Say that 3 times fast! After a long night in Dolly Sods, I hit the road early and arrived in the Hocking Hills region of Ohio around noon. I don’t know how, but Hocking Hills State Park wound up on my list of places to explore; and I’m glad it did. I don’t think many people think of Ohio as a destination for natural wonders, but this is a real gem.
Not only is the park a great hiking location, it is very unique in that the gorge, the central feature of the park, is quite large for the topography of the region. I was surprised at how deep the creek ran through the gorge, especially as you make it farther down the trail. The park has a very developed trail system which makes for an enjoyable hike, even for the novice hiker. This was my first time at an Ohio State Park, but I was impressed. The facilities are great, trails are maintained, and best of all: it’s free to get in!
There are two routes to explore the gorge: inside the gorge along the creek, or above the gorge along the rim trail. Inside the gorge follows a series of paths with several stairs and bridges that get you close to the waterfalls, whereas above the gorge is much flatter and follows the aptly named Gorge Overlook Trail. The main attraction is Old Man’s Cave, which is located about a mile down the trail. The Cave contains a series of tunnels and deep cuts into the gorge walls (I assume carved over time by the water and/or ice, but I’m no geologist). At Old Man’s Cave, you have the opportunity to walk up or down along the gorge using a series of stairs and tunnels. If you started on the overlook trail, you have the opportunity to hike down, and vice versa. The walkway design was impressive and allows you to appreciate the contours of the rocks up close. As you work your way into the gorge, the gorge walls gradually get deeper. If you make it all the way to Cedar Falls (about 5 miles one way), there are several impressive rock faces that made me think I was in another state and not Ohio. Luckily, I was able to hike the Cedar Falls section of the trail later in the day without having to make a 10 mile round trip.
I hiked about two miles from the top of the trail and visited the major tourist attractions highlighted on the map. I didn’t want to spend the entire day hiking, especially after a 6 hour drive, so I headed back to the starting point to retrive my vehicle and set up camp. There are a lot of campsites in the park. I opted for the “economy” campsite located a few miles down the road (it was the cheapest option and it gave me my first opportunity to set up my Roof Top Tent! I still had access to all the facilities which included water, a pool, and hot showers. In addition to the campsites in the park, the area surrounding the park has several private campsites including a KOA, cabins, and a chalet (ooh la la). There were a lot of people in the park, especially for a Tuesday, and the little businesses catering to tourists appeared to be doing well.
My campsite was in the Organized Youth Campground, located around the corner from the visitor center and main campgrounds. You drive about 2 miles down route 374 and it’s on the left. Just before I made it to my campsite I saw a sign for Cedar Falls, which I was unable to reach during my earlier hike. I pulled into the parking lot and realized that you can hike the gorge in reverse, starting at Cedar Falls. Hiking from the Cedar Falls parking lot, it only takes a few minutes to get to the waterfall. It’s unique in that the water splits halfway down and then seems to be scooped up at the last second. I’m glad I stopped and made the short hike to see it before setting up camp. The only problem with the roof top tent: once you set it up, you can’t really drive anywhere.
Luckily the days are long in June and it allowed me to spend a lot of time exploring the Hocking Hills. The trail system provides options for every level of hiker. At the end of the day, I discovered a lookout tower near my campsite. By climbing it I was able to get a good view of the area (it looked surprisingly flat) and get cell phone reception for a few minutes. I didn’t have reception all day, which reminds me of another great thing about this park: they have an app! You can download the Hocking Hills app for maps and other useful information about the park as I assume that there is limited reception for all cell phone carriers.
The next two days of my trip involve a lot of driving. I know this because I’m writing this from Kansas, 2 days after I left the Hocking Hills and the state of Ohio. There are plenty of places to see in the “flyover” states, but I wanted to get out west and spend some time in the mountains. The landscape is quite bucolic driving through the heartland, but Missouri and Kansas can’t compete with the Rocky Mountains…so I’m told.