I first heard of Hocking Hills on a listing for a weekend Meetup.com hiking trip. I have to admit I had NO idea what or where Hocking Hills was. I went to google to do some researching, and what I found was pleasantly surprising. Who knew that such a unique place was so close by. The rocky landscape was drastically different from what one may expect to find in the midwest. The deep gorges, sandstone rock formations and numerous waterfalls are part of the Allegheny Plateau. This is a popular spot for tourists and hikers. So beware: in high season (summer and fall) you will be sharing these trails with numerous other people. Hocking hills is about a 4.5 hour drive from Detroit but is only an hour from Columbus, OH. My visit to Hocking Hills was a jam-packed weekend adventure.
Hocking Hills State Park has lots to offer any outdoor enthusiast. There are plenty of options for accommodations; including lots of hotels, cottages, cabins and campgrounds. There are some shorter hikes to the waterfalls and caves that are manageable for any age or fitness level. There are also places for rock climbing, biking and canoeing nearby.
The primitive family hike-in campground was base camp for the weekend. This is the perfect spot for no-frill adventurers. There is no water or electricity at these sites and you must carry all of your gear in. It is a quick walk to the first sites and a 0.6 mile walk to the farthest site in the back. A water source is found in the campground parking lot. Pit toilets are located along the trail to the campsites. All sites have a fire ring and a picnic table. You are a short drive (2-3 mins) from the ranger station where you check in and can also purchase firewood and other convenience items. It is also not far (5 mins) from Old Man’s Cave parking lot where lots of the hiking trails begin. I recommend reserving your campsite online. Sites here are $21/night. Sites #23 and #22 are roomy for more than one tent and very secluded.
I left Detroit on Friday afternoon after work, and arrived at the campground after dark, but had no problem finding or walking into the campsite site. The rangers who were patrolling the campground said it was no problem to check-in in the morning at the visitors center since I had arrived quite late in the evening. The trail into the campsites was wide and level for easy walking. The weather in mid-April was nice (40 degrees at night, about 65 degrees+ during the day). Spring is a great time to visit because there are less crowds, lots of water in the falls and spring flowers are popping up everywhere. Autumn would also be a stunning time to explore this park, a photographers dream.
There are several cool spots to see in Hocking Hills State Park. Some of the more popular include Old Man’s Cave, Cedar Falls, Ash Cave. These are all found in the same general area and are connected by a series of trails. You can drive directly to the trail head for each spot if you want some shorter hikes (0.5-1 mile approx) or connect all the trails for a full day out and back (approx 12 miles).
Check out these useful maps that list some of the must see locations and trails @
I started the full day’s hike early in the morning at the Old Man’s Cave trail head. From the parking lot, I crossed a large wooden A-frame bridge and took the gorge overlook trail to Upper falls to snag some photos without the crowds then began to back track into Old Man’s Cave on the the inner gorge trail (Grandma’ Gatewood Trail).
Take a few minutes to enjoy how the morning light makes its way into the inside of the deep gorge. Check out the cool patterns that have been carved by water and wear on the sandstone walls of the gorge.
There are lots of stairs and bridges along the trail and some neat tunnels to pass though in the Old Man’s Cave section. Be careful as the trail and rocks can be slippery when wet. Upper falls was one of my favorite spots and I was thankful to enjoy it without the crowds that arrived later in the day as this is an incredibly peaceful and serene little oasis.
If you follow the trail, you will pass Devils Bathtub before reaching Old Man’s Cave. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough water flowing into the Devil’s tub to make it look as dramatic as the photos I had seen online. At Devil’s bathtub, water funnels down the falls into a hollow basin carved out by years of pounding water. The local legend goes that the pool reaches all the way down to the devil’s home…. don’t fall in.
H@H TIP: There is a ton of history and legends here. It’s definitly worth reading the plaques along the trail for some interesting facts. If you explore inside of the gorge in this area you will also find lower falls and a couple of other nice waterfalls just off of the trail or on a side trail (ie. Broken Rock Falls)
Continue along the Grandma’ Gatewood trail inside the gorge and make your way to Lower Falls; the last stop before continuing on towards Cedar Falls. Lower falls are beautiful in the spring but I imagine in the Fall and Winter months they would be even more interesting and stunning.
There are two popular trails to Cedar Falls. An easy trail from the upper gorge rim trail takes you by Rose Lake and on to Cedar Falls (approx 3 miles). The 2nd trail (alternative option if doing the return hike) is a bit more strenuous and rough. This section is part of the Buckeye Trail (a blue-blazed trail). This trail leaves from lower falls near Old Man’s Cave and follows the inner gorge all the way to Cedar Falls. There are parking lots, toilets and picnic tables at Old Man’s Cave, Ash Cave and Cedar Falls. This is the route I picked.
The Buckeye trail will continue from Cedar Falls another 3 miles to Ash Cave. The trail passes a lookout tower (not worth the climb up in my opinion). The trail leads to a set of steep wooden stairs that takes you inside of Ash Cave. This location is also accessible from a flat paved trail from the parking lot (0.25 mile). Ash cave is the highlight of the hike in my opinion. It is quite huge, and has a giant waterfall spilling over the rim of the cave into a still pool below. It truly is a work of art by Mother Nature and a lovely spot to sit and enjoy the sights and sounds of the water pouring down into the cave while having a bite of lunch.
This is the hike turn around point. To get back to where you started, follow the Buck Eye trail back to Cedar Falls and take the opposite trail back to Old Man’s cave to the parking lot where you started.
Hocking hills also has a few other areas close by that are definitely worth checking out for some quick day hikes. Cantwell Cliffs, Rock house and Conkle’s Hollow are very popular.
Rock house is about a 20 min from from the campground but it worth the drive. Rock house is a truly unique cave. The trail along the gorge drops down into a tunnel cave in the side of the cliff wall. The trail is only about half a mile but is pretty neat to see.
Rock House Cave
Conkle’s hollow is a deep and rocky gorge. A trail runs along the bottom (paved, 1 mile). For a more rugged hike, take the rim trail (2.5 miles). The rim offers great views (sunrise hike anyone?) and steep drop offs. There is also a little picnic area by the parking lot that is a lovely place to grab lunch before you hit the road.
There is so much more do see and do in Hocking Hills and the surrounding areas. This is a great trip that can appeal to everyone, and the weather in spring is perfect for starting the camping season off right.
What was your favorite place in Hocking Hills, Ohio ?