Friday, December 30, 2011

Hocking Hills State Park and State Forest (Logan, Ohio)

Stumbles Recommended!

Not a bad sight for late December in the Midwest.
Waterfalls, technicolor cliffs, gorges, massive caves - they scream Ohio, don't they?  Well, ok, then prepare to be surprised.  During my Christmas visit back to Ohio, my mom and I took a trip to the Hocking Hills.  We hit three of the many highlights of the region: the Rock House, Old Man's Cave, and Cedar Falls.  With more time, we could have added Ash Cave, Conkle's Hollow, Airplane Rock, and Cantwell Cliffs, to name a few.  An overview map is here.

You can make your visit as demanding as you like.  Several trails connect many of the highlights.  For example, one can hike a 6- or 10-mile loop by taking the Buckeye Trail - which circumnavigates the state - from Cedar Falls to Old Man's Cave (or Ash Cave), and the Gorge Trail back.  (Maps and options here.)  Or you can cut out most of the mileage by driving to one or more of the major attractions and taking a shorter (from 0.25 miles to 2 miles) loop trail from the car.  We went with the latter, and it was quite an outing.

The Rock House

First stop was the Rock House, a colorful cave and cliff area with a 0.25 mile loop from the parking lot.  A simple map is here.  Google directions are here.  It was one of the more spectacular 0.25 miles I've been on.
From the east parking lot, follow the well-trodden yellow-blazed trail as it winds briefly through a deciduous forest before beginning its descent into the cliff area.  The trail here becomes slippery and a bit steep, even with steps in place.  Wear shoes with good traction.   

Once the trail descends approximately 15 feet, it begins to traverse along the cliffs.  Even on a dry day, there were a half dozen tiny water falls coming off the cliffs.  Very shortly, you'll come across the Rock House itself. 

Inside the House of Rock. 
It is a cave of approximately 200 feet in length, with high ceilings, plenty of small drips and pigeons, and very cool views of the gorge below.  Unfortunately, many people have felt the need to carve their names into the rock, but it doesn't take too much away from the spectacular sight.

 You can return the way you came or loop back around along the cliff face.

Old Man's Cave
An old man really did live here.
By far the most popular attraction in the Hocking Hills, the walk around Old Man's Cave includes two major waterfalls, countless smaller ones, a rapid known as the Devil's Bathtub, and a lovely path at the base of a gorge covered in ferns and moss.

We took the 2 mile loop from the Upper Falls, along the Buckeye Trail in the gorge, to Lower Falls, and then back along the Gorge Overlook Trail.  (Map here.  Google directions are here.)

Although it is only 1 mile out and 1 mile back, the trip is packed with highlights.  Immediately, you see the Upper Falls (top photo of the blog) and descend into the gorge.  The trail is extremely well-maintained, and small bridges wander over and back across the creek.  There are even more minor water falls here than at the Rock House.

I'd like to see this area after a rain storm.
Shortly after Upper Falls, you'll pass the rapids known as the Devil's Bathtub.  Then, after approximately 0.5 miles in the gorge, you'll start to see the massive Old Man's Cave.  It is more of an overhanging ledge than a cave, but it is still a sight to behold.   To reach the cave itself, you have to got through a man-made tunnel and up several steps.

After you've had your fill at the Cave, keep heading down the gorge to Lower Falls, a spot just as picturesque as the Upper Falls.  From here, you can keep going another 3 miles to Cedar Falls or head up the left side of the gorge (if you are facing Lower Falls) on a switchbacking trail and stair set that cuts under more minor water falls.

Again, this is December in the Midwest?!
At the top of the cliff, head back in the direction of the parking lot.  We crossed over the gorge at the A frame bridge half way back, to join the Gorge Overlook Trail back to the Upper Falls and the car.

Cedar Falls

If you need still more water falls, head on up to Cedar Falls.  (Map here.  Google directions are here.)  There is a 0.5 mile loop from the parking lot.

Much of the path follows the same gorge that connects to Old Man's Cave, 3 miles away.  The main attraction, however, is the falls itself.  Cedar Falls has the distinction of being the largest waterfall by volume of water in the area.  It is a lovely spot on par with the large waterfalls found elsewhere in the park, but without the additional wow factors of the caves and cliffs.

The loop trail is fairly straightforward, well-maintained, and easy to follow.  However, there are a few rocky spots and you'll be glad to have your tennis shoes or hiking shoes on.

Not tired yet?  Don't forget to check out the many other sights in the area.  I look forward to another visit soon.