Ohio’s Hocking Hills State Park is unbelievably beautiful
Walking down a stone staircase carved out of a geological sandstone masterpiece, I emerged from this picturesque hillside into a beautiful green oasis accented by a 200’ waterfall.
It could have easily been a page out of a tropical travel magazine. It must be Kauai, right? No, it’s not Hawaii. I’m at Cantwell Cliffs in Hocking County, located in Southeast Ohio, a place of wonders where most Detroiters may have never visited, but should.
A 3 ½-hour trip from Detroit, Hocking Hills State Park is an incredible destination for the novice to advanced hiker looking for a memorable getaway that will surprise and inspire the planning for a return trip.
I’ve made this trek to Hocking Hills several times, incredibly taken aback at the beauty each time I have visited. This particular excursion was a three-day camping trip with my daughter’s school, which, of course, added a mobile soundtrack of 20 active fifth and sixth graders to the usually serene setting. It was a great time and one that created a special memory for some of Detroit’s finest students.
Hocking Hills has several areas that are absolutely stand-out attractions. Old Man’s Cave, possibly the most highly visited site at the park, features a range of vegetation that conjures up thoughts of a tropical rainforest.
The cave and its surrounding rock formations are located in a cavernous gorge of sandstone that was deposited over 350 million years ago. The gorge was once submerged under a shallow sea that receded over time with the resulting erosion carving out this spectacular region.
Old Man’s Cave gets its name from the hermit who lived under the massive ledge in the 19th century. The students did not waste any time exploring this area in a way that seems to be exclusive to an inquisitive 11- or 12-year old. They climbed and ran and jumped and, finally they got to the payoff, a beautiful waterfall and lagoon at the base of the gorge. Nice!
The impressive nature of Hocking Hills is on full exhibition with each visit that our group makes to its various attractions. From Cantwell Cliffs to Old Man’s Cave to the Rock House, our group of 28 students and chaperones enjoyed the beauty that is so close to our urban lifestyles but seems to be a million miles away from our normal hustle and bustle.
For me, the Rock House is the closest thing to resembling an inhabitable outdoor space. It is a true cave that has small alcoves on the inside with areas where artifacts have been found that indicate a past Native American presence within the sheltered space.
It was truly a place of introspection as this was the location where the students started to slow down and really take in their surroundings. I like to think it was the beauty and history of the Rock House that grabbed their attention but, after a long day of hiking around several locations in Hocking Hills, perhaps they were tiring, ready for dinner and eager to roast marshmallows by the campfire.
I guess that might be closer to the reality as our incredible day of fun and exploration neared an end.
What to See in Hocking Hills
A visit to Hocking Hills State Park would not be complete without a visit to one of these six major hiking areas among the more than 25 miles of hiking trails in the region:
Considered the most spectacular feature in the park, is home to the largest recess cave in the state. You’ll approach the cave through a narrow gorge lined with stately hemlock, beech and other hardwood trees. The narrow gorge opens its mouth wide to a quarter-mile drop into an overhanging ledge and cave shelter.
Old Man’s Cave
More popular, located on State Route 664. It’s home to five sections, the Upper Falls, Upper Gorge, Middle Falls, Lower Falls and Lower Gorge. Along the trail are incredible gorge cuts through Blackhand sandstone that is 150-feet thick.
The only true cave in the park, has a tunnel-like corridor midway up a 150-foot cliff of Blackhand sandstrone.
A rugged, rocky gorge that’s one of the deepest in Ohio. The wilderness is blanketed by ferns and wildflower and shaded by stately trees.
The greatest waterfall in the Hocking area region. It was misnamed by early White settlers, who mistook the hemlocks for cedars. Queer Creek rushes past the Blackhand sandstone, displaying the mighty force of the water.
About 17 miles from Old Man’s Cave, the cliffs’ remote location often discourages visitors. But this area often called the most picturesque in the region, never disappoints visitors who are brave enough to explore it.
DARYL M. PIERSON IS THE DIRECTOR OF WAYNE STATE’S SUSTAINABILITY OFFICE.