In the Lake County Metroparks, if solitary back country skiing is your forte, welcome to Hell's Hollow in February. This region of northeast of Ohio really gets dumped on in the winter and Hell’s Hollow is no exception. The physical area of this Lake County Metropark facility is vast -- while I am told that Paine Creek forming the hollow flows over Paine Falls before reaching the Grand River, I’ve never treked north enough to see either.
After parking and strapping on your boards, continue following Leroy-Center Rd. past the dead end sign down and backup the swell. While skiing to the final hill down into the hollow, note several jeep trails to the north; save these for future adventures, but do not think they will make for a nice ridge run since several ravines break the ridge for tributaries down to Paine Creek.
Prior to reaching the hollow floor, an informal trail heads north down to the river. The underlying trail system is a mystery to me, but it appears to switch banks frequently following the river north as it meanders its way to the Grand. While I have a firm rule about avoiding fjording rivers from November to April (especially alone), its more of a guideline on this adventure. During my February expeditions I have always found a thick ice layer over this shallow river. Actually, my first trek at Hell’s Hollow was during sub-zero conditions and the wind had blow the snow from the ice to reveal a clear glass surface. Skating across was sort of unsettling at first, however, the aquarium-like view of the flowing bed was alluring. When the snow covers the ice, an exceptional trek is right down the middle of the river thus avoiding the switch back trail. The numerous views of ridge walls are unsupassed and each passing ravine begs for exploration.
I’ve journeyed a couple hours down without sight nor sound of another. I reach my limit when the chill creeps through my soaked poly-prop or I’ve exhausted my snacks and water. With the change of light on the return, the mood of the hollow feels much different. I reflect upon the motivations for the name Hell’s Hollow. Maybe it’s to intimidate crowds from spoiling the wonder.
Exit US 90 to south Vrooman Rd. After 1.5 miles, turn left on to Leroy Center Road. Follow to dead end and park.
Overall, Hells Hollow is the 2nd most popular cross country ski area of all 5 Nordic ski destinations in Ohio.