Hocking Hills State Park
Hocking Hills State Park in Southeastern Ohio is an enchanting place with the best hiking trails in Ohio. Large trees, steep cliffs, waterfalls and sandstone rock formations are just a few of the attractions. Hocking Hills offers a quiet, sacred place in a world that never stops moving. Although you most likely will encounter other people at Hocking Hills no matter what time of year or day you visit, the trees and streams still offer up a silence that you cannot find inside a populated city.
I am ashamed to admit that I grew up in Ohio and just made it to Hocking Hills this past winter. My mind was blown. I spent most of my teenage and young adult years believing that Ohio just didn’t have much to offer. My time was occupied finding awesome places outside my comfort zone.
There are many areas of Hocking Hills to explore. There are the Cantwell Cliffs, Conkel’s Hollow and the Rock House. Apparently there is even a brand new trail, the Hemlock Bridge Trail and Whispering Cave. This is definitely on my to-do list for my next visit to Ohio. In this post I am going to focus on the most popular area of Hocking Hills State Park: Old Man’s Cave to Ash Cave, located in the far southeastern corner of the park.
This trail is a part of the Buckeye Trail, which will eventually take you over 1,400 miles around the entire state of Ohio. The section in Hocking Hills State Park is known as the Grandma Gatewood Trail. Grandma Gatewood was the first woman to complete the Appalachia Trail as a continuous hike. She accomplished this at age 67, in 1955 as a grandmother to twenty-three. She went on to hike the Appalachia Trail again two years later. This section of the Buckeye Trail, in between Old Man’s Cave and Ash Cave was one of her personal favorite places to hike.
The hike from Old Man’s Cave to Ash Cave is about 10 miles roundtrip. [This number comes from AllTrails.com. I read sources quoting up to 12 miles roundtrip.] This section of the park is stunning. Green and lush, you walk surrounded by tall trees and with the continuous sound the bubbling creek next to you
Along the way you encounter three wonderful main geological structures in Hocking Hills State Park. The hike is fairly easy, with a few more difficult sections. Some areas of rock around the water features can be slippery.
If you don’t have time to do the whole ten mile hike, it is very easily broken down into sections. There is parking at any of the three main sites: Old Man’s Cave, Cedar Falls and Ash Cave.
Old Man’s Cave is named after a hermit, Richard Rowe, who lived in the gorge in the early 19th century. Supposedly his body is buried somewhere in the park, but to this day no one knows the exact location.
In the Old Man’s Cave area of the park there are two lovely waterfalls to check out: Upper and Lower Falls. Both are worth taking a moment at to enjoy. Also, if you’re lucky and you visit when it’s really cold, you might catch the waterfall when it’s frozen!
Hike Old Man’s Cave to Cedar Falls
Old Man’s Cave to Cedar Falls is my personal favorite section. The Grandma Gatewood Trail follows Queer Creek all the way to Cedar Falls. We were visiting mainly in the winter time and were surprised with how green it was even in the middle of January. Ferns and moss remained behind, riding out the winter and bringing a pop of color to an otherwise dreary season.
Old Man’s Cave to Cedar Falls is about six miles roundtrip. Once you get to Cedar Falls, you can return along the Grandma Gatewood Trail OR you can take the Rose Lake Trail back to Old Man’s Cave to make a loop. If you chose to loop it, on the way back you will be above the gorge. Either option is a good one, in my opinion.
Cedar Falls is the largest waterfall in the park, by volume. The water falls about fifty feet down black sandstone into a ravine. Although Cedar Falls is surrounded by Hemlock Trees, early settlers mistook them for cedars and named the falls after the “cedar” trees.
Hike Cedar Falls to Ash Cave
You can also choose to do Cedar Falls to Ash Cave by itself. This hike is about 4.6 miles roundtrip and will take you past an old fire tower. You are allowed to make the climb up the tower if you desire. Once you get to Ash Cave, give yourself some time for exploring. Climb the steps down into the cave and stand beneath the waterfall. There is an overlook trail that sneaks alongside the edge of the cave.
Ash Cave is the largest recess cave in Ohio. Ash Cave received its name from white settlers who found deep piles of ash throughout the cave. Native Americans, in particular, the Shawnee, used Ash Cave as a shelter when they traveled around the region.
Hocking Hills State Park is a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of midwestern life for a day. There is also great camping available at the park if you can’t resist the urge to stay longer. I hope you enjoy your time at the park. Let me know your favorite things to do and paths to walk at Hocking Hills State Park!