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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 😟
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 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.
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.
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.
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! 😲