventure cities by National Geographic.

Park in historic Harmar Village to browse curio shops and oddball attractions like the Marietta Soda Museum, likely the best place in Ohio to grab a fountain Coke. Cross a rustic footbridge for lunch at the Marietta Brewing Company, home to thirst-quenching craft beer like George's First and delicious dishes like the Kielbasa & Shrimp Pasta.

Once you're sated and relaxed, options abound for getting on the river.

For strenuous action, the Marietta Adventure Company rents gear, offers shuttle services and guides trips on many of Washington County's waterways and bike trails. For more relaxed recreation, the Valley Gem sternwheeler offers a selection of narrated sightseeing cruises with buffets, box lunches or dessert at sunset.

If even stepping on a boat seems like too much hassle, simply walk to Ohio Riverfront Park, spread like a soft green blanket at the end of 2nd Street.