Exploring Ohio's Edge of Appalachia
The edge of Appalachia
Adams County, Ohio, rests on the edge of the Appalachian foothills, 60 miles southeast of Cincinnati along the Ohio River. For years, travelers zipped through on the Ohio River Scenic Byway (US-52), admiring northern Kentucky's redbud-splashed hills as they raced to Shawnee State Park in neighboring Scioto County.
But Adams County has a quiet beauty all its own. You can visit Adams County's dozen-plus parks and preserves, fledgling Amish community and surprisingly upscale bed and breakfasts.
The region may feel blessedly undiscovered - Adams County rewards explorers more than tourists.
Just outside the blink-and-miss-it town of Peebles is the GoodSeed Farm, where a bright star quilt pattern decorates the barn. Painted barn quilts like this one originated in Adams County, and more than two dozen are scattered throughout the area today. Check with the Adams County Travel and Visitors Bureau for maps and information about the "Clothesline of Quilts."
At the Murphin Ridge Inn in West Union (murphinridgeinn.com), paths connect modern cabins, a two-story guesthouse, a tennis court and an Adirondack-ringed fire pit. Come dusk, everyone congregates in an 1828 brick farmhouse for dinner. A cabin porch (pictured) provides a place to read during the day or, at night, to watch starry skies virtually unpolluted by electric light. Sherry and Darryl McKenney gave up catering and sales careers to purchase the Murphin Ridge Inn in 1997. Just seven families have owned the wooded ridge since a military officer named William Murfin claimed it more than 200 years ago.
Another cheerful B&B in the area is the Rooster's Nest in Winchester. When Dave and Sally White opened the Rooster's Nest (roostersnest.net), the McKenneys offered getting-started tips. Visitors can see their influence in Sally's fresh flower arrangements, lavish breakfasts and pitch-perfect country casual style. See Midwest Living's review.
Urban sophistication at dinner
Murphin Ridge's owners season the county's down-home character with urban sensibilities. In the restaurant, white truffle oil flavors the house bread, and brandy-spiked sauerkraut accompanies pork chops. Though the restaurant fills up on many nights, the owners limit each table to one seating. They want guests to linger, like family, so reservations are recommended.
One of the Murphin Ridge Inn's soups was voted Cincinnati's best, even though the city is 60 miles away. Pictured: a puree with minted peas, ramp and corn bread.
The Amish in Adams County
Most afternoons, you'll see Amish walking home from work and school along Adams County's country roads. You might also catch a glimpse of horse-drawn buggies.
Adams County's Amish arrived in the 1970s. Some came to escape tourists in Holmes County, but others cater to visitors. Popular Amish businesses include Miller's bakery, furniture gallery and dry goods store. Miller's Bakery, one of the area's few true tourist attractions, features treats such as cream-filled coffee cake (left).
Miller's and another bakery-deli, Keim Family Market, advertise heavily, but most businesses remain hidden, as if no one quite realizes that in another place, these shops, covered bridges and historic homes would be big-time attractions.
Nickel Coke and other simple pleasures
Many of Adams County's pleasures are modest. Cornelia Dettmer, mayor of the once-bustling river town of Manchester, proudly points to 250 Bradford pear trees along US-52. At first skeptical of the mayor's "Memorial Treeway," locals have embraced it as a living "Welcome" sign.
A few days here may open your eyes to details like Cornelia's snowy trees. At Blake Pharmacy, in the county seat of West Union, you can sip on a nickel Coke in Blake Pharmacy or munch on perfectly crispy fries at chrome-clad Cruisers Diner.
Standing behind the 1961 counter at Blake Pharmacy, Teresa Freeman marvels, "It still amazes me people wanna come here and get a nickel Coke. It's the same as a regular Coke!"
Maybe, but somehow in Adams County, you'll notice even a Coke more. It's a place to find out more of what you've been missing.
Blake Pharmacy (937) 544-2451
Cruisers Diner (937) 386-3330
Exploring Great Serpent Mound
Adams County's most famous landmark, Serpent Mound, can seem to be playing hard-to-get. On a ridge above Ohio Brush Creek, a 1,330-foot earthwork snake uncoils in grassy, dandelion-speckled loops.
The millennia-old Native American site lacks interpretative plaques, and the small museum holds irregular springtime hours, leaving many visitors to explore on their own. A viewing tower will give you the best overview of the site, generally considered the world's largest single effigy mound.
Edge of Appalachia Preserve
The Edge of Appalachia Preserve could be considered the crown jewel of Adams County's parks. The 13,500-acre sanctuary, run by the Nature Conservancy and the Cincinnati Museum Center, offers three hiking trails including Buzzardroost Rock (left), but most of "The Edge" lies untouched. Roughly 1,200 plant species grow here, many rare or endangered.
Favorites for hiking
The Edge of Appalachia has three diverse trails. The 2.5-mile Wilderness Trail loops through forest, revealing wildlife and wildflowers found nowhere else in the area. The strenuous, 1.5-mile (each way) Buzzardroost Rock Trail stretches over waterfalls (left) and along ridgetops, ending at a sweeping overlook. In summer, warm-weather wildflowers brighten the 1.5-mile Lynx Prairie Trail. Finding the start-points for the trails can be tricky, so call the Adams County Travel and Visitors Bureau for directions.
Also in the area: The 8,000-acre Shawnee State Forest bans vehicles, bikes and even motorized trail-clearing tools. Hikes offer solitude and challenging terrain. The Shawnee section (40-plus miles) of the Buckeye Trail, which circumnavigates the state, runs through hilly woods. Hikers find wildflowers, birds and sometimes bobcats in the deeper parts of the forest.
Spring in Adams County
Spring is a particularly good time to visit Adams County, as the forest slowly turns green, wildflowers start to bloom and migrant birds return. Here's what to expect each month:
March -- Once temperatures begin to hit the 50s, the first wild plants (cresses and mustards) emerge. By late March, the first migrant birds arrive: Louisiana water thrushes, blue-gray gnatcatchers and black-and-white warblers. Rain is likely; snow is still possible.
April -- Trout lilies and hepatica bloom on hillsides; twinleafs and trilliums star when the wildflowers hit their peak. March rains make this the best mushrooming time on Adams County's hilly eastern side. Daytime highs hit the 60s, and redbuds show off vibrant pink blooms in late April.
May -- Being outdoors is a must this month, with daytime temps near 70 and mild nights. Beavers are fairly easy to spot, and diligent observers might see a bobcat or river otter. Scores of bird species from South America have finally arrived, making Adams County a top bird-watching destination.
More outdoors ideas
Nature preserves Adams County has six state nature preserves. Davis Memorial's two miles of scenic paths pass by impressive dolomite cliffs. Along the Ohio River, Robert A. Whipple's two-mile loop features views of Kentucky.
Inn trails Private trails at the Murphin Ridge Inn and Rooster's Nest B&B make for convenient, misty morning walks.
Country roads Stroll country lanes on the Buckeye Trail's West Union section, which follows several out-of-the-way backroads.
Covered bridges You can drive through the 1855 Harshaville Covered Bridge (left) or walk on the 1890 Kirker Covered Bridge.
(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® March/April 2009. Prices, dates and other details can change; please check specifics before making travel plans.)