Venture: Fall foliage in the Hocking Hills

By Columbus Alive
From the October 20, 2011 edition

Last but not least in this fall-color series is the Hocking Hills, an Ohio crown jewel now bedazzled by trees, vines, crops and shrubs signing off in style before winter.

Most Ohioans who go outside have been here, and I’ll say nothing sour about your most treasured trove, that great place that always feels familiar.

I’ll urge you only to give these spots a try.

Over the years, you’ve blown by the brown sign for Wahkeena Preserve, but stop this time and discover a protected space with an awesome staff and interactive nature center. It’s open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays until Nov. 1. Admission costs $5 per car.

Follow the half-mile Shelter Trail along a creek bed to the mile-long Casa Burro Trail, which ascends a beautiful ridge with a welcome bench on top. Wahkeena’s small size leaves plenty of time for other exploration.

The region’s serene state routes — 180, 378, 678 and 664 — will be lined with color. So wherever you go down there, take the long way.

Your second destination is a forgotten rappelling and climbing area in Hocking State Forest, located east of Conkle’s Hollow on Big Pine Road.

After heading over Big Pine Creek and through a quarter-mile of forest, you’ll find slumps, boulders and a long, proud ridge of sandstone that can be enjoyed in many places without climbing gear. Carefully explore the tall cliffs at the far right of the wall, then ascend to the top for a fantastic view of the valley below.

Close to the road back to Columbus stands Lake Logan State Park, a day-use preserve situated around one of the most bountiful fishing spots in Ohio. Paddlers should put in at the northwestern beach off Lake Logan Road.

For a paddle replete with photo opportunities, push slightly southeast to see the amazing forested vistas surrounding the middle of the lake. For fishing, slink through the weed beds in the lake’s southwestern finger, where bass and panfish practically jumped into my boat.

(This is the final column of a four-part series covering Ohio fall color. For full foliage reports, visit ohiodnr.com/fallcolor. )