If you were to ask me where the coolest place to experience nature in Ohio is, I wouldn’t hesitate for one second, it’s Hocking Hills. This State Park is located 1 hour (57 miles) from downtown Columbus and is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. I’ve been going to Hocking Hills my whole life, so I wanted to put together a brief overview of the area, activities, accommodation options and where to eat. I hope you like the pics, they are from the most recent trip down.
Hiking is the reason most people visit Hocking Hills, so I'll start there. The best way to explain the area, is that it's a grouping of hotspots (about 10 different hiking trails), majority with their own parking area. You can pick and chose which ones you want to hike, and map out a plan. Majority of the areas offers trails for different skill levels, all arriving at a main feature. For example, once you park your car, you have the option of taking a longer, less strenuous trail or a slightly more challenging trail to reach a main feature. The longer trails usually take you through gradual elevation changes, while the shorter trails involve more hiking/climbing. So, you're basically gearing your walk/hike to your skill level. When visiting, it's great to hit the main trails, or if you're in the mood for a challenge, you can start at the southernmost trail and hike through the entire trail system in one continuous path. There are also shuttles available for a fee to take you from point to point. Now, to highlight some of the main areas:
Old Man's Cave
I would say this is the most popular trail in the Hocking region. It's a moderate trial perfect for all ages, with a lot of cool features. The trail starts with a rock bridge over a waterfall, and there's even a small beach area at the bottom (a great place for a photo op.) From there, you’ll cross a few more bridges and walk down a staircase cut into the rock. As you get closer to the cave, you’ll pass through a narrow tunnel (my kids favorite) and you’ll emerge to an awe-inspiring view of the cave. It’s massive, and with the surrounding foliage and waterfall, one of the coolest places in the state. Before you climb up the cave, you can visit the lower falls. This body of water is a great place to take a dip during the warmer weather, and enjoy swimming under the waterfall. Climbing up the cave is pretty easy and safe as there is a rock wall containing visitors. This hike is about 60 minutes to complete.
The Rock House
One of my favorites! It's a large cave, hidden within the the side of a cliff face. If you want to feel like an adventurer, maybe like Josh Gates from Expedition Unknown (one of my family’s favorites), then this is the spot for you! It really gets your blood flowing when you walk up to the Rock House from below and realize, “I’m climbing up there?” There's a staircase cut into the rock you have to walk up (without a railing) and you quickly get a sense of how high up you'll be climbing. It's a little intimidating, but so much fun! Once at the top of the stairs, you take in the view of the land below and then head into the cave. Inside the cave there are steps here and there, and a flashlight is a huge plus to have. In a space that was used by robbers to hide, it’s a fun experience for the family.
This is one of the most photographed areas in the park. The cave is enormous! There’s a sandy bottom below that you can explore as a small waterfall trickles down from above. The sheer size of the cave makes you feel small, but it’s a big adventure for hikers of all ages.
Another fun hike which starts by descending a narrow rock staircase between two large rock structures. At the bottom, the cliffs are right before you. A 1 mile pathway takes you to the bottom.
There’s also destinations like Conkles Hollow, Cedar Falls and Whispering Trail to explore.
There’s more than just hiking here! A ton of people from Columbus trek down to Hocking Hills to canoe. At Hocking Hills Adventures, you can rent a canoe and paddle down the Hocking River. This is something my family does most years. We pack a lunch, grab our bathing suits and cruise down the waterways. The trip is pretty smooth the whole way, with nothing that I would consider rapids.
If you want to go zip lining, this is one of the best places in Ohio to do it. At Hocking Hills Canopy Tours you can take a 3 hour trip, or try the company's Superzip which climbs to speeds of 50 mph.
You can also rock climb and repell in the area, rent a pontoon boat on Lake Logan or enjoy a horseback ride. There’s also a brand new planetarium to take in the stars.
While it is entirely possible to do Hocking Hills with a day trip from Columbus, I think it's a great overnight option. Most of the options are cabins, which are really cozy, especially in the winter. Now, finding the right place to stay is all about your personal preference.
Isolated cabins: Some cabin rentals are off the beaten path, in the middle of the woods, without another cabin nearby. In places like this, wifi may not be available, so make sure this is what you and your family are looking for. We chose this option and had a great time. iPads and devices were put away and we did more family activities, like a puzzle, played card games and board games. The only down side, the land line in the cabin was the only way to reach the outside world.
Cluster cabins: I call them cluster cabins because they’re close to each other, and not as isolated. If you’re looking for a cabin experience, but want to be close to others, this could be a good options for you. Most of these cabins will have wifi and other shared amenities.
Lodges: The last options is to stay at one of the lodges in the area.This provides for the most resort/hotel feel, as they have most of the amenities you might expect while traveling.
Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls
One of the best dining options is the area is at the Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls. This option is a higher end dining experience, serving several items that change daily, including pasta of the day, vegetarian dish of the day and fish of the day.
The Restaurant at Glen Laurel Inn
The other staple of the region is the restaurant at Glen Laurel Inn. The dining options include a 6 or 7 course menu that is outstanding.
The restaurant is headed by a Certified Master Chef and staffed by hospitality and culinary students from from Hocking College. It is located in Nelsonville, one of the towns in the area.
Here, you'll experience global cuisine in a college town setting. While Athens, home of Ohio University (the Bobcats, not the Buckeyes), is a little bit of a drive, it's a beautiful area, set among the hills.
Restaurant on the Dam at the Stockport Mill Inn
This option is a bit of a drive but if you're in the mood for NY Strip Steak or Baby back ribs, then you should check this place out. Plus the views from the restaurant are amazing.
I hope you enjoyed this travel highlight! If you do find yourself in Columbus, it's definitely worth checking out!