At the heart of Ohio’s vast wilderness lies Hocking Hills State Park, a beloved destination for those seeking adventure and sanctuary within nature. Its popularity is no surprise, its rugged cliffs, ancient caves, and cascading waterfalls draw in adventurers from every corner of Ohio and its neighboring states.
Join me as we venture into Rock House, hike the legendary trails of Old Man’s Cave, stand in awe of the majestic Ash Cave, and experience the exciting thrills of hiking Cantwell Cliffs. In this one day in Hocking Hills guide, I’ll recount our adventures while sharing helpful tips and lots of beautiful photos to help you plan your epic day in Hocking Hills State Park.
This was our first time visiting this well-loved state park and it definitely won’t be our last. We visited during peak fall, a weekend, and an Ohio State University home game (we stayed overnight in nearby Columbus), and even with all of those odds against us, we still had an incredible time. I mention all this to help you gauge why I talk about how busy this park is below.
I hope you enjoy this guide and that it helps you plan an epic Hocking Hills State Park adventure. If you do visit or are a regular visitor, let me know in the comments your favorite hike and views!
Disclosure: Local Love and Wanderlust is a member of the adidas Blogger Community and this post includes gifted items. As always, all opinions are my own.
How Much Does Hocking Hills Cost?
It is 100% free to visit Hocking Hills State Park and parking is also free within the park’s boundaries.
When Is the Best Time To Visit Hocking Hills?
Hocking Hills State Park is roughly 45 minutes southeast of Columbus, Ohio. You’ll experience the range of all four seasons, from the blooms of spring, the bright summer days, the colorful fall, and the snow-covered winter. As I mentioned above, we visited during peak fall which was spectacular. While the weather is hard to predict, these are my suggestions for the best time to experience each season.
Spring in Bloom: If you want to experience everything fresh and in bloom, aim for mid-April to early May. Earlier than that you may still have the drabness of ugly fall (when all the leaves fall) and winter.
Summer Heat: Looking for a hot and sunny day? Your best chances are during late June through at least mid-September.
Peak Fall Color: Mid-October is generally the best time to find peak fall colors in this region of Ohio. Be sure to look into when peak fall is each year as the date sometimes fluctuates.
Winter Wonderland: Aim for January to early March for the best chance of having snow cover.
Where to Stay
When visiting Hocking Hills you will have endless options for places to stay. From quaint A-frames to a home with a waterfall in the backyard, as well as a majestic mainstay built inside a cave. In addition, even the popular Getaway cabins have an outpost in Hocking Hills. You’ll also find more budget-friendly cabins, glamping, and primitive camping sites nearby. While I’ve never stayed near the park, here are a few places that have caught my eye below. Note that booking a year in advance (or more) is not uncommon as Hocking Hills is an extremely popular destination.
- Dunlop Hollows The Cave: This luxurious home built inside a cave looks like a spectacular stay.
- The Cliffs Cantwell Lodge: Can house up to 18 guests and has a swimming hole with a waterfall!
- Idyll Reserve has beautiful rentals, The North looks like an incredible stay.
- Getaway House recently brought their trendy cabins with big views to Hocking Hills (select “Columbus” as the location)
TIP: Can’t plan that far ahead? Consider staying in nearby Columbus, Ohio where you’ll only have a roughly 45-minute drive and endless hotel options. This is a great way to get the best of both worlds: city and nature—my favorite travel combination.
We recently stayed at The Junto, just outside of our favorite neighborhoods of German Village and The Short North. Overall, it was a lovely hotel in a great location for us.
Where to Eat in Hocking Hills
You will find that food options are slim and that many of your options are going to be located in nearby Logan, Ohio. Here are some places we went to, spots on our to-visit list, or places that were recommended to us.
This is where we ate:
- Old Dutch Restaurant in Logan, OH | All in all this was an OK restaurant. They had a buffet option, and salad bar, or you could order from a limited menu. Don’t skip the bread, though, it was quite tasty!
- Old Man’s Cave General Store in Logan, OH | We were enticed by the bright signs advertising 24+ flavors of soft serve and it did not disappoint. The inside was a bit awkward so if you visit, it helps to have an idea of what flavor you want before entering. (Don’t worry, the outdoor signs feature the flavors)
These spots were recommended to us but we haven’t been to yet:
- Kindred Spirits located on the Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls property
- The Feed in Logan, OH
- Rock House Restaurant inside the Hocking Hills Park Lodge
- Millstone BBQ in Logan, OH
Navigating the Park
The one thing I really liked about this park is that all the major trails and natural attractions were well-signed, whether it was inside the park, or outside directing you how to get to the nearest park, it was easy to navigate.
While my internet worked well enough for the maps to work, I wouldn’t count on it. I find it to be best practice to download an offline map of any park system we visit. That way we’re always prepared.
TIP: Mark your must-see destinations on the downloaded map so you remember where they are at a quick glance.
What to Wear in Hocking Hills State Park
It can be hard to know what to wear when visiting a new hiking destination. Here is my advice on everything you’d need to have a comfortable and enjoyable hike in Hocking Hills State Park.
Comfortable Shoes with a Good Grip
The terrain is a mix of steep, rocky formations, dirt trails, bridges, and any of that could be wet and covered with leaves… which can be extremely slippery. It’s best to have a comfortable pair of hiking shoes that have a good grip.
I recently tried out the adidas Terrex Ax4 hiking Shoes for women and I was really impressed with how comfortable they were and the insane grip they had on the trails. They were true to size, had little to no break-in time, held up well being poked and dragged against rough surfaces, and the all-conditions Continental™ grip makes these perfect for hiking a place like Hocking Hills. Also, these were partially made with recycled materials in an effort to end plastic waste, love that.
This style isn’t waterproof, however, adidas has a large selection of waterproof hiking shoes if that’s a feature you need.
Clothing in Layers
Regardless of the season, having layered clothing is always a good idea for hiking. The season would just help dictate how heavy those layers are. Here is what I tend to wear when hiking that allows me to adjust based on how warm or cool the hike gets.
- A cami or thin tank top underlayer
- T-shirt or moisture-wicking top
- Thin long-sleeve top
- Light jacket or hoodie
- Yoga or hiking pants
Helpful Hiking Accessories
Unless you’ve chosen to do one of the longer hikes, you probably won’t need to take many things with you. Here is a list of some of my go-to items I found helpful on our trip.
- A lightweight and comfortable backpack that can hold water bottles
- Snacks or picnic lunch if you plan to eat in the park
- A reusable water bottle, I love my Corckcicle Sport Canteen
- An extra layer of clothing or leaving room in your bag to remove a layer or two if needed
- Hair ties, chapstick, bug spray, and sunscreen if you feel you need to reapply while out
- A hat or beanie
What to Do with One Day in Hocking Hills State Park
Rock House Trail at Rock House
16350 OH-374, Laurelville, OH 43135
A 1-mile moderate loop trail with a 203-foot elevation gain
The tunnel-like cave stands as a unique feature in the Hocking Hills region and holds the distinction of being the only true cave in the park. Resting on top of a 150-foot cliff and made of Blackhand Sandstone, it is undeniably a must-see for every visitor to Hocking Hills.
We decided to make this our first hike of the day and arrived around 9:15 a.m. with only a few other cars in the parking lot. As we hiked the dirt-covered terrain we eventually came up to where the Rock House was. At first, you don’t get to see the full scope of what you’re looking at as you hike along its walls. Once you enter the cavernous space, you will undoubtedly be in awe of how large the space is.
This cave offers plenty of photo ops, but not the most optimal lighting. Unless you’re a photographer with low-light experience, you may have some trouble getting sharp photos. All things considered, a tripod may be beneficial for your camera or your phone. If you’re familiar with exposure lock, and fill light, this may help with your photos. Or, take your chances like I did and try to handhold a longer exposure. Either way, it would benefit you to freshen up on low-light photography.
After time spent exploring, we noticed a lot more people began to show up and we eventually continued on the trail. In time, we found ourselves walking slowly up an increasing hill that some may find a little strenuous.
TIP: I highly recommend visiting Rock House as early as you can, ideally before or by 9 a.m. You’ll notice that it becomes quite crowded and noisy; it’s certainly a place you’d prefer to enjoy in peace.
The Ash Gorge & Rim Trail at Ash Cave
Ash Cave 27291 State Route 56, South Bloomingville, OH 43152
The Ash Gorge & Rim Trails: easy-to-moderate 12-mile loop
Named after piles of ash found under the shelter left by early settlers, Ash Cave is one of the more impressive views within the Hocking Hills region. This horseshoe-shaped overhang and cavernous shelter measures 700 feet from end to end and about 100 feet deep from rear to front. Depending on recent precipitation, you may even witness a large waterfall overflow.
What Hike Should I Do at Ash Cave in Hocking Hills?
You can take the Ash Gorge Trail to get up close and personal with the cave while using the Ash Rim Trail to exit as this is technically a one-way trail. The Ash Gorge Trail is also accessible part of the way, you can then return heading the wrong direction of the one-way trail.
Walking to Ash Cave was surprisingly easy. In fact, the entire Ash Gorge Trail was smooth, paved, and very accessible for all. We could hear the echo of voices as we got close to the cave, and soon after we were in awe of a massive, sand-covered opening with an intimidatingly large overhang. After exploring and admiring the cave, we realize this is another Hocking Hills destination that would benefit from an early visit to beat the crowds. It feels like such a sacred space you would want to enjoy in as much silence as possible.
Shortly after we returned the way we came, as I have noted above this is a one-way trail (aside from anyone with accessible needs) and we didn’t realize this until later.
Time: This was the shortest hike of the day, all in all, it probably took us around 30-45 minutes out and back, keep in mind we didn’t realize this was a one-way trail and came back after visiting the cave.
Level of Difficulty: We only hiked to the cave and it was an extremely easy, smooth paved surface and that extends to the entrance of the cave area. Once in the cave, it was a sandy surface.
CANT MISS VIEWS AT Ash Cave in Hocking Hills
Ash Cave, falls (if it has precipitated enough), and the walk to the cave is lovely, too.
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT Ash Cave in Hocking Hills
- This is one of the few handicap-accessible views in the park.
- This trail is a one-way trail (aside from accessible visitors who will return how they entered), that also connects with the Buckeye Trail and the Grandma Gatewood Trail.
TIP: This is another destination that would benefit from visiting as early as possible to enjoy the peace.
Grandma Gatewood Trail at Old Man’s Cave
Old Man’s Cave State Route 664, Logan OH 43138
This was easily one of our favorite hikes, however, we could tell this was one of the more popular Hocking Hills destinations. When we arrived at Old Man’s Cave we entered a large, albeit full parking lot. Squeezing into an overflow parking space, we prepped ourselves for our second hike of the day. As we hiked through the park, spotting well-known views we couldn’t believe how absolutely packed this park was. For instance, we found ourselves waiting in line on the trail to bypass some narrow walkway and experiencing some of the most obnoxiously loud people. At one point, some children kept making loud repetitive shouts which really took us out of the moment of being immersed in such beautiful nature.
Along the way, you’ll experience a variety of terrain and popular viewpoints as you hike the trails to Old Man’s Cave. From dirt-covered paths to stone bridges, and tunnels to carved staircases, you will surely have a memorable adventure. Even though this park can get congested, I would still highly recommend visiting, especially if you only have time for one hike.
What Hike Should I Do at Old Man’s Cave in Hocking Hills?
We decided to hike the bottom of the gorge and extend the hike through to Broken Rock Falls before returning to the upper gorge exit trail. To follow our journey, take the Grandma Gatewood Trail > Broken Rock Trail > Gorge Exit Trail.
Alternate Hikes: There are several potential options to modify your hikes from starting at the top of the gorge on the Gorge Overlook trail, following the Whispering Cave Loop trail, and cutting your hike short by crossing to the Gorge Exit Trail and beyond. Be sure to study the map prior to your trip to make the best decision for your adventure. Note that this hike also crosses paths with the famous Buckeye Trail, a trail that spans the state of Ohio for roughly 1444 miles.
Time: The hike we completed took us under 2 hours and it was a busy day. Your hike may differ in time depending on if you have kids, are less-experienced hikers, or the park is packed with visitors as at some points you may end up waiting in line on the trail as others slowly make their way to the next viewpoint.
Level of Difficulty: The trail ranged from easy to moderate with the occasional challenging moment. The terrain is mixed from dirt to stone with tunnels and carved staircases (some having uneven surfaces due to the number of people hiking it), and in our experience damp fall leaves covered a lot of the surface which can make a slippery path.
TIP: The hike to Broken Rock Falls might not be worth it if the other falls have been minimal. It was only another 30 minutes there and back for us, however, having only one day I felt we could have used that time elsewhere. If it had rained recently, I hear this is a place most people don’t hike to and is worth the view.
can’t miss views in old man’s cave
A Frame Bridge over Gorge, Old Mans Cave, Devils Bathtub, Upper Falls, Broken Falls, Lower Falls, and Sphinx Head
What To Know About Hiking Old Man’s Cave in Hocking Hills
- This is one of the more popular parts of the park so you can expect it to be busy, especially during weekends, peak fall, and other seasons. You’ll need to be patient, trust me, it’s worth it.
- Please be mindful of other people visiting the park and keep your volume down when talking. It was so loud when we saw that it really took you out of the moment and peacefulness of nature.
- Leverage your expectations of what the waterfalls and Devil’s Bathtub will look like based on how much precipitation the area has had recently. In the fall, there was just a light trickle and flow of water.
- The trails are all one-way trails. You’ll see a few points where you could cross over and make the trip shorter if you want or need to.
- This park has a large parking lot and visitor center with restrooms, snack machines, and educational fun inside.
Cantwell Cliffs OH-374, Rockbridge, OH 43149
One of the northernmost parks within the Hocking Hills region is Cantwell Cliffs which was easily the quietest park we visited during our trip. You can customize your hike throughout this park and cut your hike short with several different shortcuts along the way. We definitely took advantage of the shortcuts, it was the end of the day and we were exhausted but wanted to squeeze one more view in.
This park was full of stone-carved stairs which significantly added to our exhaustion. In fact, my Apple Watch had claimed we went up 37 flights of stairs by the end of this day, undoubtedly a good amount had to be in this park. Even though this park had our legs feeling like jello I am so glad we took on the challenge. The wide open valley surrounded by impressively large Black Hand Sandstone cliffs gave us quite an experience. The peace and quiet of this hike was the perfect way to end our one day in Hocking Hills State Park.
TIP: Hiking poles may be helpful in this park, with plenty of steep steps and uneven walking surfaces you may find the extra stability helpful.
What Hike Should I Do at Cantwell Cliffs in Hocking Hills?
We hiked the one-way Cantwell Rim Trail following the red flames marked on the trees. We customized our hike to be shorter by taking the first shortcuts back toward the exit. If you reference the Waypoints, we followed A-B-C-D-G-I-J-K.
Time: It took us about 45 minutes to make it through our shortcut of a trail.
Level of Difficulty: From several steep stairs, uphill climbing, narrow passages, and awkward footing, I give this hike a challenging rating.
can’t miss views in Cantwell Cliffs
There is a waterfall view, a very narrow staircase carved between rocks named “Fat Woman’s Squeeze”, and incredible views of the vast gorge.
What To Know About Hiking Cantwell Cliffs in Hocking Hills
- This park has a somewhat large parking lot available with a picnic area and vault toilets.
- This is one of the least busy parks within the Hocking Hills region.
- Well-behaved and non-aggressive pets are permitted on leash.
- No swimming or wading is allowed in the waterfalls or creeks.
- Considered the most rugged and remote park within Hocking Hills.
Other Parks in Hocking Hills State Park
There are several other parks to visit in and near the area.
Hocking Hills is known for having 5 park systems within its boundaries and while we visited four of them, we decided to skip Cedar Falls due to the lack of water during our visit. We were exhausted from hiking all day and decided to check out this park on our next visit.
Conkle’s Hollow Nature Preserve
Known for having one of the deepest gorges in Ohio.
Other nearby parks: Rock Bridge, Lake Logan, Tar Hope, Hocking Hills State Forest, Wayne National Forest
John Glen Astronomy Park
Because we stayed the night in Columbus, we didn’t have time to visit but it’s definitely on my to-do list. Visit to stargaze in a truly dark night sky, or check out one of their programs.
Looking for another amazing State Park in Ohio? Explore Nelson-Kennedy Ledges with me.
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