Deep within the heart of Hocking County lie a series of verdant gorges and sandstone caves chiseled by time’s artisan hand. Here one will find turquoise streams and pools pushed forward by picturesque waterfalls that flow between monumental cliffs and stately groves of hemlock and pine.
Each year millions of people visit Hocking Hills State Park, located just outside of Logan, Ohio, to experience this natural beauty firsthand. The park is accessible as far as natural areas go, boasting over 100 electric campsites, 40 cabins, an archery range, six picnic shelters, and the 17-acre Rose Lake where one may fish with a valid Ohio fishing permit. The park’s crown jewel, however, is its interconnected trail system that weaves around the its many landmarks, including Old Man’s Cave, Cedar Falls, Whispering Cave, Hemlock Bridge, and others.
Ranging in difficulty from pleasant strolls to steep and rocky jaunts, the Hocking Hills trail system provides hikers of all experience levels an unforgettable journey. Old Man’s Cave, which is arguably the park’s best known feature, can be accessed by a roughly one mile loop trail that extends from the visitor’s center. Here one will experience the tranquility of rushing waterfalls and streams that race through prehistoric crevices and boulders down toward the Blackhand sandstone cliff face that houses the recess cave where hermit Richard Rowe lived out his days as a trapper in the late 18th century. Less than a mile south from Old Man’s Cave, one finds rocky cliffs and ancient groves comprising the Hemlock Bridge and Whispering Cave area.
Looming over the secluded valley, the skyward-climbing greenery shelters the rugged and rocky trail that spans through dips and curves within the gorge topography. The Whispering Cave itself, a wide and relatively young (geologically speaking) sandstone recess welcomes hikers with gorgeous views, including an ephemeral 100 foot tall waterfall that flows into the stream below. Follow the trail back and head due east a little over a mile and one will eventually find the roaring deluge known as Cedar Falls. This impressive torrent delivers more water by volume than any other set of falls in the park, and does so with authority. Here travelers pose for family photo ops and selfies or sit in contemplation upon the logs and rocks amidst the chirping of birds and the white noise of rushing water. It’s serene. It’s beautiful. And fortunately, it’s very accessible, either as a reward for a morning spent on the trail or as a pit stop along the park’s intersecting roadways. Either way, Cedar Falls welcomes all comers.
All of this is impressive enough. But here’s the cool part: The trek described in the above paragraph? That’s one trail system. One morning or afternoon consisting of six miles (or less) of hiking. That’s it. One adventure, complete with caves, cliffs, waterfalls, and grand trees that stretch to the heavens, all condensed into a few hours worth of walking. And this of course doesn’t include the park’s other monuments; Ash Cave and Rock House with their stunning terrestrial architecture, Cantwell Cliffs and its narrow, winding passages, or Conkles Hollow and its steep cliffs and vistas that display large swaths of the Hocking Hills region. All accessible, all incredible.
My adventure lasted one morning, but I easily could have spent an entire weekend crawling around rocks and roots along the stream bed. And that’s the park’s true beauty: No matter the season, no matter the reason, there’s a little something for everyone, and although it is easy to fit the park into a day trip, one can embark on multiple outings over multiple weekends and still not see all that Hocking Hills has to offer.
Hocking Hills is the total package and a stellar entry into southeast Ohio’s state parks. It’s beautiful. It’s epic. And it’s just up the road from anywhere in the Mid-Ohio Valley. But hey, don’t take my word for it.