Hike Ohio: Blackhand Gorge Nature Preserve
Blackhand Gorge: A Special Place
Blackhand Gorge Nature Preserve East of Newark, Ohio is a place that we visited a few times in our short stint in Ohio. It has a bike path, hiking trails, waterfalls, and plenty of nature and wildlife to view. Just a short distance from Columbus, Ohio it offers secluded hikes within a short distance from city.
Full of streams and walking paths to shake off the jitters and noise of everyday life.
Established in 1975 and it is an easy drive from the capital of Columbus. Since we normally went during the week, sometimes we would have the whole place to ourselves. It was always less crowded than Hocking Hills State Park or Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
There is a paved bike path that runs along the south side of the river and two wonderful little trails located on the north side of the river. Blackhand Gorge is a great place to watch the flowers bloom in spring and beautiful in the winter as well. There is no shortage of color and life to take in.
Even in early spring this area is plush and full of gorgeous hues.Blackhand Gorge was named for a large, black hand-shaped petroglyph that used to adorn the cliff wall. However, if you go to Blackhand Gorge today, you will not see a large black hand because it was blasted away as they dug the canal that used to cut through the area. It was said that the hand had an elongated finger that pointed ahead to an Indian mound. The hand also meant that Indians tribes passing through should do so in peace.
Legend of Blackhand Gorge
There is also an interesting Native American legend behind Blackhand Gorge and the ancient petroglyph. Native Americans valued this area in particular because of the abundance of flint, which they used on their arrows.
Many Native Americans from all over the region that is now Ohio, came to visit Flint Ridge. The Legend of Ahyoma says that the Great Father called together a council on Flint Ridge and declared the area sacred, that no blood would be shed on their precious resource.
Many moons passed. No blood was shed on the peaceful Flint Ridge.
Ahyoma was the great Chief Powcongah’s lovely daughter and she was ready to be married. Chief Powcongah challenged that the suitor who brought the most scalps would have his daughter’s hand in marriage. Many suitors brought back scalps, but two
had more than the others: Waconsta and Lahkopis. Waconsta had more scalps than Lahkopis; however, Lahkopis had already won Ahyoma’s heart. As you can see there have been love triangles for ages.
Ahyoma and Lahkopis ran away together in the middle of the night towards Flint Ridge, because it was sacred ground and no blood could be shed there. Waconsta followed the lovers and in his rage forgot the ancient promise of peace in Flint Ridge. As Waconsta lifted his tomahawk to strike Lahkopis, Lahkopis retaliated and sliced off Waconsta’s hand. Lahkopis and Ahyoma fell into the Licking River during the struggle. Waconsta’s hand fell into the gorge and clung to the wall of the cliff, where it grew large and black to serve as a warning to
Blackhand Gorge: The Marie Hickey Trail
Blackhand Gorge remains a beautiful place to this day. There are two main trails through the nature preserve. My favorite is the Marie Hickey Trail. It is an easy 2.5 mile loop hike that takes you through a peaceful forest, offers views of the gorge and access to a hidden waterfall.
There is also the option to do the short spur trail, Oak Knob, off the Marie Hickey Trail.
When you park at the parking lot off of Rock Haven Road, you will see two trails. They are both for the Marie Hickey Trail. We normally started on the grassy side to your right. The one on the left will take you into the woods straight away. This trail is easy for the most part. There are a few steeper sections, but nothing strenuous or difficult. It took us about two hours and included seeing the waterfall while stopping to enjoy the scenery and capture the sights.
The hidden waterfall is seasonal. If it’s running I recommend taking the time to check it out. If you hear it, head toward the noise.There is an easily spotted trail that will take you there. You can climb down to the base of the waterfall or enjoy the view from up top. I recommend climbing down to the base of it.
Blackhand Gorge: The Canal Lock Trail
The Canal Lock Trail is much shorter and also very easy.
It’s a great walk in the woods and it takes you through an old railway tunnel.
This trail offers access to the Licking River as well.
Another option is to climb up onto the railway tunnel for some good views of the river.
FROM Columbus, Blackhand Gorge is a straight shot.
Take 161-E. It will take about 40-50 miles depending on your location in Columbus.
161 turns into 37-E and eventually 16-E.
RIGHT on EXIT OH-146 towards Hanover/Zanesville.
When you take the exit you will see a giant gas station in the distance and to the left.
After .2 miles TURN RIGHT on Toboso Road across the way from the gas station.
To get the to Marie Hickey Trail, you will turn RIGHT onto Rock Haven Road and look for a gravel parking lot on your left.
To get to the Canal Lock Trail, continue STRAIGHT down Toboso Road. Before you cross the Licking River bridge, there will be a gravel pull out parking area on your left. The trail is directly across the street right before the bridge from the gravel parking area. If you go over the bridge it will take you to the main parking lot that connects to the bike path which is also gorgeous but less scenic with more people.