Along the way, we discovered a gorgeous state park filled with waterfalls (who knew there are waterfalls in Ohio? Not me!). And just like last year, we made a day trip to Chicago by train for a big city adventure.
Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio
Last year while we were traveling through Ohio I saw a billboard advertising the beautiful waterfalls and hiking trails at Hocking Hills State Park. I think that’s the first time we’ve discovered a park from a billboard.
Hocking Hills State Park is in the middle of nowhere in southeastern Ohio. It’s a long, hilly, winding journey to get to the park—followed by a steep, narrow, winding road into the campground—but it’s worth the effort. The park is a magical hobbit-like woodland of mossy boulders, caves, streams, stone bridges, and beautiful waterfalls. We spent two full days hiking and still didn’t cover all 25 miles of trails in the park. The campground itself was okay (no privacy between sites; full or electric-only hookups; random Verizon) but we came here for the hiking, not the campground.
Click on any photo for a larger view
Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio
Hanging out with the warblers last spring in Ohio was one of the most unique birding experiences we’ve ever had. When the warblers gather on the shores of Lake Erie to fatten up for the long journey to their nesting grounds, they’re focused on feeding, and hang from the shrubs at eye-level like holiday ornaments. This, as you can imagine, provides wonderful up-close encounters with the little birds.
We met up with our good friends and birding buddies Ed and Diana (with whom we shared the same adventure last year). We had a great time together walking the trails, enjoying the birds, and trying to photograph them. You would think photographing our feathered friends in this situation would be easy—we were so close, we could at times almost reach out and touch them. Nonetheless, we have many, many photos of blurry birds, birds partially obscured by twigs, and photos of scenery where the bird had been just a fraction of a second earlier.
Part of the fun is observing the different personalities of the birds when photographing them. Some species are shy and stay hidden, while others are bold and seem to be just as curious about us as we are about them.
Just like last year, we stayed at beautiful Maumee Bay State Park, which is central to all of the best birding in the area. I wrote in more detail last year about the area and the campground here.
Indiana Dunes State Park, Indiana
We enjoyed our stay at Indiana Dunes State Park last year, both for the birding and the proximity for a day trip to Chicago. The birding here isn’t as spectacular as it is at Maumee Bay, mostly because the warblers are much higher up in tall trees, and the trees have started to leaf out. Still, we enjoyed walking the trails, including a repeat of the “Three Dune Challenge,” a two-mile trudge through soft sand and up and down long flights of wooden stairs. The trail offers great views from the top of the dunes.
A Day Trip To Chicago
Just like last year, we took the train from the state park into downtown Chicago. And just like last year, we found Chicago to be a totally cool city. Last year, we did a great walking tour and a river tour. This year, we visited the world-renowned Field Museum of Natural History, and walked for miles along the waterfront and through Millenium Park.
We also spent about two hours in Eataly, where we indulged in a multi-course Italian feast at Osteria di Eataly: roasted beet and fennel salad, homemade ricotta ravioli with ramp butter, and halibut with roasted tomatoes and capers. Enjoying a leisurely mid-day meal, drinking prosecco, and with everyone around us speaking Italian, we felt like we were in Italy. All too soon, it was time to catch the train back to the campground. The three-mile walk back to the train station helped a bit to mitigate the lunch, LOL.
For more ideas on things to do in Chicago, camping at the state park, and taking the train to the city, check out our post from last year here: A Day In Chicago and Indiana Dunes State Park.
And now, we’re on to some brand new adventures. How great is that?
Lucky you two, to see so many beautiful, petite birds. The photos you did get with their presence are a treat, as usual. As for the waterfalls, makes me think Ohio would be a nice place to live. Although, 90 degrees and 59% humidity today, well, I’d have to think twice.
Thank you for the updates.
Sheila, I always think of you when I see warblers, knowing how you love to paint the beautiful little birds. The waterfalls in Ohio were a huge surprise! Spring was a wonderful time to be there (low humidity and cool temps make me happy).
Beautiful falls!! I love the pools they create.
Your bird photographs are stunning! I love all of the warblers, but I think my favorite is the scarlet tanager. So pretty!
My husband was born in Chicago and we lived within a day’s drive when we lived in Nebraska and yet I have never been! I’m taking note of your previous post about Chicago for future reference. I will get there one of these days!
Les, we really enjoyed Chicago and I’m betting you would, too. Although we’ve been twice now, we would happily return for more exploring. The walking tour and river tour we did on our first trip was a great introduction to the city.
Thanks for your nice comment about our bird photos!
The Italian lunch sounded wonderful. I could picture the people speaking in Italian. When I worked near the embassies in Bethesda, Maryland, we loved visiting the ethnic restaurants that local people frequented. Our favorite was a Greek place that an ambassador that I took care of in ICU, had suggested to me, where the little old ladies would drink ouzo and speak in Greek. Thanks for taking me back. Our country is so diverse including the many different birds.
That’s a delightful story, Deb. We really enjoy authentic ethnic restaurants, too. Next best thing to traveling overseas! As you said, our country is so diverse (in so many ways!), much more so than we realized before we started traveling fulltime. The diversity makes for such a rich experience.
Such cute and colorful birds!
We stayed at Hocking Hills SP during our first month of fulltiming back in Oct 2008. Wasn’t blogging then but I wrote a little summary and just looked back at it. I wrote that we were on our way to Lake Alma SP but the bridge was out and we just happened to come across Hocking Hills along the detour. I also wrote that Old Man’s Cave trail was one of the prettiest hikes we had ever been on. Almost 11 years later I’m sure we’ve hiked prettier trails but it was a nice surprise to find such a scenic spot in a place we never expected. Also commented that we couldn’t believe Ohio had such steep and winding roads. It’s always fun to discover such places, isn’t it?
How cool that you guys stayed at Hocking Hills, Gayle! I had never heard of the park until I happened to see a billboard advertising it. I think it’s one of those little known local gems. We really enjoyed the hiking trails, but I think we were there at a good time in mid-May. Apparently, the park is really crowded in summer (no surprise).
The warblers really are cute! It’s fun to see them in such abundance.
These all sound like real gems, Laurel! We love Chicago; it used to be one of our weekend getaways when we lived in Grand Rapids. You will be three miles from my childhood home when you are at The Henry Ford. Will you be up near Sleeping Bear Dunes in northern Michigan? If you are, give us a shout!
Jim, although we don’t want to live in a big city, we always have a great time in our city adventures. And we think Chicago is one of the most beautiful and interesting cities we’ve visited. I’ll bet you know all the great spots there!
We’re actually in the Maritimes now (we were in Michigan at the end of May) but we’re planning a summer/fall in Michigan at some point. And Sleeping Bear Dunes is definitely on our list. We would love to connect with you if you’re there in a couple of years! :-)
If memory serves, you were in Chicago in mid-May! Which means… Who’s almost caught up?? LAUREL’s almost caught up!!!! Yayyyy!!!!!!
I still cannot believe such lovely scenery can be found in Ohio. Those waterfalls are really beautiful and seriously unexpected. And, as someone who doesn’t really notice the birds flying around my head on any given day, I can absolutely understand why you guys go looking for these ones. They are so colorful and unique and the challenge of actually capturing them sounds like a lot of fun! The red and black one is definitely my favorite!
Finally, Eataly is now high on my list! What a decadent way to spend an afternoon!
Laura, yes indeed, I am making progress, my friend! If nothing else, I am tenacious. Thanks for encouraging me to keep on.
I knew you wouldn’t believe what we discovered in Ohio. So if you ever find yourself traveling through, and need something interesting to do…
And absolutely you and Kevin will love Eataly. All of the cafes and other quick food options there looked great, but we really enjoyed our leisurely meal at Osteria di Eataly. It’s your kind of place. :-)
Wow you guys! You really covered some ground in Ohio/Indiana! Seems like a miracle that you found Hocking Hills SP. It’s proximity to West Virginia is intriguing to me. What a beautiful place. Thanks also for the stunning bird photos. Outstanding! Makes me want to return to Ohio. That’s not something I ever thought that I’d say.
Nancy, we’ve been happily surprised with our travels in Ohio. The warbler migration is truly something to see and well worth going out of your way for if you are interested in birds. It’s a joyous event, with people from all over the world gathering and enjoying the migration.
And you would like Hocking Hills SP, if you ever happen to be nearby. But don’t go in summer…we’ve heard it’s much too crowded (and I would imagine very hot and humid).
Well, ahem, *I* knew there were waterfalls in Ohio! 😛 It’s a great place TO BE FROM. I also knew it had a lot of birds, but I do wish I’d paid more attention to them back when. Your pics of all the sweet colorful little ones make me smile because I know just how you felt seeing them. The tanager is blindingly scarlet, so like the vermilion flycatcher, but I remain a softie for all things blue, so that little black-cheeked cutie has my heart.
Haha, of course you knew there were waterfalls in Ohio, Joodie! You are so funny, saying it’s a great place to be from. So many people seem to feel that way…but we certainly have loved our Ohio travels, the magnificent bird migration, and our friends who call Ohio home.
The more we travel, the more we are astonished at the beauty everywhere we go. (Doesn’t mean we want to live everywhere…but we like visiting!)
The Warblers abound! OMG I will be in heaven just watching these little cute colorful warblers! As always you guys take great pics of my favorite subjects, i mean models :)
We hiked that Three Dune Challenge as well! Thanks for taking me back.
Sometimes we do that, we come for the hike, not the campground, which unfortunately is occurring frequently now.
Oh, MonaLiza, I was wishing so much that you were with us for the warbler migration! You would have a wonderful time photographing the little beauties. Thanks for your kind words about our photos. We worked hard for them (as you know!).
Ah, so you hiked that Three Dune Challenge, too! The rangers were impressed that we completed the challenge—we just laughed and told them we’re from the west, and this was NOTHING compared to what we’re used to. Although hiking in soft sand is always a pain.
The waterfalls are lovely. And I actually lived in Ohio for a few years while going to school in Cincinnati and never knew about these falls. BUT, it is the beautiful warblers that steal the show. I didn’t realise that there was such a variety of colours. How wonderful to be able to get so up close to them to observe them. What a treat.
I do know the Indiana State Dunes ~ a favourite get away for the weekend from Chicago. Eately is great. We went there on our last visit, with my son and his wife and it was so much fun.
Thank you, Peta. How fun that you know Indiana Dunes State Park and that you’ve even been to Eataly in Chicago! We’ve really enjoyed our two visits to Chicago and would like to return for more exploring. Lucky you to get to visit so often!
I agree that the warblers steal the show. They’re so beautiful and have such big personalities. We spend hours and hours on the trails and never tire of observing and photographing them during spring migration.
Dear Raven and Chickadee….birds of a feather and all that…know my heart goes out to the little blue one and can only imagine the squeek/chirp vocals! The hikes had me tho especially the trees struggling to grow out of the rocks with the imagined sound of water seeping and dripping just beneath the surface and the stunning reflections! Thank you again for taking us along…keep adventuring! Tho we miss you …we know you’re living life and sucking the joy out of the marrow…between all the daily stuff of keeping up a home on wheels, and these changing and oft demanding bodies of ours and those we love! Big hugs and a promise to stop the chaos around me when you call again… sorry it was an 8 on the Richter scale there in Portland when you called… thank goddess “not my circus….not my monkeys”! Gotta go watch the sprinkler…ha!
Awww, we always miss you two, Diana! I’m glad you’re continuing to follow along with our adventures (and misadventures). Life is rich and full, and all the better with good friends like you and John. Hope the summer continues to be beautiful at home!
I always love your amazing birds!! They’re so cute.
Hocking Hills looks so magical and serene – what a special place. Makes Ohio look so much better :-) We want to get back and spend more time in Chicago and agree it is such a beautiful city.
I’m glad you enjoyed the birds, Jodee. And yes, Hocking Hills was truly magical and serene. We’ve found a lot we like about Ohio!
We hope to return to Chicago for more exploring, too. Although we’ve been twice now, there’s still so much more to experience.
Wow, your bird photos are really marvelous! I appreciate that even in an area that is completely alive with little winged things flitting about, it can be really challenging to get really outstanding photos, and you guys nailed it. I also appreciate the reminder about interesting destinations in the Midwest — an area that we have thus far overlooked in our travels but will probably be moving up on our travel list for the coming years.
Thank you, Shannon—I appreciate that you understand how challenging it is to get good photos of birds! Should you ever find yourself in Ohio during the warbler migration, you would love it.
Honestly, the Midwest wasn’t at the top of our “must-do” list, but we’ve been very happily surprised by how many interesting things we’ve discovered in our travels there.
Our stop in Ohio that earned us a sticker on our map was on the Interstate highway truck & rest stop. They had RV spots with electric for 20 bucks. That’s it. Goodbye, Ohio. Kinda sad, really, because as you’ve shown, there is much more to see. Maybe one of these days we will go back. :)
Linda, I remember you blowing through Ohio and getting your sticker by staying at the rest stop! Truly, there is so much more to see, so when you find yourself back in the US, and if you find yourself in the Midwest, give Ohio a chance, LOL.
I love the looks of Hocking Hills SP! What a beautiful spot! We’ll probably never see it though. Definitely on the wrong side of the country. So glad you shared. Of course, you know I am not a birder but I love when you share the beautifully brightly colored birds you found at Maumee Bay SP. So pretty!
Pam, you guys would love the hiking at Hocking Hills! There were some challenging trails, and the waterfalls were spectacular. I couldn’t believe the colors of the pools. But I know that’s not enough to draw you back to the east coast, haha!
I’m glad you enjoyed the bright birdies even though I know you aren’t a birder. :-)
Oh my goodness!!! What a wonderful experience seeing all the Warblers up close and personal!! Mike and I love birding and I have now put this on our “must do” list!! Thanks for all the great info on state parks, hiking and seeing Chicago!! We’ve driven through but never explored! Gotta do that!!!
Gerri, it’s really something special to be so close to the warblers. Definitely put this on your birding to-do list! Mid-May is the time to be there for the warblers since that’s when they’re migrating. And Maumee Bay State Park is beautiful. While you’re at it, you might as well go a bit further to Indiana Dunes SP and make that trip to Chicago, LOL!
A bouquet of Warblers! They make Ohio much more interesting for me now…..It has always been a state to be driven through or gone to for business appointments. Chicago the same way!
I loved this post especially because of the lovely little Warblers and the food, always the food.
Kudos on being almost caught up….I always enjoy reading your posts, whenever and wherever, but I’m happy you’re close to “real time” because I’m looking forward to the Henry Ford Museum post – wink wink.
Oh, I like that—a bouquet of warblers! This is an experience that you and Dave would really appreciate, Sue. I hope you can fit it into your travels sometime. But as you know, it has to be spring for the warbler migration. Perhaps one of these years on your way to the lake house for the summer??
I’m working on that Henry Ford Museum post right now, especially for you! :-)