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What You Need To Know Before Heading To Hocking Hills, Ohio

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Blackhand is the most outstanding rock formation in Hocking Hills State Park, according to the state's website.Blackhand derives its name from a large soot-inscribed figure of a human hand placed by Indians on a cliff face in the gorge of the Licking River east of Newark, the site reports.
Blackhand is the most outstanding rock formation in Hocking Hills State Park, according to the state's website.
Blackhand is the most outstanding rock formation in Hocking Hills State Park, according to the state's website. | Source
Blackhand derives its name from a large soot-inscribed figure of a human hand placed by Indians on a cliff face in the gorge of the Licking River east of Newark, the site reports.
Blackhand derives its name from a large soot-inscribed figure of a human hand placed by Indians on a cliff face in the gorge of the Licking River east of Newark, the site reports. | Source

Hocking Hills, about an hour south of Columbus, is one of Ohio’s premier hiking locations. It and Cuyahoga Valley National Park in the northern part of the state are the two most visited state parks in Ohio.

Once you’ve been to Hocking Hills you will understand why it is so popular. From naturally exposed rocks, boulders and waterfalls to pristine woods, it is an ideal place to hike.

My wife and I hike quite a bit, and although we have only been to Hocking Hills a couple of times, we have fallen in love with the area. It is nice mix of easy, moderate and difficult trails. Ohio’s Blue Blazes trail, the trail that circles the inner section of the state, runs through the park, which is a plus for me since I am trying to hike all portions of that trail.

Each season brings its own beauty to the region. We have only hiked there in the fall, but I do want to hike the Cedar Falls trail in the winter. I’m certain it would be an enjoyable stroll through the woods.

Besides beautiful landscapes, the region is also home to a wide range of wildlife -- from deer to bobcat.
Besides beautiful landscapes, the region is also home to a wide range of wildlife -- from deer to bobcat. | Source
Lake Logan is a prime fishing spot for blue gill, crappie, northern pike or bass.
Lake Logan is a prime fishing spot for blue gill, crappie, northern pike or bass. | Source

Cedar Falls - Ash Cave

On our first trip this was our longest hike. The Ash Cave area is, like it sounds, a cave with natural rock structures and is the least pet-friendly portion of the trail, but it was still okay for our dog. The biggest challenge was the steps leading out of the cave and waterfalls area -- which are several stories high.

But the trail is quite enjoyable as it meanders through pine forest with plenty of gorgeous views. The most difficult part of the trail is just before you reach Lake Logan. It is a steep and long incline. The rest of the trail varies between easy to moderate. Depending on which trail – and side trails you explore – it is about 2.5 miles from Cedar Falls to Ash Cave. You can also travel from Cedar Falls to Old Man’s Cave, which is slightly shorter at 2.3 miles.

By far, our favorite two parks were the ones with the natural rocks structures – and they are the most difficult to hike.

Old Man's Cave

The most popular Hocking Hills destination is Old Man’s Cave, named in honor of Richard Rowe, a hermit who lived in the cave, so if you visit the region during peak season expect this park to be filled. The trails are lined with sandstone, and in many places, you will be walking on slate or sandstone which can be treacherous in rain or snow. Of all the parks, this is the least pet-friendly simply because some of the passageways are narrow and even cave-like -- not all dogs enjoy walking in that type of environment.

Rock House

Scene looking out from Rock House. Rock House is the only true cave in Hocking Hills forest.
Scene looking out from Rock House. Rock House is the only true cave in Hocking Hills forest. | Source

If you enjoy photography this is the place to go -- and you will see photographers setting up inside the cave and along the trail. The most well-known structure is the Rock House which is a cavern sitting high above the forest floor. It is a little treacherous stepping inside since the natural rock floor is uneven and even during daylight hours, the floor is dark or shadowed.

Signs are posted along this trail reminding walkers and hikers of the danger of getting to close to the cliffs. However, it you stay on the marked trails, you will not get too close to the cliff's edge. Personally, I would not hike this trail in the winter because even if you only fell on the trail (and not down a ravine), it could break a bone.

Another scene from inside Rock House.
Another scene from inside Rock House. | Source

Cantwell Cliffs

This is another tough trail – and it is longer than Rick House. In the Rock House state park there are less than one mile of trails. In Cantwell Cliffs the upper portion of the trail is less than one mile long while the lower, significantly easier portion of trail that is just over one mile. Combined it is a very good 2-mile workout. The top portion of the trail is mostly rock whereas the lower section winds along a creek bed.

Expect a workout when hiking through Cantwell Cliff or Rock House, both locations have steep trails and, at times, narrow passageways.
Expect a workout when hiking through Cantwell Cliff or Rock House, both locations have steep trails and, at times, narrow passageways. | Source

Conkles Hollow

This was the only trail we did not hike of the six listed on the state park map. This trail is not open to pets (since it is a nature preserve) and we had our dog with us.

Park Name
Miles of Trails
Difficulty
Rock House
Less than 1 mile
Bottom trail easy, top trail difficult.
Old Man's Cave
Combined trails 4.5 miles
Range from easy to difficult
Cedar Falls
3.3 Miles
Range from easy to difficult
Cantwell Cliffs
2 miles
Bottom trail is easy. Top trail is difficult.
Ash Cave
About 3/4 of a mile
Trail is easy except when exiting one end of the trail you must climb several stories of wooden steps.
Conkles Hollow
About 3/4 of a mile
This is the only trail I did not hike.

City of Logan

This is the town you will become familiar with if you hike. It has a couple hotels, a Walmart and plenty of fast food and restaurant options. My wife loves to thrift – and was in luck – they have a Goodwill. So does nearby Lancaster. Since we travel with a dog we eat carry out, and we have never struggled to find a place to eat. On our last trip we ate at Chipotle in Lancaster.

A marker19852 Ohio 664, Logan, Ohio -
19852 OH-664, Logan, OH 43138, USA
[get directions]

Where to Stay

If you enjoy hiking and then staying in a hotel, reserve a room before you head to Hocking Hills, because it is difficult to find a room during peak season. It is even harder if you have a pet because few pet-friendly hotels exist close to the park. Most people, I would presume will want to camp. There are plenty of cabins and campsites to choose from. If you rent online you may be required to pay for a two-night minimum even for campsites. We found, though, if you are willing to just show up at a campsite, you can rent it for one night. We converted our van into an overnight camper, so each time we’ve gone it has only cost us $30 to spend the night. Of course, in a van or RV you could also stay free parking in the Walmart parking lot, located about 10 miles away in Logan.

What to Expect

This is a pleasant place to visit. We have stopped at nearby restaurants, Goodwill stores, Walmart -- and of course, hiked many of the trails. The people we have met have always been friendly, courteous and, like us, people who love the beauty of nature and the serenity that comes from walking through a forest.

© 2016 Charlie Claywell

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