Ohio is not often equated as one of the great destination spots offering adventure opportunities. Locals may visit Amish country in Lancaster, but I’m talking adventure like hiking trails, rocks, rivers, and waterfalls. A couple of years ago, I started seeing post on Facebook about Hocking Hills State Park and as I investigated further, decided it may be an adventure worthy destination. Many have never heard of it – surprisingly, those who have lived in Ohio are unaware, or never visited the area.
We rolled into Logan, Ohio and were able to find the visitors center for the park easily. We picked up an area map and decided to scope out what we planned to do during our time there. First we did a drive by of Logan Lake to see if it was worthy of using our new inflatable kayak. However, it was marked off the to-do list as Mark found it to be more for fisherman than for pleasure boats or kayaks. We headed into the park and found a campsite – one high enough to keep us dry during the endless rains. We were tent camping after all.
Hocking Hills is comprised of six distinctive, unique natural areas covering about 2000 acres. We hit the Old Man’s Cave area during our first afternoon there. It had rained hard earlier in the day and the gorge had a misty, moody look to it. As the largest natural area in the park, it features Upper Falls, Upper Gorge, Middle Falls, Lower Falls, and Lower Gorge. Throughout the 1700’s, historical records indicate men actually lived under the rock overhangs throughout the century.
Day two was devoted entirely to hiking as we took in Cedar Falls, Ash Cave, Conkle’s Hollow and Rock House. Cedar Falls was misnamed by early settlers as there are actually no cedar trees in the gorge. It is filled with hemlock which has escaped attack by the beetles which have riddled other hemlock stands throughout the country. This falls offers the greatest volume of water of all the falls in the park.
Ash Cave is not a true cave, rather a vast rock overhang with a waterfall which accentuates its beauty. The Cave measures 700 feet from end to end, 100 feet deep from front to rear and is 90 feet in height. The falls is fed by the East Fork of Queer Creek. The recess was used by the native peoples and early pioneer travelers. Blackened walls and heaps of ashes give testament to its extensive use. Ash Cave is wheelchair accessible.
Conkle’s Hollow is one of the deepest gorges in Ohio. Its vertical cliffs rise over 200 feet and at the end of the hike, you are rewarded with a couple of picturesque water falls. Conkle’s Hollow is a state nature preserve and part of this trail is wheel chair accessible.
Rock House is the only true cave in the Hocking Hills which has a 25 foot high ceiling, 200 feet long and 20 to 30 feet wide. Back in the day, it was used as a hide out for robbers, murders, horse thieves and bootleggers and as such earned it the name “Robber’s Roost”.
Our last day in Logan found us exploring Cantwell Cliffs and outside of the park, the Rock Bridge. The Cantwell Cliffs may be one of the least visited areas of Hocking Hills as it the most remote, but the cliffs and rock formations are a must see. Rock Bridge was not as impressive as our Natural Bridge in Virginia.
Granted, we did not do the longer hikes, and we did not explore the famed Buckeye Trail or Grandma Gatewood Trail, so you could spend much more time exploring the park than we did. Spring would be a great time to see wildflowers, and fall is probably brilliant with color. We did not see much wildlife however.
Hocking Hills State Park has great beauty and ease of access but the size of the parking lot at each feature gives testament of the high foot traffic it receives. Sadly, it is showing signs of vast over use and abuse some of which we witnessed by visitors in the various areas. Adults as well as children showed little regard for rules put in place to preserve the integrity of the natural areas. If these areas are not protected, the natural beauty will soon be totally destroyed and unrecoverable. Outside of these facts, the area is rich in beauty and history and a wonderful travel destination.
“On a clear day, you can see forever.” My thoughts exactly as I looked all around me from the top of Cock’s Comb Trail. The view from the top is amazing as you take in the 180 degree vista. To the left, you see into Rockbridge County and to the right, into Allegheny County all the way to the state line. The actual hike is quite short, but these views are truly the drawing card.
Cock’s Comb Trail runs nearly parallel to the county line of Rockbridge and Allegheny. Though only a .21 mile trail, it is rated “Difficult” due to the steep incline. However, it was not as difficult as I had anticipated. For some reason, I envisioned a rock climb the entire distance and indeed, the last part is a scramble up boulders and some agility is required to accomplish that part of the hike. If you don’t get to the top of the rocks, you miss the view.
The trail is smooth and otherwise easily navigated. Late spring flowers were in bloom such as the pink wild azaleas, Lilly of the Valley and waves of deep purple widow’s tears. Black swallowtail butterflies enjoyed the floral sweetness and warmth of the sunlight filtering through the trees and a little bit mountain tea was growing along the trail. After a little bouldering to the top of the rocks, it is easy to see where the name “Cock’s Comb” comes from. Even the buzzards’ were enjoying sunning themselves on the lower set of rock outcroppings.
From the top looking toward the Rockbridge side of the mountain, you can see Lake Robertson in the valley. After we came down from the trail, we decided to explore the area around the lake. The lake is a 31 acre body of clear mountain water offering great fishing and boating. Also available is a large picnic area, tennis courts, a swimming pool, hiking trails, boat rentals, and a 56 site camping area which accommodates both RV’s and tents – another great option for a weekend outing of camping and canoeing on the lake.
To access the Cock’s Comb Trail from I-64 East, exit #35 at Longdale Furnace. Turn right onto Rt. 269 and travel .34 miles to SR 770 (Collierstown Road) which is to the left. Travel 4.1 miles to the top of the mountain, then take a left and continue 2.39 miles to the parking area which is on the left. Please note that signage is nonexistent and the trailhead is only minimally marked, but very visible. There is a post with a “5” on in and a National Forest flier attached to it. To continue on to Lake Robertson, after coming from the Cock’s Comb Trail, return out the 2.39 miles to the point that reconnects to SR770 and go left and this will take you down the other side of the mountain to SR652. Turn left and after a few miles, signage for Lake Robertson is on the left.
Published June 2014 – Day Tripper a tabloid insert to the Mountain Messenger published in Lewisburg, West Virginia