About this Itinerary
The Hockhocking Adena Bikeway traces a beautiful, twisting 21-mile course along the Hocking River in southeastern Ohio, from Athens to Nelsonville. The rail-trail draws its name from the ancient Adena Indians who lived in this area and called the Hocking, a tributary of the Ohio River, “Hockhocking” or “Bottle River” for the tapered bottleneck shape of the valley. This bikeway is on a canal towpath-turned-railroad corridor and today is a heavily used trail linking Ohio University with Hocking College and communities in between.
You can begin your excursion from Athens or Nelsonville; both provide a good home base from which to enjoy the surrounding Appalachian mountain charms. Nelsonville, nestled in the Wayne National Forest, offers a quaint—perhaps quieter—experience, while Athens’ larger university town vibe might suit those seeking a more lively night life and diverse culinary options. If you are flying into Ohio, Port Columbus International Airport (CMH) is 69 miles northwest of Nelsonville. Domestic and regional flights may take you to the Mid-Ohio Valley Airport (PKB) or Rickenbacker International Airport (LCK). Ohio ATV World offers bike rental services out of both Athens and Nelsonville. For locals, Book-a-Bike is a free bike-borrowing program available at the Nelsonville, Athens and Plains library branches—if you have a current library card.
A full day of biking, 42 miles round-trip, will allow you to cycle the entire length of the trail and back. You may choose to travel a shorter segment or make a two-day trip to allow for more leisurely exploration of the area’s towns and parks. We offer a one-day itinerary beginning and ending at the northwestern trail endpoint in Nelsonville. However you decide to construct your day, bring plenty of water and snacks with you because there aren’t many opportunities to refill and refresh between Nelsonville and Athens. Note: the mile markers you see on the trail indicate mileage beginning in Athens, not Nelsonville.
You can access the trailhead in Nelsonville from downtown or at Robbin’s Crossing at Hocking College. If traveling from out of town, stay the night at Mead House, a block from Nelsonville’s historic square and less than 0.5 mile away from the downtown trailhead. Get up and at ‘em early and head south on the trail toward Hocking College campus. Even though you haven’t made it out of town yet, take some time to see what Ohio village life was like in the 1850s. Robbin’s Crossing Historical Village has several restored nineteenth century buildings that are open to visitors (weekends Memorial Day through end of October) as well as serve as a living lab for Hocking College students.
Back on the trail, you are on your way into more secluded reaches of the Appalachian foothills and Wayne National Forest. The trail is flat although the surrounding terrain, part of the Unglaciated Allegheny Plateau, is rugged and hilly. This dissected plateau, made of sandstone, shale and coal seams, is divided by stream valleys, and as you travel alongside the Hocking River, this classic Appalachian landscape beautifully unfolds before you. In the national forest you may encounter open fields, wetlands or dense woodlands, each of which provides a variety of wildlife habitats. Common mammals that make their home in the area are white-tailed deer, gray foxes, woodchucks, opossums and squirrels. The flora is rich and diverse, and each season offers its unique beauty. Take your time, look for wildflowers, interesting rock formations and simply learn to meander like the river.
As you emerge from the national forest boundary, vistas begin to open up and include more farmland. The trail travels along the Bluebell Preserve, a 65-acre protected corridor acquired by Athens Conservancy. There is a rest area at Beaumont/Salinaswhere an early 1900s coal and salt-mining town once stood—you might still be able to see remnants of the mines. Salt production was the first large-scale industry in Athens County, and coal mining and timber harvesting followed close behind. As these industries grew, so did the need to transport the products, thus, the Columbus and Hocking Valley Railroad completed construction of a rail line between Columbus and Athens in 1870. Before this time, the rail was a towpath alongside the Hocking Canal (1829-1842), moving agricultural and other products to Carroll, Ohio, where it joined the Ohio-Erie Canal. Repeated flooding, however, eventually closed the canal, and the railroad became the preferred method for transporting goods.
By the time you reach The Plains you are only a few miles from the outskirts of Athens. Originally known as Wolf’s Plains, this area was home to the Adena Indians, a hunter-gatherer society between 1000 B.C. and A.D. 200, preceding the Hopewells and other Native American cultures. When white settlers arrived in the 1800s, they found at least 30 mounds here. Two mounds are visible to the public and both are near each other in town: Connett Mound (Adena Drive) and Hartman Mound (Mound Street). You can walk up to them but do not climb on them. For directions and information, contact the Athens County Historical Society. Otherwise, remain on the bike trail to curve around the north eastern edge of The Plains, avoiding town and traffic altogether.
At MM 7, a short spur trail connects to Eclipse Company Town, a former coal-mining town built by the Hocking Valley Coal Company between 1900 and 1902. Many of the miner's homes have been renovated, and the old company store (now Kiser’s Barbeque Eclipse) has been restored as an events and catering center. Rickshaw Thai is located across from the company store and offers tasty handmade curry dishes with local farm-to-table ingredients, though hours are limited—Friday and Saturday evenings for dinner (reservations are required) and breakfast and lunch (Tuesday-Friday).
Two miles farther you cross to the east bank of the Hocking River, and the pace of life starts to pick-up as you head for Athens downtown, the Ohio University campus or the southeastern trailhead. Many different stores connect to the bikeway, making it a popular venue for college students and shopping. The trail passes by public restroom facilities and water fountains at West State St. Ball Fields and a Habitat for Humanity building. Continuing on, you pass by numerous athletic fields, stadiums and the Ohio University Golf Course. If you are interested in local and regional arts and crafts, venture off trail 1 mile to the Dairy Barn Arts Center (before coming to the golf course, travel south on Richland Ave. to Dairy Lane). Their exhibits include mixed media pieces by Athens Voices artists and quilts by Quilt National artists.
At the golf course, the trail and river dip to their most southerly point before cutting north toward to the popular Athens Community Center, which has restrooms, a swimming pool, a volleyball court, tennis courts and a skate park. The trail continues for another 2.5 miles to end on E. State St. You may be ready to get off the bike and eat some lunch before this, however. Avalanche Pizza (head north on Home St., left on East State St.) serves up signature pies with names that are as unique—though not as enticing (“I was a teenage vegan werewolf”)—as their mix of ingredients. Near the university (head north on Richland Ave.) are plenty of places to grab coffee and treats, including the popular Donkey Café and Whit’s Frozen Custard.
Athens is a historic college town named for the ancient center of learning: Athens, Greece. Ohio University, charted in 1804, was the first university in the Northwest Territory. The College Green is the centerpiece of the campus and worth a visit. Brick walkways, surrounded by more than 115 species of trees, connect historic buildings to monuments and gateways. Just north of campus, the Athens County Historical Society and Museum (Tuesday-Saturday, 12-4 p.m.) offers exhibits and events that illuminate the vast heritage of this region. They also provide a map of a historical walking tour of the city. There are almost always local, regional or national bands performing somewhere in town, and a student or community-organized fest is usually underway. From the Ohio Brew Week to Boogie on the Bricks, the Blackout Fest and the Athens Community Musical Festival, there is something for everyone. You may well be tempted to stay here for a while and take-in the vibrant outpourings of this energetic town.
Returning to Nelsonville with another 20 miles under your belt, you may be glad to be bike-free at last. The large amount of coal once extracted from Nelsonville earned the town the nickname of “Little City of Black Diamonds.” Stroll through the Historic Public Square, once the center of activities for the surrounding coal mining communities, now an arts destination housing galleries, shops and restaurants. Many of the buildings reflect Victorian-era architecture, and the sidewalks are lined with the beautiful Star Bricks that were once produced here. Stuart’s Opera House and the Dew House are both listed on the National Register of Historic Places; the opera house, built in 1879, still operates today. Make sure to enquire whether there is a show or event going on while you are in town. If you time your trip just right, you could catch the sounds of world famous musicians playing at the annual Nelsonville Music Festival.
You could spend days in the Hocking Hills region since there is so much to explore. Railroad buffs will want to take a locomotive ride through the river valley on the Hocking Valley Scenic Railroad (Saturdays, Sundays and some holidays). Their passenger cars, some hailing from as early as 1918, run on the same tracks used in the 1800s and 1900s to transport coal to central Ohio and Lake Erie. For more play-time outdoors, visit Hocking Hills State Park, 22 miles west of Nelsonville—a must-see for anyone who loves waterfalls, hemlock-shaded gorges and towering cliffs. The park offers cottage accommodations and camping, as well as miles of hiking and biking trails. Strouds Run State Park, just north of Athens, also has campgrounds, trails and a lake for boating and swimming.