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Looking to escape in nature along scenic trails with tall trees, beautiful rock formations and the calming sound of waterfalls? Hocking Hills has 7 amazing hikes that cover all ability levels.
HOCKING HILLS HIKES
Hocking Hills State Park is located in the green, rolling hills of lightly populated southeast Ohio. The wonderful state park contains lush forests, recess caves, various rock formations, sandstone cliffs and a treasure trove of waterfalls.
Fortunately for all of us, the park houses seven hiking areas with alluring scenery. With varying distances and physical challenges on each hike, Hocking Hills offers outdoor adventure for everyone. Let’s find the best hike(s) for you.
OLD MAN’S CAVE
Hike distance: 1.5 miles.
Trail rating: Moderate.
Old Man’s Cave is a 1.5 mile one-way trail system. The entire loop takes you through Upper Falls, Upper Gorge, Middle falls, Lower Falls and Lower Gorge.
You will cross bridges, go through tunnels and navigate stairs. Rewards along your journey include varied rock formations, a massive recess cave and beautiful waterfalls. Like a legendary rock band, the hits just keep coming.
With so many gratifying physical challenges and natural wonders, this may be the best hike in Ohio. We consider this to be a moderate hike. There are lots of steps. It is steep in a few sections.
There is an option to skip the Lower Falls and shorten the hike to a 1.0 mile loop. Note that you will miss out on some gorgeous masterpieces from Mother Nature if you bypass the last 0.5 mile. It is well worth your effort to complete the full hike.
Hike distance: 0.5 mile.
Trail rating: Moderate.
The trail to Cedar Falls is only 0.5 mile. You will start by heading down a long set of very steep stairs. It is a noticeable drop between steps. We consider this hike to be moderate due to so many steps and the steep grade.
The path eventually levels off and takes you across a bridge. In short order, you will strike gold. Two waterfalls await your arrival.
Some hikers are so anxious to get to Cedar Falls that they stride right past Hidden Falls. It is somewhat obscured by vegetation and a large slab of rock. During prolonged dry weather, it may be nonexistent. Although not large, it is a pretty waterfall.
A little further down the path, you will find the main attraction. Cedar Falls is considered a seasonal waterfall, as it often has little to no water in summer. For the other three seasons, you will find a powerful 50-foot waterfall. By volume, Cedar Falls is the greatest waterfall in Hocking Hills.
Ironically, it is surrounded by hemlocks rather than cedars. Early settlers misidentified the trees.
Before making the steep climb back to the trailhead, you will hike along massive rock walls, between large rock slabs and across a boardwalk. Other than the falls themselves, this is the most rewarding section of the trail.
Soon after this, you will be huffing and puffing your way back up the hillside. The views are worth your efforts.
Trail rating: Moderate.
Hike distance: 0.5 mile.
Note: Trail is wheelchair accessible.
Ash Cave is a 0.5 mile one way trail system. The first half of the trail is level and paved. It is wheelchair accessible. Yes, the paved path takes you far enough for a front-row view of the cave and waterfall.
You do not want to miss the spectacular view. Ash Cave is massive. In fact, it is the largest recess cave in Ohio at 700 feet long and 100 feet deep. A seasonal waterfall spills over the 90-foot ceiling.
After reaching the cave and waterfall area, those with wheelchairs will simply turn around to head back to the trailhead. All others must climb a steep set of stairs to the rim trail.
The second half of the trail has many steps and a steep grade. Parts of the trail include exposed tree roots and rocks. It is important that you take it slow and watch your step. We consider the hike to be moderate due to the conditions you will face on the second half of the trail.
Hike distance (Rim Trail): 2.0 miles.
Trail rating (Rim Trail): Strenuous.
Hike distance (Gorge Trail): 0.75 mile.
Trail rating (Gorge Trail): Easy.
Note: Gorge Trail is wheelchair accessible.
Conkle’s Hollow State Nature Preserve is such a peaceful setting. The gorge is filled with tall trees, leaving you in a shaded canopy full of singing birds.
You can have two completely different experiences here. Conkle’s Hollow has two trails. So, you have a choice to make.
Rim Trail or Upper Trail is a strenuous 2 mile one-way loop. It offers challenges such as steep terrain, uneven steps, visible tree roots and 70 to 100-foot cliff drops. For seasoned hikers or those seeking a challenge, this is the path for you.
Gorge Trail or Lower Trail is an easy 0.75 mile hike. The path is level and paved except for the very last section that leads to the recess cave. It is wheelchair accessible.
I describe Gorge Trail as a nature walk. You will see rock walls on both sides of the forested trail. On the path, you will encounter a boardwalk and two bridges. The hike culminates in a recess cave and a seasonal waterfall.
We went in the summer. Immediately upon entering the gorge, we noticed the temperature dropped 10 or 15 degrees. It was so obvious and sudden, we chuckled out loud.
Hike distance: 2.0 miles.
Trail rating: Moderate to strenuous.
About 17 miles from Old Man’s Cave, Cantwell Cliffs is the most remote hiking area in the park. It also has the most rugged path. This is typically the least crowded hiking area in Hocking Hills.
The hike consists of two loops: a one-way in loop and a one-way out loop. Each is about one mile in length. This will give you a good 2.0 mile hike in total. Due to the steep grade and large number of steps, Cantwell Cliffs is rated as moderate to strenuous.
We knew right away that we were in for a fun challenge. Near the beginning of the trail, you must face Fat Woman’s Squeeze. It is a set of stone stairs descending through a narrow corridor. At first sight, it can be intimidating.
Most people can make the squeeze without any issues. It is actually fun to navigate the corridor. Plus, the setting is absolutely gorgeous. It did not disappoint!
The wooded trail offers a great view the entire way. You will be surrounded by mature trees and large, rugged rocks. The sandstone cliffs tower 150 feet above Buck Run.
The highlight is an overhang cave in the sandstone cliff. During rainy periods, you can see a small waterfall flow down over the rock shelter.
Is this hike worth the extra drive? Absolutely! Cantwell Cliffs offers a hike that is rewarding visually and physically.
Hike distance: 1.0 mile.
Trail rating: Moderate.
Rock House is actually the only true cave in the park. It is a tunnel-like corridor midway up a 150-foot sandstone cliff.
The spacious house is about 200 feet long and 20 to 30 feet wide. Rock House’s ceiling measures in at 25 feet.
I readily admit that I was not excited about this hike. Images that I had seen previously just did not pique my interest.
Rock House was a pleasant surprise. The cave is much larger than I envisioned. Plus, I found the journey to be challenging and enjoyable.
Peering through natural picture windows, the view from Rock House is surreal. Beautiful rock formations throughout the lush valley will bring a smile to your face. Regardless of the season, the view is spectacular.
The trail is a 1.0 mile loop with a steep grade and lots of steps. We rate this trail as moderate.
There is an upper and a lower parking lot. You can start the hike from either, as the trail comes together. Note, that you will end the hike at the shelter house on the upper level.
Hike distance: 5.0 miles.
Trail rating: Moderate.
In full disclosure, Julie and I have not yet tackled this hike. We hope to return in the future to hike this trail.
Whispering Cave is a 5.0 mile one-way loop trail. The hike is considered moderate. It has steep terrain, uneven steps and cliff edges.
You will be rewarded for your efforts with a swinging bridge and a recess cave. The cave is 300 feet wide. During rainy periods, a waterfall trickles from the cave ceiling.
HOCKING HILLS: PLAN YOUR VISIT
Hocking Hills location
The Hocking Hills State Park Visitor Center address is 19852 OH-664, Logan, Ohio 43138. You can use the interactive map to obtain directions.
Hocking Hills State Park hours
The park is open year-round from dawn to dusk, including holidays.
There are no fees to enter the park. It is free to hike the scenic trails.
Parking is available for each of the hiking areas. You can find park maps and trail maps at the Hocking Hills State Park website.
Hocking Hills cabins
There are many cabins located close to Hocking Hills State Park. If you are looking for options and to make a reservation, start here to find Hocking Hills cabins.
I can tell you from personal experience that staying in a Hocking Hills cabin is a delight. You will be immersed in nature in your cozy cabin. Most have a hot tub and full amenities.
After a day of hiking, it is so relaxing to soak in a hot tub as the sounds of nature fill the night air. Morning is equally special. As I drank my cup of coffee, I listened to birds singing and watched a deer feeding nearby. Magical!
When to visit
Hocking Hills provides you with a spectacular, although changing, view all year.
If you love waterfalls, spring is the best time to visit Hocking Hills. The trails may be muddy, but the flowing waterfalls make it all worthwhile.
This place is gorgeous without full waterfalls, but the rainy season takes everything to the next level. Personally, I prefer to hike in a light rain or the day after a rainfall. Spring delivers budding trees, blooming flowers and bountiful waterfalls. Thank you!
Summer brings you dry paths. Unfortunately, summer can also dry up the waterfalls. If you visit during a period with little to no rainfall, the waterfalls may be a trickle or nonexistent.
You will find the park to be more crowded in summer. It is the most popular time for visitors. I hate to say it, but summer is probably the worst time to visit. You will also face heat, humidity and bugs!
If this is the only time of year that your schedule allows, you can still have a great time. Hocking Hills is beautiful with all the trees donning their greenery. Just be prepared to face the crowds, heat and bugs. Arrive early in the morning to combat these issues.
Autumn provides plenty of opportunity for a wonderful hiking experience in Hocking Hills. The temperatures are cooler. Painted leaves of crimson, gold and fiery orange pop against a landscape of sandstone cliffs and green hemlocks. The waterfalls should be flowing with more vigor, but will depend heavily on the amount of recent rainfall.
Winter is surprisingly a fantastic time to hike in Hocking Hills. It is less crowded. Accommodations are cheaper. You do not have to worry about insects.
With fewer leaves on the trees, the sandstone cliffs and various rock formations now have a chance to be in the spotlight. If you happen to be lucky with your timing, you may receive a special treat. Frozen waterfalls are truly a sight to behold.
What to bring
- Hiking shoes with good support and traction. Personally, I wear Merrell Moab 2 hiking shoes. I love them. They are waterproof and so comfortable. We have hiked in many national and state parks this year, often in rainy or wet conditions. I could not be happier with their performance and durability. The traction is great. Best of all, my feet remain dry. You can order a pair of hiking shoes here.
- Water and high-energy snacks.
- Camera to capture the beautiful scenery. Hocking Hills really is beautiful. You will want pictures and/or video to capture the breathtaking moments. For video, we use the DJI Pocket 2. It is compact, easy to use, has a built in-stabilizer and takes excellent quality footage. Its size makes it so much easier to hold than a phone. You can also use it to take pictures. People often ask about our camera and videos. We highly recommend the DJI Pocket 2, especially for shooting video while on the move. You can order your camera here.
- Light layers that you can easily add or shed as needed. Since you are hiking through woodlands and caves, it is somewhat cooler than the reported temperature. It can feel a bit cool even on a warm day.
- Backpack to store your water, snacks and clothing layers. We use the Venture Pal backpack. It is perfect for day hikes. There is plenty of room and it has multiple sections and pockets. It is lightweight, yet durable. We do a lot of day hikes and this backpack has held up really well. You can order your backpack here.
- Insect repellent to deter bug bites. This is one of those items that people tend to forget. We keep a container in our backpack to ensure that we always have it. Bugs tend to show up on most outdoor adventures. Trust me on this one. Order your insect repellent here. You will be glad you did.
Hocking Hills has amazing hikes for all ability levels. Be sure to bring the appropriate gear and choose a trail based on your experience and fitness level. Outdoor adventure awaits you in southeast Ohio.
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About the author
We are Scott and Julie at Miles with McConkey. After nearly 30 years, we took a leap of faith out of the corporate world to enjoy a life of travel and adventure. We hope to inspire you to find ways to travel more and enjoy life now.