ne exit ramp and a stoplight removed from the cars that zip hurriedly down Interstate 71, the relaxed pace of Wilmington, Ohio, rushes — or should I say saunters — to greet us. It’s the kind of place where every road feels like a back road to nowhere.
We drive, windows an open invitation to the crisp air, riding the rolling hills like waves.
The fields are an endless sea of corn. Rows and rows of corn, punctuated every so often by cows grazing in the sun. After a few winding miles, trees begin to thicken. Gone are the sowed plots, the corner auto body shops. Woods replace fields. Now, we’re getting somewhere.
Specifically: Caesar Creek State Park.
The 3,741-acre park — about 10 minutes from the small Southwest city — is our playground for the day.
We have plans to meet my husband’s parents, who live nearby, for an afternoon on the park’s 2,800-acre lake, so we arrive early for some hiking. We make our way to the nearest trailhead, following signs for the Wellman Trails. Three trails begin here. We opted for the Peninsula Trail, a 1-mile loop that leads — you guessed it — to a peninsula in the lake. A hawk swoops behind us as we enter the break in the trees and set out on our chosen path.
As I walk beneath the dense canopy and hear little more than the cracking of twigs and flutter of wildlife, I can’t help but reprimand myself for taking our state parks for granted. We really ought to use them more, I opine to my husband. He agrees, mere seconds before a bug wedges itself directly into the crease of his eye.
We ask for nature, we get it.
Once we reach the peninsula’s peak, we plop down to enjoy the view. We watch kayakers turn the bend and see fishermen cast, then reel, then cast again.
After a few minutes of rest, we continue on. When we finish, we embark again — this time on the slightly shorter Cove Trail, where gradual elevation changes offer easily earned views of the lake. (Pro tip: Bring plenty of water. Drinking fountains are hard to come by.)
Now, it is time to relax. We meet my in-laws (and their speedboat) at one of the lake’s five launch ramps and head out on the sparkling water.
When it comes to boating, I have to admit, I’m spoiled. I grew up vacationing with my family in Wisconsin, near the Upper Peninsula.
It’s hard to match the beauty and serenity of northern lakes, but on a perfect day, as this one is, Caesar Creek Lake does a heck of a job trying. One deep breath and I’m transported.
After a day on the water and in the woods, we treat ourselves to a hand-dipped ice cream cone at the new marina. One scoop would have sufficed, but, hey, I earned two. We dangle our feet off the dock as we watch the sun set, winking at us as it retreats.
The Souvenir: On the way to Caesar Creek, stop at Windy Acres Country Store. A neighborhood mainstay for 25 years, this corner shop has an eclectic selection of Ohio-made foods and wares such as Amish-crafted cheeses, local honey and homemade soaps. Pick up a jar of Windy Acres apple butter. At $3.50, the price is as sweet as the spread. 6805 W. state Route 73, Wilmington, 937-382-8057, windyacresonline.com
Embrace Fall: Experience an autumn masterpiece with a 12.7-mile hike around the lake at Caesar Creek. The aptly named Perimeter Trail indeed encircles the lake and offers some of the park’s most scenic views. For a guided tour, visit Oct. 16, when a group will depart from the nature center at 10 a.m.
When You Go: 870 E. state Route 73, Waynesville, 513-897-3055, parks.ohiodnr.gov/caesarcreek