Athens County Ohio in the Fall
By Joel Prince
It was a chilly October morning. A gentle fog hovered over the Hocking River as the first light of dawn was emerging in the eastern sky. I loaded my bike, gear, snacks, water and grabbed the ever-critical travel mug filled with my favorite blend of coffee. Temperatures were typical for this time of year; morning lows around 40º (F) and highs in the mid 60’s with mostly clear skies forecasted.
I knew the trails were dry and likely to provide premium riding. All my pre-adventure checklist items were…well…checked. I was ahead of the world this morning and excited to be the first one on the trails. I live in Athens, Ohio, the county seat of Athens County. This area is abundant with public lands, trails and waterways. Having places to explore outside my back door is a major reason I call this place home.Within an hour of Athens are three Ohio State Parks, the Wayne National Forest, five state forests, and several nature preserves. Wherever you are in the county, there is a trailhead within a ten-minute drive. If you love the outdoors, you’ll love what you can do here — biking, hiking, kayaking, hunting, fishing, trail running, ATV, motorcycling and more.
My adventure on this particular morning was riding mountain bike (MTB) trails at the Baileys Trail System in the Wayne National Forest. “Baileys” — as many call it for short — currently has 31 miles of flowing singletrack to explore. Plans are in place to continue building up to an 88-mile trail system. When complete, it will be the largest, continuous trail network east of the Mississippi River.
Designed with MTB in mind, Baileys opened up during the first year of the pandemic, a time when many of us were looking for new outdoor activities. It has quickly gained popularity as a destination for experienced MTB enthusiasts in the eastern United States, but it’s also suitable for beginners, like myself.
This trail system is the first place I ever rode on an unpaved trail. It’s not uncommon to see parents with young kids riding some of the easier trails. In fact, those kids are usually better than me. Regardless, Baileys has something for riders of all skill levels.Upon arriving at the trailhead, I saw two other vehicles with bike racks already there. Apparently, I’m not the only one with this great “dawn patrol” idea. Well, maybe they’ll clear the cobwebs for me, I thought, trying to reckon with not being the first out. The sun was just beginning to rise and light was hitting the trees on the highest hills, revealing the brilliant fall colors that were already beginning to show. I saddled up, and into the woods I went.
Regardless of how aggressive you bike, the experience of riding through the forest demands concentration. I often find myself in a state of flow, thinking of nothing beyond the trail in front of me. That’s what I’m looking for in all of my recreational activities, a focused distraction from the day-to-day. Typically, it’s the first ascent that gets me focused as I huff and puff my way up, then during the exhilaration of a smooth downhill, I begin to feel that flow.
Orange and brown leaves stir up as I ride across them, creating a distinctive whoosh sound that you only hear in the fall. My focus is ahead and I begin to anticipate my next movements feeling “one with my bike” and the trail. For a short part of my day, it’s just me and the beautiful fall colors of southeast Ohio.More time in Athens, means more time to ride. Here’s just a few reasons you should plan to stay overnight:
- There are a lot of places to ride. In addition to the Baileys Trail System there are two state parks with well-established trails for MTB, a bikeway, a rail trail, and a brewery tour by bike. Each trail network has its own style and all of them are worth checking out when you visit Athens County, though it may take a few days. For more information on bicycle adventures in the area, visit: bikeathensohio.com.
- There are many ways to explore. As I mentioned earlier, there are lots of outdoor activities you can
experience. For most activities you can find guides and gear rentals to equip you with what you need. Yes, even ATV rentals are available at Adventure Pro Outdoors.
- Athens County has great places to eat, drink and be merry, with the highest concentration of food,
drink, and shopping options located in Uptown Athens, Ohio, where the City of Athens and Ohio University campus meet.
Find more information for planning your trip to my hometown on athensohio.com.
Athens County Ohio in the Fall