Snowy Comfort in Ohio's Hocking Hills
Inventive food and plush cabins balance brisk hikes and rollicking rides on a perfectly woodsy winter getaway.
A waterfall slushes over the frozen tendrils of ice lacing Camusfearna Gorge, a rushing retort to the fresh snowfall silently coating Ohio's Hocking Hills region (50 miles southeast of Columbus). A couple approaches, hand in hand, their boots crunching on the mile-long trail winding through this terrain. They stand along the creek, look up at Glenlaurel Inn and Spa's Manor House, and wordlessly decide to enjoy the view from a swinging bench strategically placed nearby.
The quiet scene at this adults-only retreat contrasts the shouts just a few miles from here in the famed Hocking Hills State Park, where exuberant families listen for their echoes at Old Man's Cave. Those towering rock formations characterize this region. But for people looking for some quiet, the famous caves aren't really the best place.
That's where havens like Glenlaurel come in. Guests' cars swoop through hollers dotted by ramshackle houses and barns, then crackle on a gravel road past foraging deer and wind back through the inn's 140 acres to the 13 cottage-style units. Kitchenettes, gas fireplaces, couples' showers, king sleigh beds and outdoor hot tubs await. Silence cloaks it all, save for Saturdays, when the whine of Scottish bagpipes calls guests to six- or seven-course dinners in the Manor House, decked year-round in white twinkle lights. Cell phones rest in this spotty-service pocket, and the TVs, unless paired with DVD players ready to show movies from the Carriage House, are otherwise as snowy as the cottages' private decks.
The silence, the food and the hot tub draw Rod and Judie Crane to Glenlaurel several times a year, especially during January for their anniversary. The health care professionals take advantage of last-minute midweek specials to unplug. "You know that Robert Frost poem, ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening'?" Judie says. "That becomes a reality. If there was peace on earth, this would be it."
After a couple of hours in the cold, a fire and dinner sound perfect. The prix fixe meals-sometimes introduced by a bagpiper in kilt dress-showcase seasonal ingredients; winter dishes include roasted acorn squash soup with pears and seared duck breast with plum sauce. Many guests make reservations for dinner here; others venture 28 miles east to Nelsonville's town square, where culinary arts students from Hocking College give comfort foods upscale twists at Rhapsody.
Either way, after dinner, couples head back to their cottages and pop open their hot tubs, sinking into thousands of bubbles while steam rises silently toward countless twinkling stars. Tomorrow, there'll be time for another hike in the gorge, but tonight, there's no reason to hurry.
Hocking Hills State Park Seven park units cradle soaring caves and sweeping overlooks. parks.ohiodnr.gov/hockinghills
Rhapsody Staffed by culinary students, this gem in Nelsonville's town square also offers live music. Rhapsody on Facebook
Glenlaurel Inn and Spa. Excellent candlelight dinners, elegant rooms and secluded trails create a quiet retreat near Logan where couples can unwind. glenlaurel.com
For more information: Hocking Hills Tourism Association explorehockinghills.com