Hocking Hills State Park is home to attractions like waterfalls, caves, and an astronomy park. Here's a guide to visiting this central Ohio beauty spot.
Images by Matthew Durfee of Vista Fine Art Photography
Hocking Hills is one of Ohio's best-loved state parks. Its concentration of sandstone caves and waterfalls make it a perfect hiker's destination!
In recent years it's also been drawing stargazers eager to get away from the glare of lighted neighborhoods.
Hocking Hills is located in southeastern Ohio, about an hour's drive from Columbus.
Have you heard of the Hocking Hills attractions but haven't yet made the drive over? Here's your guide to sightseeing and lodging in the park.
Hiking at Hocking Hills
If you're unfamiliar with the area, stop by the Visitor Center first to see informational displays, pick up maps, or ask questions about any Hocking Hills attractions you're interested in.
Trails range in difficulty level, but most are fairly short with moderate terrain. Many of them are designed for one-way use, so follow the signs or consult a trail map or Hocking Hills park guide to figure out where to begin.
There are seven main areas within the park, all with something to offer in the way of natural beauty.
Some of them are reminiscent of the beautiful gorge and waterfalls at New York's Watkins Glen, another place we highly recommend!
Old Man's Cave
Old Man's Cave, part of a gorge that stretches along the valley with multiple waterfalls along the way, was named for a recluse who lived there in 1800s.
You can enter the trail for Old Man's Cave from Upper Falls, and make a loop towards the visitor center covering about one mile.
Keep an eye out for small waterfalls along the way!
Cedar Falls Trail is about one mile, round trip. As is the case with most of the trails, a picnic area and restrooms are located near the parking lot.
Take note of the gentle, serpentine 100-step walkway leading to the falls. It was designed in 1997 by an artist mathematician. His goal was to establish a relaxing walking rhythm for a variety of visitors. And he used the Fibonacci sequence to do it — math nerds, rejoice!
Ash Cave is a huge, horseshoe-shaped recess cave. It's one of the park's most impressive sights, especially if there's been enough rain to swell the waterfall.
The Gorge Trail, a quarter-mile approach to Ash Cave from the parking lot, is even handicap-accessible.
Hikers may also choose to visit Ash Cave via its Rim Trail for views from above. It connects to the Gorge Trail via a set of stairs, so you can explore both ways.
A Note About the Buckeye Trail
While you can hike Old Man's Cave, Cedar Falls, and Ash Cave separately from their respective parking lots, you could also make them into one continuous journey using part of the Buckeye Trail, which is a 1,400-mile trail that circumnavigates Ohio.
The Buckeye Trail passes through Hocking Hills for about six miles in a section known as the Grandma Gatewood trail.
Who was Grandma Gatewood? The first woman to hike the Appalachian Trail alone, doing so as an ultralight hiker at the age of 67 in 1955. She was from Gallia County, Ohio, and her accomplishments are honored here at Hocking Hills.
If you use this trail for the above-mentioned three destinations, you can return the way you came to make a 12-mile loop, or — if you're up for an even more serious challenge — you could also use the Buckeye Trail to extend your hike to Pretty Run Preserve, Tar Hollow State Park, or beyond. Follow the blue blazes!
Returning to the seven areas of Hocking Hills, next on the list is Whispering Cave, a large recess cave with a tall, trickling waterfall.
The Whispering Cave trail spur can be reached from the Buckeye/Grandma Gatewood Trail — it's a strenuous, one-way, five-mile route.
But the good news is, there's a newer, shorter way that just opened up a few years ago! It's Hemlock Bridge Trail, and it starts near the lodge. It will get you to the trail spur, the cave, and then back to the parking lot in about a mile and a half.
The Rock House trailhead is about a 15-minute drive from the lodge.
Different from the recess caves in the rest of the park, Rock House is actually enclosed, making it more like a tunnel passage, with multiple "windows" letting in light.
It's been one of the biggest tourist draws for nearly 200 years, prompting one of the earliest hotels in the region to be built nearby in 1835.
The Rock House loop is about a mile, with some uneven terrain and about 200 feet in elevation gain.
Cantwell Cliffs is about a 20-minute drive from the lodge.
This area is one of the more challenging in the park, with about two miles of rim and gorge trails allowing you to explore cliffs, a waterfall, a deep valley, and narrow rocky passageways.
The views are touted as some of the most beautiful in the park, and yet its remoteness makes it also the least crowded trail system.
The last of the seven regions of Hocking Hills is a nature preserve known as Conkles Hollow. It has magnificent cliffs, waterfalls, and overlooks, and is only a few miles north of the lodge.
The gorge trail and the rim trail at Conkles Hollow total about three-and-a-half miles. A section of the gorge trail is wheelchair accessible. The rim trail offers views from some of the highest cliffs in the area; it's thus more challenging and needs to be navigated with care.
Lodging + Camping
One of the newest Hocking Hills attractions is its beautiful new lodge.
The lodge has indoor and outdoor pools and hot tubs, propane fire tables for rent, and outdoor games on the terrace.
There are also a restaurant, café, and pub on site.
Just outside of the park is the Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls, another lodging option that also has a restaurant.
Cottages, lodges, bed and breakfasts, and yurts abound in the area around Hocking Hills, and there are hotels in the nearby city of Logan. There's no shortage of places to stay!
The state park campground is near Old Man's Cave and has easy access to the trails in that part of the park. There are nearly 200 campsites, three cabins with basic amenities, and some sites for primitive hike-in camping. Shower houses, flush toilets, and full hook-up sites are available.
Online reservations are recommended and can be made up to six months in advance.
The campground is open year-round, but with limited availability and conveniences during the winter.
It also has its own swimming pool and recreation areas.
The Astronomy Park
In 2015 astronaut John Glenn, a native Ohioan, agreed to a request to name the new Hocking Hills Astronomy Park after him.
Since it was completed, the astronomy park has been welcoming visitors to enjoy its free "dark sky" experience, either through guided weekend programs from March through November, or by individual stargazing each and every night.
Programs are dependent on good weather, so be sure to check the Facebook page for updates. Large telescopes are available during these programs for checking out objects in the sky.
Whether there's a program scheduled or not, visitors are encouraged to bring their own telescopes. But sometimes, especially if there's a meteor shower expected, you might just want to bring a blanket to stretch out on and look up.
Parking is limited. During peak summer season, you'll need to register online for a free parking pass if you want to attend a weekend program.
Other Hocking Hills Attractions
And if you bring your own equipment, you'll also find places to do archery, mountain biking, or boating. Bridle trails are available for riders who have their own horses. If you want to rent a boat, you can do so at the nearby Lake Logan.
Check the state park's website for current events like guided hikes, educational talks, paddle boarding for beginners, birdwatching walks, or arts and crafts programs.
Have you been to Hocking Hills? Let us know in the comments what you think are the can't-miss experiences!