The best hikes in Hocking Hills State Park

One of the most popular things to do when visiting the Hocking Hills State Park in Logan, Ohio is hiking. While there are many other activities such as canoeing, kayaking, ziplining, horseback riding, etc., Hocking Hills is known for its picturesque hiking trails. There are seven major scenic hiking destinations in Hocking Hills State Park. Keep reading below for a list of the best hikes in the Hocking Hills State Park.

The Upper Falls on the hike to Old Man's Cave
The Upper Falls on the hike to Old Man’s Cave

One of the reasons why Hocking Hills State park is so popular for hiking is because of the beautiful sandstone cliffs that characterize many of the hikes. Over time, water has eroded the sandstone and left behind beautiful cave and cliff formations. Several of these hikes also feature waterfalls and tranquil pools of water. There are endless photo opportunities on these hikes and they offer great exercise, but most of the hikes are of moderate difficulty. Be sure to prepare appropriately.

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Planning your hiking adventure

Due to the current pandemic, many of the hiking trails in Hocking Hills are marked one-way. You can pick up a map of the trails (including information about the trail direction) from the Visitor Center near Old Man’s Cave. Although there are some maps available online, they don’t show the new directional hiking patterns. 

To be honest, we weren’t always able to follow the marked direction, but because we visited during the middle of the week (and at the end of the season), there wasn’t much traffic on the trails (but I am not advocating for nor encouraging such behavior). It is unclear for how long the trails will be one-way, but it does make it a bit more challenging to reach all seven destinations without adding significant length to your hikes. 

I encourage all visitors to follow posted park rules. Posted rules state that you must stay on the marked path and prohibit swimming or wading in the water. It is also important to time your hikes appropriately. The park closes at dark and hikers will need to make sure that they can safely exit the park well before this time.

I recommend a stop at the Visitor Center near Old Man’s Cave before beginning your hiking adventure. In addition to park maps, they also have bathrooms and a gift shop. This is also likely the only place in the Hocking Hills State Park where you will find a wi-fi signal. We didn’t have cellular service on any of the hikes. 

The map of the seven major hiking attractions in Hocking Hills State Park
The map of the seven major hiking attractions in Hocking Hills State Park

Old Man’s Cave

Old Man’s Cave is probably the most visited hiking destination in Hocking Hills. The shortest, most heavily-traveled version of this hike is about one mile long and takes about an hour to complete. There are several places where you must travel uneven, worn, and slippery stone steps on this hike. It starts at the Upper Falls which is a small waterfall into a tranquil pool. From there, you will travel past the Devil’s Bathtub, which is an interesting pool feeding into a small waterfall. A short while later you will encounter Old Man’s cave. There are numerous changes in elevation on this portion of the hike and one set of stairs in particular that makes me feel a bit of vertigo. There is another set of stairs in a long unlit tunnel.

If you extend your hike another half mile, you will be able to see the Lower Falls which is another small waterfall. This slightly extended version of the trail is a bit less crowded because many hikers exit at Old Man’s cave. I personally think that it is worth the small added distance to see this additional point of interest and following this trail back around allows you to get full access to the Old Man’s Cave on your way back to the parking lot.

Old Man’s Cave is itself a large cliff shelter formation in the sandstone cliffside. It is majestic and so massive that it is difficult to capture in photos, but there are several really cool areas to explore here. It supposedly gets its name because an old trapper and his dog used to live in the cave shelter and were buried there.

Whispering Cave

The Whispering Cave trail is the newest in the Hocking Hills State Park and only opened to the public in 2017. You can access the Whispering Cave trail directly by parking in the Hocking Hills Dining Lodge parking lot. This lodge burned down in 2016 and is currently being rebuilt.

When we visited, we actually added it to our Cedar Falls Hike (which caused us to have to go against the one-way direction signs posted) because we were unaware of the parking at the Hocking Hills Dining Lodge. You can also add it to your Old Man’s Cave hike, which would increase your round-trip hike to a total of five miles (but prevent you from going against the posted one-way direction signs).

The hike to Whispering Cave is a fun one. There is a swinging bridge, a boardwalk, and many stairs. The hike is about 1.5 miles round trip and includes numerous elevation changes. At the halfway point you will find the Whispering Cave. It is a 300-foot-wide recess cave with a small waterfall that is over 100 feet tall.

Cedar Falls

The Cedar Falls hike is very short but has a massive number of stairs (especially right at the end as you make your way back to the parking lot). So I advise not saving this for the end of your day. The hike is only about half a mile long and takes you to the largest falls (in volume) in the Hocking Hills State Park. 

There is a nice picnic area with bathrooms near the parking lot at Cedar Falls. On the day we visited, the falls were pretty underwhelming, but it was a nice hike nonetheless. 

Ash Cave

Ash Cave is also a pretty short hike. Most of this hike actually consists of a paved path and is handicap accessible (although non-handicap individuals must return to the parking lot along the ridge trail which has steps and a dirt path). The hike to Ash Cave is approximately one half mile and takes about 40 minutes to complete.

Ash Cave is probably my favorite point of interest of all of the Hocking Hills hikes. At almost 700 feet wide, it is the largest cave recess in Ohio. A small waterfall falls into the pool at the center of the recess and there are amazing acoustics. Once when visiting we saw a small wedding taking place here.

Conkle’s Hollow Nature Preserve

Walking into the Conkle’s Hollow Nature Preserve feels a bit like you are walking into another world. Or at least another part of the world. The lush greenery give this hike an almost tropical feel. Like the Ash Cave hike, the hike to Conkle’s Hollow Nature Preserve is mostly paved. There is a short section at the end of the hike that is not paved that takes you to a small waterfall, but it was so small we couldn’t actually make out where the water was hitting the pool below.

This hike is about 0.75 miles long (one way) and takes about an hour to complete if you take the more direct lower trail. There is also an upper rim trail that is about two miles long that we did not have time to explore. This trail is not paved and is considered strenuous and includes steep inclines and uneven stairs.

Rock House

The Rock House hike takes you to a 200 foot tunnel-like sandstone cave. It feels majestic because water has eroded out several ‘windows’ leaving columns to support the cave roof. 

The Rock House hike is about one mile round trip and includes several elevation changes and uneven stairs. The long steep incline at the end of this hike will test your endurance. There is a nice picnic area near one of the two parking lots. If you park in the furthest lot, you will have to cross through the first parking lot at the end of your hike to return to your car.

Cantwell Cliffs

Cantwell Cliffs was a surprisingly challenging hike. Right near the beginning of the hike you must pass through a set of very narrow, steep, and uneven steps. From there, you can choose to either take the upper rim trail or the lower gorge hike. Each of these trails is approximately one mile and takes an hour or more to complete. This hike is considered the most rugged and remote hike in the Hocking Hills State Park.

This tends to be the least busy trail because of its remote location. With cliffs over 150 feet tall, the views on this hike are stunning. We decided to take the rim trail and really got a workout. We also felt that this trail was not as clearly marked as some of the others, so pay close attention to the maps on this hike. This trail is considered strenuous and has many sets of uneven stone steps.  

Preparing for your hikes

With the exception of Ash Cave and the Conkle’s Hollow, the other hikes include significant elevation changes and some require an ability to climb over large rocks and through some narrow passages. You will certainly want to come prepared for these hikes and bring the appropriate attire and supplies. I recommend good (and preferably waterproof) hiking shoes for these hikes. You might also want to consider wearing long pants, but because the trails are well-traveled, you will probably be okay in shorts.

I also recommend that you bring your camera or GoPro. You will also want to have sunscreen and bug spray (or you can make bug repellent jewelry like I did) and maybe a hat. You will absolutely want to have water with you on your hikes. Although there are not many places to purchase water, snacks, or other supplies, these items can be found at the Visitors Center near the entrance to Old Man’s Cave.

A map of Hocking Hills State Park Hiking Trails
A map of Hocking Hills State Park Hiking Trails

Hiking challenge

It is possible for a serious hiker to complete all of these trails in one day. We weren’t able to do it on our last trip because we started too late in the day, but we were able to complete all of the hikes in under eight hours. If you are looking for a challenge, you might try to finish them all in a single day. If you take on this challenge, I recommend completing these trails in the following order:

  1. Cantwell Cliffs
  2. Rock House
  3. Conkles Hollow
  4. Old Man’s Cave
  5. Cedar Falls
  6. Whispering Cave
  7. Ash Cave

If you are really ambitious, you can combine Old Man’s Cave, Cedar Falls, Whispering Cave, and Ash Cave into a single continuous hike as all four locations are connected by the state-wide Buckeye Trail. One-way, this hike is about six miles and there is no return bus or shuttle service. However, if you have two vehicles or someone who is willing to pick you up at the end, this could be a really nice hike. Or, if you are much more fit than me, you could complete a round-trip 12-mile hike beginning and ending at either Old Man’s Cave or Ash Cave.

Conclusion

We have made several trips to the Hocking Hills area. I encourage you to review my other post about some of the other great activities and dining options available in Hocking Hills. If you have additional time and are looking for another great adventure, you might consider visiting The Wilds Conservation Park. We recently combined these two destinations in a short state-cation and had a fantastic time. I will be sure to share some of my experiences at The Wilds in a future post!

Which of the hikes in Hocking Hills is your favorite? Do you have any other recommendations for hiking in Hocking Hills?

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