photo by Adrian Pelletier 2015

Image: Adrian Pelletier 2015

As the weather gets warmer, I always feel the urge to get outside and enjoy the world around me. As a geologist, and an outdoor enthusiast, I am always in awe at the sheer number of hidden places that are just waiting to be explored.  They are places  where geology comes alive,  and a person can let their imagination run wild.

Believe it or not, southeastern Ohio and West Virginia have some of the best places to go out and explore the natural world and learn more about it. These places encourage you to leave the textbooks behind and to simply explore the world with all your senses. Here are a few of my favorite places.

Lake Hope State Park

This little gem is part of the Zaleski State Forest area and is about a 30-40 minute drive west of Athens, Ohio, on State Route 56. It’s a 2,983 acres natural area that lies in the valley of Big Sandy Run, and the area is filled with rugged, forested areas that are great for hiking, biking and just having a little bit of fun with your friends.

However, some of my favorite aspects of Lake Hope State Park are the beautiful steep gorges and narrow ridges that dot the landscape. Historical mining and iron production also took place within the confines of the park, giving photographers, nature lovers and historians some fantastic places to explore the world around them. One of my favorite trails is the Hope Furnace Trail, which connects to Grouse Point through a small, steep connecting trail. Trust me — it’s a fantastic view.

Rocky Fork Gorge

If you were to travel just about an hour further west to the small town of Bainbridge, Ohio, you’d find a spectacular place to see what geology and the natural world is all about. Rocky Fork Gorge is centered around a breathtaking sheer-walled dolomite canyon that gives the park its name. In addition to the canyon, this place is filled with many examples of geological wonders, from sinkholes and caves — 23 in all. Add to that towering hemlocks and rare bird habitats, and if you choose to visit the area in the spring, you’ll be welcomed with a beautiful array of wildflowers.

Cantwell Cliffs

Located just under two hours west of Marietta, Ohio, Cantwell Cliffs is a little harder to get to, but it is so worth the effort. As Buck Run has traveled through the park over the years, it has transformed the landscape into something out of a fantasy world. It also has some of the best examples of cross-bedding — areas where the water currents from long ago are preserved in the rock — in the Ohio area. Filled with high cliffs, breathtaking rock shelters, and a narrow area affectionately called Fat Woman’s Squeeze. But if you make it through to the bottom of the Buck Run Valley, the view will certainly take your breath away.

So why find a warm day next week, pack the kids in the car, and go do some exploring?