Rockin' Hocking Hills

Blog Date
Julie Smith
Stuart O. Smith, Jr.

Julie "rockin' it" in Old Man's Cave at Hocking Hills State Park!
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Located in southeastern Ohio, Hocking Hills State Park has received national and international acclaim as a top park to visit. Stunning in every season, the park features towering cliffs, waterfalls, and deep, hemlock-shaded gorges for hikers and nature lovers to enjoy.

We had not been to Hocking Hills State Park (@OhioDNR - @OhioStateParks_ [before Feb 2021: @OhioStateParks] - #HockingHillsStatePark) in many years, and decided it would make a great getaway location while we are still social distancing. Most of this past year, we have been exploring many northeast Ohio parks (see our Social Distancing blog post series) and thought that it was time to go to southeastern Ohio.

The sandstone varies in composition and hardness from a softer, loosely cemented middle zone to harder top and bottom layers. The recess caves at Ash Cave, Old Man’s Cave, Whispering Cave, and Cantwell Cliff are all carved in the softer middle zone. Weathering and erosion widened cracks found in the middle layer of sandstone at the Rock House to create that unusual formation.

Other features of the rock include cross-bedding, honeycomb weathering, and slump blocks. The cross-bedding is a cross section of an ancient sand bar in the delta that caused by changing ocean currents. Honeycomb weathering looks like the small holes in a beehive comb. They are formed when water washes out small pockets of loosely cemented sand grains. Finally, the huge slump blocks of rock littering the streams tumble from nearby cliffs when cracks widen to the extent that the block is no longer supported by the main cliff.

Although glaciers never reached the park areas, their influence is still seen here in the form of vegetation growing in the gorges. The glaciers changed the climate of all Ohio to a moist, cool environment. Upon their retreat, this condition persisted only in a few places, such as the deep gorges of Hocking County. Therefore, the towering eastern hemlocks, the Canada yew, and the yellow and black birch tell of a cool period 10,000 years ago.

We remembered the park's unique rock formations from past visits, but we discovered that they were even more incredible than we remembered. We were surprised to learn from informational signage in the park that glaciers never reached this part of Ohio, since we are used to northeast Ohio terrain that has been shaped by the ice age. (Learn more by seeing the maps and information on the four Ohio Department of Natural Resources Glacial Geology in Ohio web pages.)

The trail system at Hocking Hills offers a variety of hiking options. Many of the trails have been re-routed for one-way hiking, which improves safety without taking away from the park's majestic scenery and breathtaking views. Please follow directional signage.

Before going to the park, we found a great map of the area on the Ohio Department of Natural History's web page about Hocking Hills State Park, which we printed out and brought with us. We noted that the map indicated that the park system is now encouraging one-way direction on most of the park's trails to assist people in social distancing. Seeing that the park was taking extra safety precautions during the coronavirus crisis confirmed that our decision to travel there was a good one.

We recommend you print out this map and head to the park:


Monday, March 22, 2021 - Old Man's Cave Area

Old Man's Cave - 1 mile - Moderate
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Old Man's Cave - 1 mile - Moderate

The most popular of all the Hocking areas is Old Man's Cave, located on State Route 664. Here at the Upper Falls, the Grandma Gatewood Trail begins its six-mile course connecting three of the park's areas: Old Man's Cave to Cedar Falls to Ash Cave. This same trail has been designated as part of Ohio's Buckeye Trail as well as part of two national systems - the North Country Scenic Trail and America's Discovery Trail.

Old Man's Cave derives its name from the hermit Richard Rowe who lived in the large recess cave of the gorge. . . . Rowe lived out his life in the area and is buried beneath the ledge of the main recess cave.

We arrived in the afternoon, and climbed down into the gorge to explore! A "Welcome" sign here says that the most exciting trails in the state are found in Hocking Hills State Park!

The breathtaking views in the Old Man's Cave area made for an exciting start to our three-day visit to Hocking Hills State Park.




Tuesday, March 23, 2021 - Cedar Falls

Cedar Falls - 1 mile - Moderate
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Cedar Falls - 1 mile - Moderate

The trail leading to Cedar Falls passes through the most austere area in Hocking Hills. This remote, primitive chasm is laden with hemlock and bound by steep rock walls and their accompanying grottos and waterfalls. It is a wild and lonely but spectacularly beautiful place.

Cedar Falls itself is the greatest waterfall in terms of volume in the Hocking region. Queer Creek tumbles over the face of the Blackhand sandstone displaying the awesome force of water power.

. . .

Cedar Falls was misnamed by early white settlers who mistook the stately hemlocks for Cedars.

On our second day, we drove down to two more parts of the park that are connected by the Grandma Gatewood Trail.

First, we visited beautiful, sparkling Cedar Falls.


In the tweet above, the photos were somehow deleted, so on Saturday, April 3, 2021, I shared them in the following tweet:





Tuesday, March 23, 2021 - Ash Cave

Ash Cave Gorge - 1/4-mile - Easy - Handicap Accessible || Ash Cave Rim - 1/4-mile - Moderate
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Ash Cave Gorge - 1/4-mile - Easy - Handicap Accessible
Ash Cave Rim - 1/4-mile - Moderate

. . . American Indian tribes referred to the Hocking River as the Hockhocking, or the bottleneck river, because of the river gorge's bottle shape.

Ash Cave, located in Hocking Hills State Park, is named for enormous piles of ashes that white settlers discovered on the cave floor. Purportedly massive piles of ashes existed on the cave floor, with at least one pile supposedly being three feet deep, one hundred feet long, and thirty feet wide.

. . .

American Indians orators are rumored to have taken advantage of the superb acoustics of Ash Cave. The cave features whispering galleries that amplify sound, and a speaker standing on a large slump block outside the cave’s entrance can easily be heard by throngs gathered inside the cave. In modern times, this ideal natural bandshell has hosted camp and township meetings, Sunday worship services, and even choral concerts.

The horseshoe-shaped cave is massive; measuring 700 feet from end to end, 100 feet deep from the rear cave wall to its front edge with the rim rising 90 feet high. A small tributary of the East Fork of Queer Creek cascades over the rim into a small plunge pool below. The cave was formed like the others in this region; the middle layer of the Blackhand has been weathered or eroded while the more resistant upper and lower zones have remained intact.

When we first saw Ash Cave, its size made for a striking first impression. We entered via the Ash Cave Gorge Trail/Grandma Gatewood Trail, and exited along the Ash Cave Rim Trail. After a great hike, we enjoyed lunch in the park's beautiful picnic area.




Grandma Gatewood Trail

As we mentioned above, the Grandma Gatewood Trail connects three sections of Hocking Hills State Park. The Grandma Gatewood Trail is part of larger, statewide and national trail systems.

In the Old Man‘s Cave area, we [Buckeye Trail Association] honor our most famous founder, Grandma Gatewood, by naming a portion of the trail after her. The State of Ohio has added a granite monument in her honor at the entrance to the gorge for which it is named.

The Buckeye Trail Story . . .

. . . The first 20 miles were dedicated on September 19, 1959 in Hocking County. Several of the founders and early leaders were among the 34 people making that dedication hike, including the BTA's [Buckeye Trail Association] most famous grandma, Emma Gatewood. From that beginning, the trail grew to over 1,444 miles under the auspices of the BTA. It was completed near Deer Lick Cave in the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area in 1980.

. . .

Ohio's Hiking Great-Grandmother:
Emma Gatewood (1888-1973)

After raising 11 children on farms along the Ohio River and at the age of 67, the grandmother of 23 became the first woman to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail alone and in a continuous hike. That was in 1955. Two years later, she hiked the Appalachian Trail again and later completed a third hike of the trail in sections. She is known for her legendary Keds sneakers that she wore instead of hiking boots and the laundry sack that she used instead of a backpack. Many call “Grandma” Gatewood the first thru-hiker celebrity. She appeared on the Today show and numerous other programs. She inspired two distinct movements in hiking—long-distance hiking for women and the ultra-lite movement. She carried just a few items with her, each chosen carefully so they could perform multiple functions. Including food, water and equipment, she rarely carried more than 20 pounds.


Stuart has been a longtime member (life-member) of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (@AT_Conservancy), and we are supporters of the Appalachian Trail Museum (@AppTrailMuseum), so we have long known about the section of trail honoring Buckeye Trail Association (@HikeTheBT) founder and Appalachian Trail legend Emma “Grandma” Gatewood.

We think it is great that the six-mile Grandma Gatewood Trail within the Old Man's Cave Section of the Buckeye Trail recognizes Grandma Gatewood's achievements!

Buckeye Trail - Old Man's Cave Section
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Buckeye Trail and American Discovery Trail join with the Grandma Gatewood Trail for 6 miles through the park. The trail is rated difficult.

Note that the Buckeye Trail Old Man's Cave Section is also part of the American Discovery Trail (@American_Trail) and the North Country Trail, from which you can connect to even more long-distance trails in the United States! See the websites and to learn more about these long-distance trails! Here is a map from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website (@OhioDNR) that shows how the trails overlap, to which we added insert maps that show the location of the multi-state trails:

A section of the Buckeye Trail is also part of the American Discovery Trail and the North Country Trail.
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Tuesday, March 23, 2021 - John Glenn Astronomy Park

John Glenn Astronomy Park is about 0.9 miles to the west of the Old Man's Cave Visitor's Center along route 664.
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The John Glenn Astronomy Park is dedicated to sparking an interest in science, learning, and exploration by sharing with visitors the wonders of the sky, both day and night.

The Inspiration

Throughout most of history, humans have been inspired by the wondrous sight of a night sky filled with stars.  Our stories and mythologies have been mapped upon the patterns of the stars.   Our calendars, festivals, and agriculture have been linked to the movement of the heavens.  In recent times, a view of the night sky has been the inspiration in many young people for lifelong passion for science in general.

Sadly, however, the lights of our modern world have, in recent decades, put our view of the heavens behind a veil of artificial light.   Most of us live under a sky that gives only a pale, washed out hint of its former beauty.

An astronomy park in the Hocking Hills State park was inspired by our vanishing night sky.   The Hocking Hills, in rural southeastern Ohio, is one of the few areas left in the state of Ohio where the night sky can be seen in its near pristine state.   The observatory provides a venue for visitors to the Hocking Hills State park to experience the night sky through a large telescope and with their eyes.

. . . The plaza has been designed to allow the rays of the sun to fall upon a special central point on the first day of each of the four seasons.

We are glad we discovered the John Glenn Astronomy Park which opened to the public on June 21, 2018 – the summer solstice and the longest day of that year. The park reminded us very much of Observatory Park in the Geauga Park District (@GeaugaParks).



Tuesday, March 23, 2021 - Conkles Hollow State Nature Preserve

Conkles Hollow State Nature Preserve offers two traditional trails; one is handicapped-accessible. No pets are permitted in the nature preserve.
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Conkles Hollow is one of the most spectacular features within the Hocking Hills region. Its sheer cliffs of Black Hand sandstone rise nearly 200 feet above the valley floor. The deep, cool gorge, which is only 100 feet wide in places and is considered by some to be the deepest in Ohio, has numerous waterfalls cascading over its sandstone cliffs. The cliff tops with their magnificent overlooks and the quiet gorge beneath offer visitors an opportunity to explore different habitats, each with its own unique plant and animal communities.

About 350 million years ago, this portion of Ohio lay under the waters of a vast inland ocean. . . .

Conkles Hollow has two trails totaling 3.5 miles. A portion of the Gorge Trail is wheelchair accessible.

As we hiked up the Gorge Trail, Julie said that if felt like we were going back in time. Ancient seas created created these rocks that were not touched by the glaciers that covered the northern part of Ohio. Do you see the shape of a horse's head in the photo at the Grotto in the first tweet?



Wednesday, March 24, 2021 - Rock House

Rock House - 1 mile - Moderate
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Rock House - 1 mile - Moderate

Rock House is an enclosed, cave-like structure located in Hocking Hills State Park with a colorful history. Rock House contains a row of seven "windows" separated by massive columns of solid stone. Steps have been cut into a cliff that lead up and through the windows. Inside is a tunnel-like passageway, about twenty-five feet high, two hundred feet long, and twenty to thirty feet wide.

Rock House is unique in the Hocking Hills region, as it is the only true cave in the park. It is a tunnel-like corridor situated midway up a 150-foot cliff of Blackhand sandstone.

On our last day exploring Hocking Hills, we visited two of the park's locations as we headed north. Maybe it was our imagination, but we seemed to pick the two hardest hikes for the last day! We still had a great time!

Visiting Rock House, Julie remembered taking photos of our children when they were young, as we watched other couples taking photos of their kids on the same ledges inside the cave.




Wednesday, March 24, 2021 - Cantwell Cliffs

Cantwell Cliffs - 2 miles - Difficult
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Cantwell Cliffs - 2 miles - Difficult

Cantwell Cliffs is located in the northern reaches of Hocking Hills - 17 miles from Old Man's Cave on S.R. 374. Its remote location discourages visitation, but those who travel the extra distance will not be disappointed. Many visitors proclaim the Cantwell area as the most picturesque in Hocking County.

A great way to end our visit to Hocking Hills State Park -- climbing the paths around Cantwell Cliffs. Julie thought it was a challenging hike, but that the area was well worth exploring!



Related Blog Posts

We always like to list related blog posts so you can learn more about the places we visit or events we attend. We have written many blog posts that relate to our experiences hiking in Hocking Hills State Park. Here are some blog posts that include information about the Buckeye Trail:

This is our fourth Travel blog post.

Most of the venues that we write about in our were closed this past year due to the pandemic, so we have written our "Social Distancing Series" blog posts to capture the activities we are able to do at this time. We have written about visiting a lot of parks, and are very grateful for the several northeast Ohio park systems that we have been exploring during this time. Once the coronavirus crisis is over, it will be interesting to read these to see the contrast between these times and "normal life."

With the COVID-19 vaccine now being distributed to all in Ohio, we expect we are entering the last months of practicing social distancing. Please come back to read more of our blog posts as things start opening again, and...

Stay well!