Length: About 170 miles.
When to go: Pleasant year-round.
Nearby attractions: Serpent Mound State Memorial, featuring an Indian mound built in the form of a huge snake, about 50 miles southwest of Chillicothe. The Wilds, a 9,100-acre conservation center with rare and endangered animals, about 20 miles north of McConnelsville on Rte. 284.
Further information: Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism, 77 South High St., P.O. Box 1001, Columbus, OH 43216; tel. 800-282-5393, www.ohiotourism.com.
Covered Bridge Scenic Byway
A surplus of rural charms enhance the rolling terrain of the easternmost sector of Wayne National Forest, where the Covered Bridge Scenic Byway—Rte. 26—winds northward from Marietta. Tracking the Little Muskingum River, the drive passes family farms, small towns, and four of the old-time spans, one of which you can drive across. Here and there the road climbs ridges that provide sweeping views until, 44 miles later, the drive reaches its end in lovely Woodsfield.
Ohio sheds its urbane modern mask and reveals some of its old-time pioneer spirit along this drive, which threads through a region as varied and colorful as an antique mosaic. History is part of the landscape here, where covered bridges and mellow old buildings nestle in valleys that once echoed with the blasts of steamboat whistles. But the area’s past goes deeper still, back to a time when long-vanished Native American civilizations were a flourishing presence in these rugged hills.
Named with a Shawnee tribal word that means “town,” Chillicothe first became the capital of the Northwest Territory, then the state of Ohio in 1803. It has since grown into a manufacturing center, with many reminders of its past still standing, including a number of stately 19th-century Greek Revival mansions. You’ll also find the home of Thomas Worthington, one of Ohio’s founding fathers. The lush grounds surrounding his 18-room mansion, known today as Adena State Memorial, overlook the Scioto River valley.
Only three miles separate Adena from Mound City at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park. In terms of time, though, the distance is actually some 2,000 years. The grassy mounds, surrounded by an earthen wall, were built by Hopewell Indians for burials and other ceremonies. Excavations have unearthed a treasure trove of artifacts, yet no one knows for certain where the Hopewells came from or to whence they disappeared.
2. Hocking Hills State Park
From Chillicothe the drive heads east on Rte. 50, then follows Rte. 327 north to the access road for Tar Hollow State Park, named for the tar that pioneers collected from the shortleaf and pitch pines that grow on the ridges. Motorists can pause to sample the area’s mix of lakes and forests or continue north to Laurelville and Rte. 180 in quest of other treasures of the region.
A turn southeast on Rte. 374 leads to Hocking Hills State Park, 2,000 acres filled with waterfalls, deep gorges, and unusual caves and sandstone formations that give this part of Ohio a grandeur as dramatic as it is unexpected. Eastern hemlocks, mountain laurels, ferns, and rare wildflowers thrive in the moist, wooded hollows—the haunts of both red and gray foxes and more than 100 species of birds.
The park is divided into six separate areas, each named for a distinguishing landmark—Rock House, for example, or Conkle’s Hollow. At Old Man’s Cave the visitor center overlooks a creek, whose racing water has carved a gorge two miles long, with several waterfalls. From the Lower Falls hikers can traverse the Buckeye Trail through a series of rugged, hemlock-shaded valleys. At trail’s end the view takes in the 50-foot-high veil of Cedar Falls.
3. Lake Hope State Park
The drive slices into the wooded valley of Big Sandy Run on Rte. 56, then dips southward on Rte. 278 to reach Lake Hope. Cradled amid low, rounded hills, the lake is a favorite with swimmers and boaters. Birders also flock to the surrounding parkland, where cardinals (Ohio’s state bird) flash through foliage, wild turkeys gobble in the underbrush, and the hollow tappings of pileated woodpeckers, largest of their genus, reverberate through the forest.
The drive turns around and climbs northward along Rte. 278, entering Wayne National Forest. Rolling up and down hills and valleys, it leads to Nelsonville, a place where the 1800s are very much alive and well. Its fine Victorian homes, historic public square, Stuart’s Opera House, and the Dew Hotel still look much as they did in the 19th century. On summer weekends the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway, located just off Rte. 33, chugs into the surrounding hills. Robbins’ Crossing, one of the train’s stops, operates as a museum, re-creating life in a rural Ohio community of the 1850s.
5. Muskingum River Parkway
Living history of another kind, but from the same era, can be found at McConnelsville, a former steamboat town. Boats on the Muskingum River still sound their horns as they approach the McConnelsville lock. Built more than 150 years ago and operated by hand, it is one of 10 similar locks that were built from 1837 to 1841 in order to tame the unpredictable river and accommodate the crush of steamboat traffic traveling between the towns of Dresden and Marietta.
The river and its historic lock system can be toured via the Muskingum River Parkway (Rtes. 376, 266, and 60). Six of the early marvels of engineering, counting the one in McConnelsville, are situated at intervals along the way. From bankside picnic areas you will likely watch the passing procession of cruisers, houseboats, motorboats, and other craft as they glide across waters that once were churned by smoke-belching paddle wheelers.
On the approach to Marietta, you will be following in the footsteps of John Chapman, who adopted the name Johnny Appleseed to honor his life’s ambition. The legendary figure—according to most accounts, a true eccentric in ways more than horticultural—was a tireless planter of apple trees in the early 19th century.
The Muskingum River empties into the Ohio River at Marietta. Founded in 1788 by veterans of the Revolutionary War, this appealing riverfront city was the first American settlement in the Northwest Territory, and in the steamboat era it became a major port and shipbuilding center. A vintage steamboat is on display at the Ohio River Museum, and a stern-wheeler at the waterfront offers regular excursions up and down the Ohio and Muskingum rivers.
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