4 Outdoor Escapes in Athens’ Backyard

Radar Hill Summit

The summer months are full of chirping birds and insects that buzz from ear to ear. The trees are in mid season and full of lush green growth signifying a successful resurgence to their full potential. Athens remains a twinkling star in the eyes of outdoor adventurers and with dozens of walking trails zig-zagging their way through the rolling hills of Appalachia, there’s more to see than will ever be seen. It’s the mystifying feeling of wondering what you’ll discover at the peak of the next hill or hiding quietly in the surrounding valleys..

Luckily for those of us that live here and those that manage to get themselves lost, Athens provides the casual hiker or extreme mountaineer a unique level of terrains that fit a variety of skill. There are several well known and easily traversed trails in the hills directly surrounding Athens, most of which provide spectacular views of the town itself that are unmatched anywhere else.

Dow Lake at Strouds RunStrouds Run State Park – 
Strouds Run remains the shining jewel to Athens’ collection of outstanding trails that encircle the city. With a combination of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails, Strouds has the terrain and trail network to accompany a variety of difficulties providing guests with endless choices when it comes to direction and scenery. Visitors can stay lakeside and walk along the entire shoreline of Dow Lake without any major inclines or dips. For those looking for a more rigorous trip, there is the Sundown Trail and Cliff Trail that follow the sloping ridges of the hills and provide breathtaking views of the steep slopes and ragged cliffs of the region. Autumn provides the most picturesque scenery, while the winter months, with the trees naked and bare, allow trailblazers to see vast expanses of the Appalachian valley’s that the regions famous for. The trip to Strouds is only a few miles by car and doesn’t take any time at all. Guests wishing to visit Strouds Run State Park should take Columbia Road where Columbus Road and N. Lancaster St. meet. From there, follow the road over SR 33 and turn right onto Strouds Run Road.

Sells ParkSells Park – The park may seem small at first, but only to the un-wandering eye. Sells Park acts briefly as a community park that’s great for picnics and allows for easy access into the hills just off of East State Street. It’s more than just picnic grounds with a quaint pond in the background. Sells acts as a gateway into the woods and to the much larger Strouds Run. Even without venturing all the way into Strouds (a pleasant 2.1 miles by foot), Sells Park has its own expanse of interconnected pathways that lead adventurers up steep cliffs and down through (at times) treacherous ravines. The park is conveniently located at the end of Avon Place, right off of East State Street by the Community Center.

The Ridges Trails – Far from their namesake asylum, the Ridges Trails offer guests a glimpse at what the mental hospital was really meant for; a sanctuary for the confused and misunderstood to find peace and rest easy. The trail system spread throughout the grounds of the former mental institution has several distinct and varying vibes of scenery. The Athens Trail runs its length primarily through fields of wild flowers and long grass flowing across the hillside in the wind. The trail passes throRidges Trails Mapugh densely wooded areas and conjoins with other pathways which provide visitors with opportunities of hiking varying lengths and sections of the trails. Those searching for a historical connection, the trails even boast a cemetery walk that passes along three cemeteries known to be the final resting places of many former patients. If you choose to take the longest trail through the back hills of the property, Radar Hill should be on your list of stopping points to relax and catch your breath while taking in the magnificent panoramic of Athens County and the neighboring fields which reflect the area’s strong farming presence. To get there head down Richland Avenue towards the Ohio University Inn & Conference Center (a great place to relax after a long day of hitting the trails). Head through the round-a-bout and towards the Ridges or down 682 and on the left where there is a small but conveniently placed parking lot for day hikers.

Turtle Hill – This low key escape manages to avoid most of the high foot traffic that its more widely known neighbor, the aptly named “Bong Hill” – experiences during the onslaught of new students at Ohio University. The first portion of Turtle Hill demands a steep and challenging uphill climb that’s  but perfect weather. Once you’ve quit the huffing and puffing of  your initial ascent however, rock formations and knotted trees twist among one another to allow for an easily traversed ridge line with numerous hotspots for relaxing and enjoying the afternoon sun as it floats through the sky. During the late summer months and early fall, visitors to the walking trail may notice young pawpaw trees still fighting their way through the throngs of other low growing brush. To find your way to Turtle Hill, take Stimson Avenue over the bridge crossing the Hocking and turn right onto Rock Riffle Road. Turn left onto 25 and after pulling onto the gravel strip on the side of the road take the meandering trail at the corner of 25 and the exit off 32. Make sure to watch for cars, we didn’t say it’d be an easy climb, but if its easy, the hike isn’t worth your time.