Visitors looking to explore the outdoors while enjoying unique shopping, dining and entertainment should add Athens County in southeast Ohio to their fall bucket list. Nestled in the rolling Appalachian hills, the region boasts world-class hiking and mountain biking trails, eclectic cuisine made from locally sourced ingredients and a vibrant music and craft beer scene.
Just an hour or so from Columbus, Athens also is home to Ohio University, the oldest public institution of higher learning in the state, as well as Ohio’s only national forest. From cycling through Ohio’s only craft beer and bike trail to taking a zoom on the thrilling Windy 9 motorcycle trail or spending a night under the stars at a cabin or a campground, Athens County offers something for anyone seeking an active and rejuvenating getaway.
Brewed on the Bikeway: A Craft Beer and Bike Trail
Discover the best craft brews and picturesque views along the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway. Stretching 21 miles from Athens to Nelsonville, the bikeway winds by the Ohio University campus and along the peaceful Hocking River before disappearing into serene woodland.
Brewed on the Bikeway is the only trail of its kind in Ohio. Ride up to several award-winning craft breweries, watering holes and a cidery — including Jackie O’s Brewpub & Public House, Little Fish Brewing Company, Eclipse Company Store & Craft Beer Hall, and the West End Cider House. Get a taste of the local cuisine along the way, too — most breweries offer food or have regular food trucks.
Bring your bike or grab a rental and ride as far or as long as desired. Bike shops also offer kids’ bikes and carriers.
Ride Ohio’s Windy 9
Your passport to an authentic Ohio riding experience, the Windy 9 is a unique way to explore Athens and take in southeast Ohio’s brilliant fall foliage, featuring nearly 1,000 miles of the best driving, riding and cycling routes in the state.
From a leisure cruise along the Ohio River to the famous roller coaster curves of The Triple Nickle trail, the Windy 9 is an ideal way to spend a fall afternoon. The nine trail names all hint at the exhilarating ride that awaits, from the Rim of the World to the Hocking Hills Nipper and Black Diamond Run.
Drivers will shoot past shining creeks and rivers, roll up and down brightly colored Appalachian foothills, zip past orchards and ride into charming, historic downtowns before heading into the backcountry.
Take a Hike or Go Paddle
From hiking and kayaking to mountain biking, Athens has endless opportunities for outdoor adventures. Get lost in the beauty and adventure of 16 state and national parks.
Wayne National Forest boasts 240,100 acres of serene beauty and 450 miles of trails, offering something for everyone, from those looking for a pleasant weekend day hike to the intrepid, backwoods explorer. The Athens segment of the 20-mile North Country Trail, a favorite of backpackers, features a natural bridge, a large rock shelter, covered bridges and a historic rock house. The challenging 17-mile Vesuvius Backpack Trail takes adventurers through open fields, brushland and mature forests along a lakeshore. Specific trails are marked for mountain biking, horseback riding and ATVs.
Cut into the Appalachian foothills, with steep ravines on all sides, Dow Lake at Stroud’s Run State Park is a paddler’s paradise. Kayak, canoe or paddleboard on the lake, then enjoy a sunset picnic on the 900-foot sand beach, which is open year-round. Boat rentals are available. There is no shortage of vistas along the park’s 15 miles of hiking trails.
Gaze upon miles of rolling foothills from the famous Radar Hill, the highest point in Athens. Pick up the mile-long, well-maintained trail from The Ridges, site of the former Athens Lunatic Asylum, which looms atop a hill overlooking the Hocking River. It once housed patients during the Civil War.
Shred Popular Mountain Biking Trails
Embark on some of the most rugged mountain biking trails in Ohio. Sells Park is a hidden treasure and a favorite of locals tucked quietly in the hills of Athens. The park has more than 21 miles of trails for mountain biking and leisurely or strenuous hiking.
When completed, the Baileys Mountain Bike Trail System in Wayne National Forest will be an 88-mile, premier mountain-biking destination east of the Mississippi. Fourteen miles of the new trail are now open, including eight miles of beginner trails and six miles of intermediate trails.
Where to Stay
It’s impossible to explore Athens in just a day, so why not stay a while. Choose from a wide array of hotels located steps from funky, free-spirited Uptown Athens, with its abundance of independent stores and restaurants.
For a slower pace and easy access to outdoor activities, book a cabin in the woods. Lake Hill Cabins or 1st Choice Cabin Rentals offer dozens of cabins across Athens County, with one to fit every traveler’s needs.
Or step back in time during a stay at the Hyde House or Primrose House bed and breakfasts in historic downtown Nelsonville. These gorgeous Victorian homes, built in the late 1800s, have been fully restored to offer a memorable lodging experience.
Visitors seeking solitude and seclusion may prefer reserving a campsite at Burr Oak Campground, a small, densely wooded campground on the northwest tip of Burr Oak Reservoir in Wayne National Forest. Stroud’s Run State Park also offers a full-service campground that includes three Rent-A-Camp sites, which come with a dining fly, sleeping cots and pads, a cookstove and other gear.
There’s something about Athens that sticks with you. Walk the Athens Block® brick streets, take in an autumn sunrise or sunset over the Appalachian foothills, take the time to explore the area by foot, bicycle or motorcycle, and stroll among the classic white-columned buildings on Ohio University’s campus. You will discover what makes Athens County such a special place.
For trip planning assistance, call or visit your AAA Ohio store or log on to AAA.com/travel.