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.
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.
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, walked for miles along the waterfront and through Millenium Park, and 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?