We adore day tripping down to the Hocking Hills area.
Just over an hour from Columbus, this natural, scenic treasure is beautiful in any season and truly a hiker’s haven.
E and I went on hikes here together before we were married. I’ve gone on girls’ day out hikes here with my bestie. And, of course, over the years, we’ve taken plenty of fun family trips to Hocking Hills.
We love the drive down, and the way the landscape changes from mostly flat in the Columbus area to prominent curves and valleys once you reach the Hocking Hills State Park region.
Driving the Hocking Hills scenic byway is a delight even if you don’t stop to get out and hike.
In addition to making for a fabulous day trip, Hocking Hills is also a terrific place to rent a cabin and spend a few days unplugged and immersed in nature. Staying in the area gives you a chance to see and do even more, from hiking to enjoying quaint shops, cute little towns and good food.
We have found a weekend at a cabin in Hocking Hills always feels like a longer getaway because it is so relaxing and energizing to be completely surrounded by nature. Also, did I mention most of them have outdoor hot tubs? Perfect after hiking!
The true stars of Hocking Hills State Park are its seven main hiking areas, each featuring different geological formations, water features and natural beauty.
Each of the main hikes are self-contained, one-way loops (although some trails do interconnect) and most folks drive from one to the next so you get a bit of a break before starting the next hike.
My record to date is tackling three Hocking Hills hiking areas before needing to get some food and recharge a bit! I’m sure more avid and in-shape hikers could get all seven done in one very sweaty day.
One or two of the hiking areas in Hocking Hills are relatively flat, but most feature steps down into a gorge – and those same steps coming back up can be killer! Still, none of the hikes are super long and we’ve found them all to be pretty doable, even with kiddos and friendly, leashed dogs.
Are you ready to meet our top 5 favorite Hocking Hills hikes?
- Ash Cave – our family calls this one “Autumn’s Cave” because our sweet Goldendoodle Autumn absolutely loved it here. It’s a short and easy walk to Ash Cave, which has a seasonal waterfall (it can be just a trickle at times) and an impressive, amphitheater-like cave with a soft sand floor. Adventurous hikers can continue on, climbing the steps at the back of the cave and doing a short elevated hike that brings you back around to the start of the lower trail hike. We especially love this one in the wintertime!
- Cedar Falls – this lovely hike leads you to a gorgeous, iconic waterfall. Because this is such a popular hiking spot, it can get pretty crowded on weekends. We love it best on weekdays when the kids are in school so you get more of a chance to have this serene beauty all to yourself for a few moments. It’s truly an idyllic and magical hike so if you can only do one Hocking Hills spot, this would be my choice. With snow and ice on the ground, this waterfall is absolutely majestic.
- Rock House – this was Z’s favorite as a young child. You hike down into a steep gorge to find an amazing room-like cave tucked along the side of a huge cliff. You can walk in and around the cave; there are steep drop-offs so keep a close eye (or better yet a hand) on little ones at all times. The old-growth forest, rock formations and the cave itself are all absolutely spectacular – you almost feel as if you’re on another planet or in some far-off land. I probably wouldn’t do this one in the winter because of the steep slopes and drop-offs.
- Conkle’s Hollow – there are two trails here, an arduous upper one and an easy lower one. The last time we did the pretty lower trail, I was blown away by all the wildflowers – including some varieties I’ve never seen anywhere else. It dead-ends at a small, seasonal waterfall in a cave, so best to do this one after some rain. The upper trail is fabulous during fall as it affords birds-eye views of many treetops, but it has many steep areas and drop-offs so is not recommended for young children or anyone who is not a fit and experienced hiker.
- Old Man’s Cave – this trail has a little something for everyone, including caves, multiple waterfalls, a unique water feature called the Devil’s Bathtub, stone tunnels and many unique rock formations. This was one of the first hikes I ever did in Hocking Hills, and it’s on my list for the next time we go hiking. There are some narrow paths along cliffs so I’ve been known to avoid this one due to my fear of heights, but it’s been long enough that I’m feeling a hankering to conquer it once more.
The Hocking Hills region is truly a hiker’s paradise with these and so many other great hikes and trails to explore.
Do you have another favorite place to hike in Hocking Hills or elsewhere in Ohio? I’d love to hear about it – especially if it involves waterfalls!