Sharing my first time visiting the Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park, an amazing Ohio hike that you won’t forget. Sandstone ledges covered in moss and fern take you to a surreal place, and the hike is a great workout. This post will act as the guide I wish I saw before we visited the first time. It is also part of a personal project I’ve dubbed #hike24in23, a goal that my husband and I will hike 24 new-to-us hikes in 2023 around Ohio. I’ll be blogging about those hikes shortly after we do them with the goal of encouraging you to get out there!
About Nelson Ledges – An Amazing Ohio Hike
For generations, Ohioans have enjoyed the Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park as a popular vacation destination. The park is 167 acres of mossy and fern-covered unique rock formations and waterfalls and is a popular place for hikers and nature lovers to explore.
In the past, this land was important to many Native American tribes. The high elevation and closeness to the watershed divide between the Ohio River and Lake Erie made it a trade center for Native Americans and pioneers alike.
The Nelson Ledges are one of the few incredible rock formations left behind by receding glaciers. Eroded from natural forces like wind and water, these sandstone cliffs were made from large slump blocks that fell and left harder, more resistant layers to form the ledges we see today.
Visit this link to learn more about the geology of Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park.
Trails at Nelson Ledges – an Amazing Ohio Hike
The trails in this park offer a variety of options for how far you want to hike. We ended up hiking a little bit of all four trails, it’s like a choose-your-own-adventure book! Mileage*, difficulty, and what you’ll see on each trail are noted below.
Trails: While there are four designated trails, there are trails that are not marked and will take you through hazardous, rocky areas. If you choose to hike these trails, you should use extreme caution.
Trail Blazes: These are brightly painted marks on the rocks and trees that help guide you through the park. When you see a double blaze, that means the trail changes directions. It can be easy to lose track if you aren’t paying attention or if the blazes are more worn out.
Note on the trail viewpoints: I am going to try to share specific highlights of the park and label the images of them so you have an idea of what to look out for. There is very little information out there on these points, and I am making the guide I wish I found before our trip. If I got any places wrong, please let me know in the comments! Thanks!
Length: .4 miles
Views: Minnehaha Falls, tops of cliffs, gorges
Description: This trail pretty much keeps you on the top of cliffs and through the woods in an actual loop. This is the trail you want to take if you want to see the top of Minnehaha Falls. It’s a very easy hike with the biggest obstacles really being some rocks or tree roots jutting out from the ground.
Length: .8 miles
Views: Devil’s Hole & Icebox, Shipwreck Rock, caves, cliffs, gorges
Description: This trail takes you through the bottom of the cliffs and extends far out from the other trails along the ledges.
Length: .2 miles
Views: Cascade Falls, Gold Hunter’s Cave, Dwarf’s Pass, Old Maids Kitchen
Description: This trail you’ll take to get to Cascade Falls was probably our favorite trail on the map. You walk through some narrow, but passable, ledges and through Dwarf’s Pass, but the views are spectacular.
Length: .2 miles
Views: The Squeeze, Fat Man’s Peril, Devil’s Hole & Icebox
Description: This is going to be the most challenging part of the hike taking you through several narrow passageways. There were a lot of spots we just said “nope” and turned around on, but enjoyed the views from this trail.
*Mileage pulled from the map at the hike site.
What To See at Nelson Ledges
These are the visual attractions you will come across on the trails.
A 40-foot waterfall on the park’s northern tip with a water level that fluctuates between a low and medium flow. The view from above is easier to access, but the view from below requires a little more hiking. This includes some walkways like Dwarf Pass which is a little challenging to get through but not impossible.
Gold Hunter’s Cave
A cave that can be found behind Cascade Falls and goes roughly 50 feet behind the falls. When we visited, there was no walkway and only a few pieces of wood to walk across the water. Not an easy-to-access cave.
Old Maid’s Kitchen
I haven’t quite figured out what this space is from research, but will update you when I find out. If you know, let me know in the comments!
A part of the trail which may require crawling or squatting while you walk because of a low-hanging rock overhang. We did an awkward bent-over walk, hands bracing on the opposite rock wall, and shuffled our feet through.
This is along the Red Trail and rightfully so. This is an extremely tight squeeze and if you are claustrophobic, it’s going to be a hard nope.
From my understanding, it’s the image above and the view of the entrance to the Devil’s Icebox. (Did I get it wrong? Let me know in the comments!)
An area you reach after getting through The Squeeze which is so cold you can see your breath.
A narrow rock formation that you don’t have to squeeze through, but is just enough space to comfortably walk through. It’s quite a view!
Fat Mans Peril
We didn’t experience this area, but from my reading up it’s just a tight-squeeze passage.
This easy-to-access 15-foot waterfall can be seen from above on top of the falls, and below. While not one of the bigger falls out there, its high volume of water makes it a worthy view. It’s best reached by following white trailblazes along the southern tip of the park.
Lower Minnehaha Falls
An 18-foot waterfall you can only get to through a challenging hike through the Ice Box Cave gorge.
So, I couldn’t find information on this anywhere and only found one photo online that looks like a regular flat rock so I have no idea if I am correct, but to me, the rock in the middle of the photo above looks like a sinking ship so in my mind it made sense. If you know what rock it is let me know in the comments!
Know Before You Go
Here are some things to know before you go on this amazing Ohio Hike at Nelson Ledges.
Location: Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park 12440 OH-282, Garrettsville, OH 44231
Hours: Park opens at 6:00 AM to Sunset
Fees: There are no fees or passes required to visit any state park in Ohio.
Parking: There is a parking lot with ample space directly across from the park. Vehicles parked in lot 1/2 hour after sunset are subject to towing.
Good To Knows
Wifi & Phone Signal: We had no problem accessing our phone wifi and were able to connect to our map app, but I wouldn’t rely on it.
Pets: Pets are allowed but must be on a leash.
Kids: This could be a great place for kids but make sure you are able to keep them close and a good eye on them. There are lots of dangerous areas that they could fall through or hurt themselves if they aren’t careful.
Amenities: There is a bathroom next to the parking lot, I believe they are pit toilets and possibly don’t have sinks so it’s good to keep some sanitizer or wet wipes on hand.
Information: there’s an info billboard talking about the park and showing a trail map near the toilets, and a second billboard near the entrance directly across from the parking lot.
Safety: It’s good practice to always let someone know where you are planning to hike and how long you think it may take you, especially if you are a solo hiker. The park is on what feels like a country road, so it’s not in a populated area. If anything makes you feel uncomfortable, you should trust your instinct.
Trail Safety: Use good hiking etiquette and be aware of your surroundings. Don’t attempt to squeeze through challenging places in the rocks if you aren’t 100% confident you can do it to avoid injury.
Terrain: It’s mostly dirt and rock, with lots of exposed roots that are easy to trip on. There is a lot of fall leaf coverage which we saw well into January. Combined with snow or rainy weather, this can be quite slippery. It also camouflages smaller cliff openings that you could easily fall through. You need to pay attention to your surroundings and footing at this park. Be sure to keep a close eye on children and pets.
Expect Challenges: Depending on which trail you follow, you may need to crawl, squat, take big steps, squeeze through, and contort your body to fit through some of the spaces. You absolutely do not have to do any of this to enjoy the park, but these challenges exist.
Prohibited: Camping, overnight parking, glass bottles, alcohol, rock climbing or rappelling, and throwing objects over cliffs.
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