I had honesty never heard of Hocking Hills State Park until a few months before we booked our trip. But a few Google searches later and I knew we had to check this Midwest gem off our travel bucket list. Located only 5 1/2 hours from Southwest Michigan, it made for the perfect anniversary road trip destination. It's also only about 50 minutes outside of Columbus so we decided to spend two days there before driving the rest of the way to Hocking Hills. Check out my foodie guide to Columbus, Ohio here - yum!
Hocking Hills has 7 different hiking areas - all of which are relatively short and moderate making it easy to visit multiple stops in one day. We stayed for two nights and it seemed like the perfect amount of time to explore it all. Keep reading for all the details you'll need to know to plan your own trip and a breakdown of how we spent each of our days.
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Where to Stay:
There are SO many great lodging options within the park from log cabins, to yurts, to a-frames and tent camping. I highly recommend staying within the park as it provides easy access to all the trails and it’s so scenic and peaceful. We booked an A-frame cabin at the Chalets at Hocking Hills and it was perfect for two of us but could easily sleep up to four. They may seem tiny from the outside, but they had a full living room and kitchen as well as a private hot tub on the patio. My only complaint was the wifi which you had to pay $15 extra for and was pretty slow. The property also had a pool and sauna pods available to rent.
Tips for Visiting:
When to visit: The park is open year round and there is beauty is every season but when deciding when to plan a trip, it really depends on what’s most important to you. Flowing waterfalls in spring, great weather in summer, peak colors in fall, or icy waterfalls in the winter? We planned our trip August and while we had great weather for hiking, none of the waterfalls were really flowing at the time so I told my husband we had to plan a trip to go back in the spring. Winter is also one of the most peaceful and unique times to visit with stunning views of frozen snow and ice on the trails.
Getting around: All of the main roads/trails are fairly well marked which makes getting around pretty easy. However, you're likely to lose cell service in certain areas throughout the park. I downloaded an offline map of the area on Google Maps and it was a lifesaver. You're able to search for any landmark within the perimeter you downloaded and get driving directions regardless of your cell service. I also recommend downloading the free Hocking Hills mobile app which provides maps of each of the trails as well as suggestions for local dining, shopping, etc. The trails are all really well marked on the hikes so we never had an issue getting lost but it was still helpful to know what we were getting ourselves into each time.
Bugs: I was shocked by the lack of mosquitoes. Don't quote me on this but we never had an issue on any of the trails. We didn’t ever need bug spray (I actually forgot to pack it) or sunscreen because a majority of the trails are shaded by trees.
Dogs: You can bring your furry friends on all trails except at Conkle’s Hollow Nature Preserve. We actually saw quite a few while out on the trails and since they're all relatively short I don't think any of them would be too strenuous for pups.
Social distancing: The park was closed for a period of time in the spring so they could redo the trails to be one way loops so you're hardly ever passing people along the way. They only out and back I think we encountered was the gorge trail at Conkle's Hollow and even then people were very respectful about waiting for others to pass. We felt very safe the whole time.
Start your day early: This may be my #1 tip for an enjoyable experience. With around 4 million visitors during a normal season, this park can get pretty busy. We went on off days (Monday-Tuesday) which I think helps anywhere you travel but we also started our days early. We were out on the trails by 8 am and encountered very few other people. In fact, we had some of the trails completely to ourselves at times which was so peaceful. When we were finishing up around 11am the parking lots were already filling up and the crowds had started to form. This is also super important if you want to get good photos without tons of people in the background.
Day 1: Cantwell Cliffs, Rock House, Conkle's Hollow Nature Preserve
We started our morning driving from Columbus and arrived in Hocking Hills around 9:30 a.m. If you're coming from this direction I suggest hiking in this order as Cantwell Cliffs is the farthest away from the main park area and the first stop you'll encounter on the way. It took us around 3 hours to hike all three of these trails which was perfect because we finished right around lunch time.
Cantwell Cliffs: Shortly after starting this hike you'll reach the towering sandstone cliffs you'll have to climb a set of stairs down between. The most narrow portion of the trail has been nicknamed "fat woman's squeeze." From here you can choose to follow the rim trail (1.1 miles) which is situated above the gorge or the gorge trail (.9 mile) which winds along the base of the cliffs.
Rock House: This is the park's only true cave and features a tunnel-like corridor midway up a 150-foot cliff of Black Hand sandstone. This is one of the park's shorter hikes and definitely worth checking out. Once you reach the Rock House you're able to explore inside and view the natural cut outs which look like windows. It was rather dark within the actual cave so be careful walking around or turn your phone's flashlight on.
Conkle's Hollow: This was both my husband and I's favorite hiking spot of the trip. The nature persevere features two trails which both offer their own beauty. On our first trip we opted for the gorge trail which is out and back and passes through the deep gorge which is only 100 feet wide in places. The end of the gorge trail has a waterfall but it was hardly flowing during our visit. We loved this park so much we came back on day 2 to conquer the Rim Trail (see below).
Old Man's General Store: This was a great stop for lunch after our morning hikes. There weren't a lot of food options within the park itself aside from a couple general stores which offered grab and go deli sandwiches, pasta salad, pizza, etc. Most of the trails also had picnic shelters near the parking lots and we saw lots of people packing their own food.
Hocking Hills Winery: We had some time to kill before we could check in to our a-frame cabin at 4 pm so we headed into Logan, Ohio (the main town in this area) to check out a few local spots. Our first was Hocking Hills Winery which has the cutest outdoor patio nestled in the forest. They offer wine flights with 8 tastings for $10 (great deal if you ask me!) You can sample any of their award-winning wines including the peach or raspberry wine slushies. Or get creative and mix the slushies for a fun combo. They also offered a variety of charcuterie boards if you didn't eat before you came.
Brewery 33: Located a short drive away we stopped at Brewery 33 to check out the local beer scene. The tasting room was pretty small but they did have an outdoor patio area. They also had a variety of board games to choose from which was a super fun way to kill some time. I was a big fan of the kiwi strawberry Gose.
Grocery shopping: Downtown Logan offers a Walmart and a Kroger which are both great spots to stop for groceries or other supplies. We grabbed some items for a quick breakfast the next two days as some local beer and wine to enjoy at our hot tub.
Kindred Spirits: After checking into our a-frame, we showered and changed before heading to the Inn at Cedar Falls for dinner at Kindred Sprits, one of the most sought after restaurants in the area. We made a reservation in advance on their website but there was plenty of open seating while we were there. The restaurant is located within the original 1840's log cabin and has such a cute homey vibe with most tables accommodating one to two couples. The menu varies by season and they have a variety of specials each night.
Day 2: Ash Cave, Cedar Falls and Old Man's Cave, Conkle's Hollow
We were up bright and early for day 2 of hiking and it totally paid off. We made it to our first stop by 8 am and were one of only two cars in the parking lot. The four hikes listed below took us around 4 hours to complete and once again we finished right around lunch time.
Ash Cave: This is one of the more popular hiking spots and the hardest to get photos without other people in them so I knew I wanted to start here. It's also the most southernmost of the hiking areas so it makes sense to start here if you're following a similar itinerary. Ash Cave the largest recess cave east of the Mississippi and truly a breathtaking sight to see. The horseshoe-shaped rim of the cave spans 700 feet and there is a runoff waterfall that cascades down from the top into a small pool of the cave floor.
Cedar Falls: This is typically the park's most abundant waterfall but unfortunately like most others wasn't flowing much on our visit. We still had the place to ourselves on our visit which was peaceful. The waterfall is definitely the highlight of the trail so if you're short on time and visiting during a season when the waterfalls aren't really flowing I would consider skipping this one.
Old Man's Cave: This is the park's most popular trail which can easily be seen by the size of the parking lot which does fill up during peak season. As you're traveling through the gorge, you'll come across a variety of different view points including upper falls, devil's bathtub, lower falls, Old Man's Cave and the a-frame bridge. This was a tie for our favorite trail because there was so much to see. There are also a number of stone bridges and tunnels you'll have to pass through along the way. You can see the a-frame bridge from the bottom of the gorge and cross over it again at the top of the trail. When you reach Old Man's Cave you can either loop back around at that point or continue through to Lower Falls which is what we did. You'll also find the park's visitor center at the trailhead if you'd like to obtain a park map or ask the naturalists any questions.
Hemlock Bridge and Whispering Cave: This was originally on our list for day 2 but we didn't realize the parking lot for the normal start of the trail was closed due to construction. In order to access this trail we would have had to branch off on to Grandma Gatewood trail near Lower Falls on Old Man's Cave trail and then follow in a loop that comes out near the Visitor's Center. This ends up being about a 5 mile loop and we didn't have it in us to start over so we decided to skip this one. However, this is one of the park's newest trails and features a swinging bridge over Salt Creek and access to a previously blocked off waterfall and cave - the second largest after Ash Cave. Be sure to check the status of the parking lot before you visit!
Conkle's Hollow Rim Trail: For our final hike of the trip, we went back to Conkle's Hollow to tackle the Rim Trail which passes in a loop 2.5 miles above the gorge. There is a steep increase in elevation via a staircase at the start the of the trail and decline near the end but otherwise it's a pretty moderate hike. Some of the sections on the trail are pretty close to the edge of the gorge and there are lots of warning signs about this being a risky hike. There are a few different lookout points along the first half of the trail that offer stunning views of the trees/gorge below. It would be a must see spot in the fall!
Grandma Faye's Grocery Store: Another classic grab and go lunch stop but we had to try them both out. In addition to deli sandwiches and pizza there was also a decent selection of souvenirs here and we had to grab some bandaids because two days of hiking will do that to you.
Adventure Golf at Rempel's Grove: We always love to incorporate a game of mini golf on our trips and this was an awesome spot and honestly one of the prettiest mini golf courses I've played. They have a free petting zoo on the property as well as an ice cream shop which would be a fun stop for kids.
Millstone BBQ: There are limited dining options in the area but this was a great choice and had a small wait which is always a good sign. They had a great selection of classic bbq dishes and provided the table with warm cornbread muffins. I got the grilled shrimp dinner and loved it!
Day 3: Couple's Massage and Travel
Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls: After two days of hiking, a massage was well deserved and also a great way to celebrate our anniversary. The spa at the inn is located in an adorable barn on the grounds and offers Adirondack chairs out front to relax before or after your appointment. They didn't have an actual couple's massage room so our treatments were separate but we still really enjoyed the experience. After our massage we hit the road to head back home. However, you could easily squeeze in a couple different hikes early in the morning if you didn't check them all off your list the day before.
I love creating detailed travel guides to ensure you get the most out of your time. On this blog I'll be sharing some of my past trips in hopes that it helps you plan your next adventure. Pack your suitcase you never know where I'll be heading next!
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