Cambridge, OH

Family Fun in Guernsey County, Ohio

Exploring history and the outdoors on a getaway

We arrived in Salt Fork State Park eager for our vacation. The kids’ backpacks and Joe’s briefcase had been shoved under the backseat of the car as we hit the highway, trying to beat the Friday rush hour out of the city. Before long, though, we entered the state park and were winding through tree-lined forest avenues of towering oaks. The vibrant greens and cool blues of the scenery were working some kind of magic, soothing the tension from our shoulders, making us eager to get out of the car when we finally spotted the Salt Fork Lodge and Conference Center.

It was almost a surprise to see such a grand lodge in a state park—it had the appearance of a five-star resort and boasted all of the typical amenities: golf, indoor and outdoor pools, and fine dining. We had come for a rustic experience, but I have to admit I was pleased that we weren’t exactly roughing it in the two-bedroom cabin we reserved for the long weekend. Located right on the lake, it offered a kitchen, living room, and separate bedrooms for the kids and us. We even had our own hot tub in an enclosed patio.

Footsteps, big and small

After unpacking our things, we were eager to head back to the lodge and sample the fare at Timber’s Restaurant. We walked along a scenic path from the cabins to the lodge with our son, Pete, on the lookout for wildlife. He had heard that the white-tailed deer sometimes walk right up to the cabins, and he was sure he saw tiny paw prints near the lake.

Inside the lodge, Sadie, our budding cryptozoologist, was instantly captivated by the large, wooden figure of Bigfoot looming near Timber’s. She instantly began a survey of friendly staff members to discover if any of them had ever encountered Bigfoot on their way to the lodge. They were happy to share the local Bigfoot lore, including sightings at Morgan’s Knob, Buckeye Trail, and, of course, Bigfoot Ridge. Noticing Sadie’s enthusiasm, one staff member told her about the Bigfoot Adventure Weekend, where Bigfoot aficionados and novices alike camp in the park in hopes of a Sasquatch sighting. Not only was Sadie excited to check out the park, but she was already daydreaming about a return trip when she could join a campout.

He had heard that the white-tailed deer sometimes walk right up to the cabins, and he was sure he saw tiny paw prints near the lake.

“We’ll need a tent, and probably some night-vision goggles,” she mused while we ordered our meals.

After a delicious dinner with stunning views of Salt Fork Lake, everyone was happy and eager to explore. Because I’m a history buff, we took a leisurely drive through the park toward the historic Kennedy Stone House. We then hiked along a trail to get to the house, enjoying the evening as it cooled underneath the oak trees. Sadie kept her eyes on the tree line, hoping to catch a glimpse of Bigfoot, who she had learned was sometimes called the “Ohio Grassman.” Although the Kennedy Stone House museum isn’t open in the evening, we enjoyed walking around the grounds and seeing the curved-top root cellar. As I watched the waning sun glinting off the lake, I imagined generations of Kennedys living on the property since it was built in the 19th century. Sadie, on the other hand, still had Bigfoot on the brain and wondered, “Do you think there were any sightings in 1837?”

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The captain and his crew

The next day, we headed out to Seneca Lake, where we rented a pontoon boat at the marina. The kids looked like seasoned sailors in their bright orange life vests, and Joe had fun tooling around the lake, making the kids say, “Aye-aye, Cap’n,” when he gave them an “order.” The lake was easy to navigate and placid, except when someone with more horsepower drove by us. Then, the kids would shriek excitedly as the pontoon boat bounced on the small waves made by the other boat’s wake. Seneca Lake was big enough that even on a busy Saturday, with anglers, jet-skiers, and lakeside campers, we found our own piece of blue. The kids used the stern of the boat like a diving board, hopping into the water to see who could make the biggest splash, then climbing back up to do it all over again.

Human cannon balls work up quite an appetite, so the outdoor patio of The Dockside Restaurant was a welcome sight for our sea-faring crew. We ate fish tacos and house-smoked barbeque pulled pork pizza while we watched life on the lake from the shore, taking it all in before driving back to the cabin.

Guernsey County, Africa, and American Niagara

In the morning, we packed up the car and said goodbye to the cozy cabin, traveling about 45 minutes to The Wilds for an open-air safari. It was like we had traveled 8,000 miles to the wilds of Africa instead of 30 to Cumberland, Ohio; white rhinos and Bactrian camels traveled the same roads we did in our safari bus. Przewalski’s wild horses and an animal that looked like a skinny-horned moose in an angora sweater, called a Sichuan takin, could be seen from our seats. Cheetahs lazed in the shade, as calm as housecats. It was an amazing experience to be able to see animals as majestic as giraffes with enough room to roam so close to home.

Our final stop was Georgetown Vineyards in Cambridge. The wrap-around porch offered breathtaking views of the whole valley and the vineyard itself, stretching out below us in tidy, green rows. The atmosphere was lovely and family-friendly, inviting us to sit on the patio, surrounded by zinnia flowers while eating wood-fired pizza. As Joe and I sipped from our glasses of Ohio Apple wine, we promised ourselves we would be back for one of the live music performances at the vineyard on Friday and Saturday evenings. For now, we stopped by the wine shop and bought a couple bottles to take home with us—American Niagara and more Ohio Apple—to remind us of our amazing weekend.

As we drove out of town, the Great American Steam Locomotive Museum at the Cambridge Wooden Toy Company caught my eye, and I almost woke up Pete so we could go see it.

“Next time,” Joe said, knowing how much Pete loves trains.

“Next time,” I agreed, relaxing back in my seat, enjoying the ride home even more with plans of our next excursion to Guernsey County taking shape.

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