Since my very first visit to Hocking Hills, I had always wanted to go back to see what it was like in the winter. The only thing holding me back was the thought that I would have to drive an hour through the snow and hike around on ice while trying not to break any bones.
I knew the conditions had to be just right for me to build up the courage to make the trip in winter:
- It had to stay below freezing long enough for icicles to form.
- It had to stay cold enough to preserve the snow and ice while giving ODOT enough time to clear roads
- I had to be lucky enough to be off work on a nice precipitation-free day during this time frame
- The trails had to be anything other than a sheet of solid ice
The deep freeze we’ve been having gave me some hope that, since the roads were clear, I could at least make it there without a problem, so, I layered up, grabbed my sister, and we made our way to the hills to ring in the first day of the new year with an adventure!
We were going to play it safe by only visiting Ash Cave to see the ice built up from the water that spills down from the top of the huge recess cave, but I couldn’t skip out on attempting to see my favorite spot, Upper Falls. My sister and I decided if the steps leading down to the Upper Falls were icy, we would save our tailbones, chalk it up as a loss, and head to Ash Cave, but to my surprise, the temperature hadn’t climbed enough to melt and refreeze the snow, so we had plenty of traction between our feet and the ground to safely make our way down to the falls.
I was amazed at how thick the ice was, yet you could see right through to the water flowing beneath it. Along the left hand side of the cliff, there were huge icicles that covered the massive sandstone wall from top to bottom.
We wrapped up our photo session at Upper Falls and cranked the heat in the car on our way to Ash Cave. The photos I had seen of the huge stack of ice on social media was nothing compared to finally being able to see and experience it in person! As other visitors were taking photos and examining the ice, my sister and I stood back in awe, patiently waiting for the crowd to clear out a bit so we could take photos and soak in the beauty and peacefulness of the cave and natural ice sculpture.
The contrast of the red sandstone “sand” and snow made everything pop and almost look fake. Meanwhile, the sun was peeking through the trees and would catch the falling snow as it blew from bare branches, creating a magical, breathtaking glitter effect.
As we left, I found myself immediately reflecting on the beauty and peacefulness of the little pieces of Hocking Hills we had experienced that afternoon. There was so much more left to explore. The next morning, I couldn’t help myself; I packed my camera, bundled up, and headed back to Old Man’s Cave to see the sights I left behind the day before. I hiked the entire trail starting at Upper Falls, snaked through to the gorge to Lower Falls, and made a point to visit the beautiful, but often overlooked, Broken Rock Falls. This waterfall is tucked away just beyond the Lower Falls.
I like the feeling of being all alone in stunning places like Hocking Hills, so I prefer to hike by myself and not during organized group outings. If you are the opposite of me, Hocking Hills’ 53rd annual Winter Hike is coming up on Saturday, January 20, 2018 from 9am to 11am and will take off from the visitor’s Center at Old Man’s Cave. The event is free to the public, but refreshments will be available at Cedar Falls for a donation.
I highly recommend you go see this alluring area during winter if you get the chance. But, I also encourage you to be extremely cautious while doing so. With that being said, I’ll leave you with a short list of things I made sure to keep in mind during my winter hike:
Wear plenty of layers and something over your mouth and nose.
Watch out for icicles. Be aware of where you are walking and standing and do not stand directly under icicles because though icicles of that size are beautiful, they can be deadly.
Make sure your shoes of choice have decent tread to be able to keep as much traction as possible during your hike.
Watch out for thin ice. Most of the ice I walked on was super thick, but if you look closely, you can see thin spots that bubble as the water flows underneath it.
Watch for icy spots along the trail. If you’ve been to Hocking Hills before, you are aware that some parts of the trail are kind of close to the edge and can make your heart race a little… Now, imagine those spots being slick with ice. Yeah, the thought scares me too!
Following along with the last bullet point, PLEASE obey all trail signs for your own safety.
Bring a thermos of hot cocoa or hot tea to sip on for a little added shot of warmth.
Bring your camera/phone because you’ll regret it if you don’t!