Hocking Hills State Park (Ohio) 12-Oct-2021

Personal business once again took us East, this time to Columbus and Cleveland, Ohio. Compared to our little town, we found these “big” cities to be a bit disorienting. 🤪 Lots of freeways, traffic, and people. We enjoyed our visits to them – and had some great meals at small, local restaurants – but decompression time in the woods was still called for. So we planned in a visit to Hocking Hills State Park about an hour south of Columbus. Every place seems to have a most visited location – think Angels Landing in Zion National Park or Dog Mountain in Southern Washington or anywhere in Great Smoky Mountains National Park – and Hocking Hills seems to play that role for Ohio.

Anticipating crowds, we got an early start and arrived at the park’s HUGE parking lot to find only about a dozen other cars. After a latrine and map break at the visitor center, we started down the Grandma Gatewood Trail toward the park’s signature attraction – Old Man’s Cave. The Gatewood Trail is also part of the Buckeye Trail that circles Ohio, so we were able to get a trail twofer here. Our start was early enough for us to have the trail mostly to ourselves for most of the morning. On the way back, we’d learn how lucky we’d been to have even nominal solitude here.

Descending to the Gatewood Trail from the visitor center
Crossing the creek on a uniquely styled bridge
The A-Frame Bridge crosses the gorge
The trail pretty much follows along the creek
The trail goes through a tunnel carved through the rock
The LovedOne fit well in the tunnel; I did not

Old Man’s Cave is actually a wide, overhanging roof that is part of the 100+ foot (30+ m) deep gorge that the creek has carved into the Ohio countryside. There are similar “caves” elsewhere in the park, but this one is the most famous of the lot.

The huge roof forming Old Man’s Cave
Another view of the roof (note orange-clad hiker for scale)
The waterfalls at Old Man’s Cave

From Old Man’s Cave, we continued down the Gatewood Trail to the Lower Falls, the last named feature in the gorge. Judging from pictures we’ve seen, the waterfalls in the gorge can really roar in the Spring. But this late in the year, they were not very energetic.

Roots I
The trail runs under several tall, overarching cliffs
Lower Falls
Lower Falls

If you came to see just Old Man’s Cave and the waterfalls, there are side trails that will take you back up to the visitor center. But we continued on down the Gatewood Trail with no more than a half-dozen other hikers. There were few flowers at this time of year; instead we found an amazing profusion of different kinds of mushrooms.

Mushroom I
Mushroom II
Roots II
Along the creek
Mushroom III
Mature trees grow on a massive solitary rock
Fallen leaves
The trail levels out near the confluence

The Gatewood Trail follows the creek that formed the gorge down to its confluence with Queer Creek near Hemlock Bridge – a classic suspension bridge. Although it’s not on the Gatewood Trail, we had to walk back and forth across it anyway – just because. Then we continued on the Gatewood southeast toward Cedar Falls.

Hemlock Bridge
Continuing on the Gatewood Trail
Mushroom IV
On the way to Cedar Falls

While there are no iconic features – like Old Man’s Cave – on the Gatewood toward Cedar Falls, it does pass below several tall, overhanging cliffs – all of which we hoped were truly as solid as they looked. 😟

Along the trail beneath a cliff…
And another cliff…
And yet another…
And one more

The Gatewood Trail took us to Cedar Falls, where we ran into the first cluster of our fellow tourists. Access to these falls is easy thanks to a nearby parking lot and several wooden stairs and hence is pretty busy.

We arrive at Cedar Falls
Cedar Falls at low water

We left the Gatewood Trail here (it continues south to Ash Cave), crossed above Queer Creek, and headed back on the Gorge Overlook Trail, which is basically a dirt road through the woods. This is apparently one of the more popular trails in the park and we were thus no longer alone.

Crossing over Queer Creek
Queer Creek from the bridge (and former site of a water-powered mill)
Returning on the Gorge Overlook Trail

The trail crosses the earthen dam that forms Rose Lake (Hocking Hills Reservoir) and the trees around the lake were starting on what was going to be a stunning display for Fall color.

Start of Fall color at Rose Lake
Rose Lake
Crossing the dam
Rose Lake

The Gorge Overlook Trail descends from the lake and swings north into the gorge holding Old Man’s Cave. Going in the woods is not an issue with us provided, of course, we are alone in the woods. Since that wasn’t going to happen here, we diverted to some facilities at a campground near the lake. From there, we took a side trail back to the Gorge Overlook Trail and followed it to where we could cross the A-Frame Bridge over the gorge and hence back to the visitor center.

Returning to the Gorge Overlook Trail
Crossing the A-Frame Bridge over the gorge
Crowds on the Gatewood Trail below the bridge

This loop came to 4.8 miles (7.7 km) with just 200 feet (61 m) of gain. The gorge was as spectacular as advertised and well worth the trip to see the Old Man’s Cave and its attendant waterfalls. Although the HUGE parking lot was nearly full (maybe 100 or so cars?) when we got back, our early start had allowed us to have the scenery and trail mostly to ourselves. This was on a weekday in October – one can barely imagine what it’s like here on a weekend! 😲

Out of the Gatewood Trail (blue); back (mostly) on the Gorge Overview Trail (red)
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2 comments

  1. We could see how you could spend a few days there hiking around all the other caves and features in the park. But, alas, we only had one day to spare. We had a good hike but I’m not sure how it would have been had the trails been packed with other people – that is a VERY large parking lot after all. 😏

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  2. How fun! We discovered Hocking Hills State Park several years ago from a billboard along the highway and spent a couple of days camping in the park and hiking the trails in the spring. Lots of water in the falls when we were there, but you got to see the autumn colors. 🙂

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