The Hocking Hills region of southeast Ohio is one of the best places for hiking in Ohio and is a popular destination for nature lovers. Lush green forests, cool streams, cold caves, and stunning waterfalls are just a few reasons why Hocking Hills hiking is so popular.
Within the region, Hocking Hills State Park has some of the best trails to explore. Fortunately, there are many diverse trails, from accessible, paved trails to longer, challenging trails.
Tips for Hiking in Hocking Hills
Before you set out to explore some of these Hocking Hills hikes, there are a few things you need to know.
- Don’t expect to have cell service while hiking; download the Hocking Hills app before your visit for trail maps, directions, things to do and more.
- Stay on the trails! Many of the trails follow deep gorges, meaning there can be steep dropoffs. If you’re hiking Hocking Hills with kids, make sure they stay far from the edges.
- Be prepared for ticks in the summer. Have a good repellent, or make sure you do a thorough check at the end of the day.
- Check the Hocking Hills weather forecast; you don’t want to be up on any ridges in a thunder and lightning storm!
- Don’t drink the water. Bring enough water to drink, and avoid drinking out of streams or waterfalls, unless you treat it first.
- Have good footwear with traction; many of the rocks can be slippery. In winter, you’ll need microspikes or YakTrax.
- Hocking Hills State Parks are dog-friendly, but your dog must remain on leash at all times, and be sure to pick up after your dog! Keep in mind that state nature preserves do not allow dogs so plan accordingly.
Hocking Hills Hikes
These popular trails are great in any season. Spring and summer bring flowing streams and cascading falls, fall is exploding with color, and winter in Hocking Hills brings a quiet hush to the snow-covered forest.
Narrow passages and interesting rock formations are some of the unique scenery you can expect to see when exploring Hocking Hills.
It’s important to note that many of the Hocking Hills hiking trails are considered “easy” trails because most are fairly short. If you are not physically fit, have mobility issues, balance issues or knee problems, you may find them quite a bit more challenging.
I would suggest you start your exploration of the area at Ash Cave or Old Man’s Cave, two of the most popular trails, before branching out. Also, keep in mind that all of the trails have steep stairs and cliff edges. This is not the place to allow young children to wander off. While well-behaved dogs on leashes are permitted in the state parks, they aren’t necessarily advised due to the drop-offs.
This 700-foot-long cave is one of the most popular attractions in Hocking Hills State Park and the largest recess cave east of the Mississippi. There is a small creek flowing over the upper lip of the cave that creates a waterfall.
To reach the cave, you’ll take the Ash Cave Gorge trail, which is ¼-mile and handicapped-accessible. Hikers will return along the Ash Cave Rim trail, which is also ¼-mile.
Accessing the rim trail does require climbing a series of stone steps to exit the cave followed by wooden stairs to reach the rim trail. However, if you have mobility issues, are a wheelchair user, or are hiking with a stroller, once you reach the cave, you can simply turn around and follow the paved gorge trail back to the parking lot.
Cedar Falls is the largest-volume waterfall in Hocking Hills. The trail to reach the lower gorge and falls is only a one-mile loop, but it is considered moderate due to steps and steep drop-offs.
For this hike, you immediately descend into the gorge. Once you reach the bottom of the gorge, the trail is fairly flat for approximately 1/2 mile before you begin climbing back out of the gorge via more steps. You will find several benches along the trail to sit and rest if needed. Like many the park areas, the natural beauty along this trail is stunning.
Cantwell Cliffs is one of the more challenging trails at Hocking Hills. Located in a farther corner of Hocking Hills, you’ll find fewer crowds here. At two miles, it’s not long, but expect a lot of stairs and steep drop-offs.
Old Man’s Cave
Old Man’s Cave is another of the most popular Hocking Hills trails and is the site of a new visitor center. Named after an old man who once lived in the cave, this hike follows a deep gorge with several waterfalls.
This is the trail for your postcard views of Hocking Hills. The Upper Falls is perhaps the most photographed waterfall in Hocking Hills. The Devil’s Bathtub, the Sphinx Head, narrow passageways, stone bridges and tunnels are some of the highlights you’ll see along the trail.
The trailhead begins at the kiosk at the far end of the parking lot opposite the visitor center. Due to its popularity, this trail can be extremely busy on weekends and during the summer. Our suggestion is to plan an overnight stay in the park so you can get an early morning start on the trails.
There are a number of places to stay, including inexpensive cabins in the state park or the tiny house rentals in Hocking Hills that are one of our favorite places to stay in the area.
Rock House Trail
One of my favorite trails in the park, this one-mile round-trip trail takes you to the only true cave in the park. You can walk through the cave, and see how it was used for shelter by many generations before us. Rumor has it the cave was once frequented by horse thieves, murderers and bootleggers.
Whispering Cave Trail
Visit the second-largest cave in the area, as well as a 100-foot waterfall on this 4.5-mile trail that is rated as difficult. This trail also features a swinging rope bridge! If this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you can bypass the bridge trail and still visit Whispering Cave. This is the newest trail to open in the Hocking Hills area.
Conkle’s Hollow Gorge Trail
Conkle’s Hollow State Nature Preserve features one of the deepest gorges in Ohio. The Gorge Trail is one-mile, round-trip, and paved, so it’s suitable for strollers and wheelchairs. However, the best views of the gorge happen where the paved trail ends and rocky steps to the back of the gorge begin.
Conkle’s Hollow Gorge Overlook Rim Trail
Above on the Gorge Overlook Trail, the Rim Trail is 2 ½ miles round-trip and more challenging. This is a great trail for those who want to view the changing leaves in the fall. It’s important to note that the state nature preserves DO NOT allow dogs, so if you’re traveling with your pooch you’ll want to skip this trail.
Bonus: Grandma Gatewood Trail
If you are looking for longer trails in the Hocking Hills, the Grandma Gatewood trail is six miles long and connects many popular Hocking Hills attractions. It is not a loop, however, so you will need a shuttle to get back, or plan on hiking 12 miles round-trip!
COVID Travel Updates for Hocking Hills Hiking Trails
Fortunately, the park and trails have remained open throughout the pandemic, with some minor adjustments for safety reasons. It’s important to note these changes, especially if you are following an older guidebook or map from pre-2020.
As of 2022, most of the Hocking Hills hiking trails are one-way only. Previously, many of the trails had a loop and you could choose which way to go. In order to effectively promote social distancing, the trails became one-way so that everyone is hiking in the same direction.
The newest Hocking Hills trail map shows this clearly. It is not known at this time whether the trails will revert back, or remain one-way only.