Hocking County is undeniably the most beautiful region of Ohio with its lush, gorged hollows, recessed caves, dramatic waterfalls and scenic cliff vistas. Luckily, the state has taken great strides to acquire land to guarentee public accesss to all these wonders. Unfortunately, with their close proximity, it is a well traveled tourist destination which need little publicity. The state has protected the region through a combination of state parks, state forests and nature preserves. The 1900 acre Hocking Hills State Park contains Ash Cave, Cedar Falls, Old Man's Cave, Rockhouse and Canwell Cliffs. The two local preserves are Conkle’s Hollow and Rockbridge State Nature Preserves. The Hocking Hills State Forest is a patch work of public lands throughout the county, containing the State Repelling Area, where camping is permitted.
It is lucky for the adventurist that the Buckeye Trail passes near or through most attractions. The best section of the BT is from the Repelling Area south to Ash Cave. This section, combined with a jaunt around Conkle’s Hollow provides a long day hike for absorbing the area’s majesty.
From the parking lot at the State Forest HQ, cross SR 374 heading east and pick up the Conkle’s Hollow rim trail. Found in this State Nature Preserve is the state’s most spectacular landscape -- a cool and moist hemlock-lined gorge with sunny, dry slopes of oak and pine. It harbors numerous yew trees, as well as teaberry, blackberry and ferns. The large recess carved into the cliff is known as Diagonal Cave. Follow the upper trail north around the hollow and back down to its parking area. Proceed east on Big Pine Road to the State Repelling Area. Pick up the blue-blazed Buckeye Trail and track up through the cliffs offering a most scenic ascent. The BT hugs the rim and then moves south down a fire lane through a white pine forest. It crosses TR 59 and follows a power line until TR 251 (Culp Road). Head south to Old Man’s Cave and note the many water falls in the hollow deeply carved into the Blackhand Sandstone. The towering eastern hemlocks, Canadian yews and black birches are remnants of the moist, cool environment created upon glacial retreat from areas just north of here.
The BT and other gorge trails head downstream both down in and above the hollow. Beyond Old Man’s Cave (another recess), the BT eventually meets and winds up Queer Creek to Cedar Falls. Past the falls, head west on Forest Road and cross Chapel Ridge Road. The BT heads toward Ash Cave -- make sure to descend into the hollow to check it out.
This eight-odd mile journey is best enjoyed in late March on a weekday when the crowds are down and the streams are flowing (they run dry during the summer months). For the return trip, there are several options: a car or bike drop at the Ash Cave parking area on SR 56, a hike back along the same route, or pick up the Indian Run Trail heading west above Queer Creek to the pipeline swath crossing just past SR 664 which heads north back to Conkle’s Hollow (my choice). Camping is available in the primitive area on the ridge above Old Man’s Cave, in addition to in the State Forest. From Columbus, follow US 33 southeast to SR 374. Proceed west for roughly 20 minutes to the State Forest HQ parking lot on the left.
Overall, Hocking Hills State Park is the 1st most popular hiking trail of all 26 hikes in Ohio.