Best Family Hikes in Ohio’s Hocking Hills
Ohio’s Hocking Hills is a scenic gem in the southeastern part of the state. Located just an hour from Columbus, this region encompasses Hocking Hills State Park, a state forest, and several nature preserves. We were blown away by the rugged beauty of this region when we visited.
The Hocking Hills includes miles of stunning hiking trails and park admission is free! These trails pass by waterfalls, caves, and rugged rocks. Many of the trails are short and kid-friendly with so many interesting geological features. Read on to learn about how to visit this region and the best family hikes in the Hocking Hills.
Tips to Visit Ohio’s Hocking Hills
Bring a Map
Cell service can be spotty in the hills and holler of the Hocking Hills. I recommend downloading google offline maps and printing off trail maps in advance. You can also pick up paper maps at the Hocking Hills State Park Visitor Center.
Visit the State Park Visitor Center
Located in the Old Man’s Cave trailhead area, the Hocking Hills Visitor Center is a great first stop. Not only does the center offer restrooms and trail maps, but there is also a gift shop and some great exhibits. Kids will enjoy the interactive activities and the mock trail to walk.
Understand the One-Way Trails
Most of the popular trails are marked as one-way paths to alleviate traffic. Look carefully at the maps when planning your hiking route as you must finish the one way loop once you start. There are a few exceptions such as paved paths where those with limited mobility or using a wheelchair or stroller may need to turn around at the end of the paved trail for an out and back trail.
Tips to Avoid Crowds
The Hocking Hills is a very popular area of Ohio, especially with it’s proximity to Columbus. Some trails such as Old Man’s Cave and Ash Cave can attract large crowds. Visiting on a weekday if possible can help. If you can time your exploring to hit the crowds early in the morning or late afternoon/early evening, you can have a more peaceful hike.
We started our hikes around 7:30 or 8:00 each morning with very few others on the trail. We also saw less crowds when we hiked around dinner time.
Use Caution with Kids
Most of the trails in the Hocking Hills are short and doable for kids. However, there are some trails and areas that do have cliff edges and overlooks. Keep small children close when on any upper rim trail. Rocks and stairs may also be slick. Use caution and urge children to stay on the trail. Swimming is not allowed at any of the waterfalls.
Remember to always pack out what you bring in, tread lightly, and practice leave no trace principles. Follow any signs that state to stay on the trails. Swimming in in the waterfalls is also not allowed. Please obey the rules, hike safely, and leave these stunning natural areas beautiful for all to enjoy.
Best Hocking Hills Hikes
There are seven main areas of trails in Hocking Hills State Park and these areas are not all directly connected to each other. Some areas are very close to each other and have interconnecting trails, while others require a little drive. We managed to explore all but one of the seven areas in two days and each trail offered unique and beautiful features.
Again, many of the trails are one-way loops so study the map to determine your hiking plan and where to start. The trails are fairly well marked with intersections and points of interest labeled with letters that correspond to the maps. There are often kiosks with a trail map located along the trails near major intersections.
Distance: 0.5 mile loop
Difficulty: 1/5 on paved portion, 3/5 for climb up stairs to complete the full loop
Scenic Value: 5/5 Stunning cave and seasonal waterfall
Ash Cave is one of the shortest and easiest hikes in the Hocking Hills. The first portion of the trail is ADA accessible and offers a a wonderful view of Ash Cave and a towering wet-weather waterfall.
The trailhead is located off Highway 56 just west of the intersection with Highway 374. There is a smaller parking area on the north side of the road where the trail starts. There is also a much larger parking area and restroom on the other side of the highway.
From the trailhead, the concrete path crosses a bridge and quickly reaches Ash Cave. The cave is the largest recess cave east of the Mississippi River and spans 700 feet. During the spring or rainy weather, a waterfall flows off the top of Ash Cave.
Completing the Loop
To complete the loop, continue past the end of the paved trail. You can even walk behind the waterfall!
Just past the waterfall, climb the stairs up to the top of a gorge. A path leads to the left to Cedar Falls, 2.5 miles away. Keep right along the gorge to continue back down to the parking area.
Distance: Two loops, one mile each
Difficulty: 4/5 Multiple stairs and rugged terrain
Scenic Value: 5/5 Towering rock gorges and seasonal waterfalls
Cantwell Cliffs is one area of the Hocking Hills that can be less busy. It is the furthest away from the more popular areas around Old Man’s and Ash Caves, but well worth the drive to view towering rock gorges, trickling waterfalls, and unique stone stairs. A large parking area and restroom are located off Highway 374.
There are two trails at Cantwell Cliffs. The trails here are one-way and both begin at the same trailhead near the cabin at the end of the parking lot.
From the trailhead, the path heads downhill and seems to reach the edge of a cliff. Look to your left and you will see a set of stone stairs descending into the gorge.
Descending the Gorge
At the bottom of the gorge you can see a tight passage through the rock off to your right. This is known as “Fat Woman’s Squeeze.” After exploring the squeeze area, continue down the steps and you will reach an overlook of a wet weather waterfall.
Just past the waterfall is a trail junction. You can continue left on the yellow gorge trail. This trail will eventually meet back up with the red rim trail. You can also turn right to stay on the rim trail.
We opted to stay on the rim trail. After climbing up several more sets of steps, we reached another trail junction. We could have stayed going straight to hike the full 1 mile rim loop, but we opted to turn right and take the shorter route back since it was our last hike of the trip and the kids were tired.
The trail continued below a towering bluff with a trickling waterfall above. The trail then climbed up to the top of the bluff and headed through the trees back to the parking area. There is a railing along this section of the rim, but keep an eye on small children.
Distance: 0.5 mile loop
Difficulty: 3/5 Stairs to climb in and out of gorge
Scenic Value: 5/5 Beautiful waterfall and rugged gorge
Cedar Falls is a stunning must-do hike. It is located not far from Old Man’s Cave and Ash Cave. A road turns off from Highway 374. This side road passes a lower, larger parking area and then continues to another parking area closer to the trailhead. There is a large restroom here as well.
From the parking lot not far from the restroom, the one-way loop trail descends a set of stairs down into the gorge and along the creek. A trail leads to the left that will reach Whispering Cave in 1.2 miles. Keep right to head to Cedar Falls.
The trail crosses a bridge with a view of another waterfall. Soon you will arrive at Cedar Falls. This a beautiful spot.
After admiring the waterfall, continue along the trail on a boardwalk through giant boulders. The trail then starts to climb back uphill to return to the parking area.
Distance: 0.6 mile each way on lower gorge trail, 2.5 mile loop on upper rim trail
Difficulty: 1/5 on paved portion of gorge trail, 2/5 for unpaved section. Upper rim trail is more difficult with a steeper climb and cliff edges.
Scenic Value: 5/5 Lush and rugged gorge with a waterfall
Conkle’s Hollow is a nature preserve that is located in the Hocking Hills. Since it is a nature preserve, dogs are not allowed. The preserve has two trails. The lower gorge trail is paved for most of the length and suitable for all ages. We did not have time to hike the upper rim trail, but it is a rugged and a steep climb. There are cliff edges and drop-offs on the upper rim trail, so it may not be suitable for young children.
The trailhead for Conkle’s Hollow is located on Big Pine Road, just northeast of the intersection with Highway 374. There is a large parking area and restrooms.
Lower Gorge Trail
The upper rim loop is a one way trail, while the gorge trail is an out and back hike. From the trailhead, the concrete path of the lower trail quickly enters the gorge. This area is very lush with trees and vegetation. The rock walls of the gorge are quite high and dramatic.
The path becomes a boardwalk and passes by interesting rocks and even a small cave.
After about a half mile, the pavement ends. I recommend to continue the last small distance to reach the end of the gorge and enjoy the view of a waterfall. Retrace your steps to complete the hike.
Old Man’s Cave
Distance: Two main loop options, a 1 mile and a 1.5 mile loop
Difficulty: 3/5 for shorter loop, 4/5 for longer trail loops.
Scenic Value: 5/5 Nonstop scenery the whole way.
Old Man’s Cave is the most popular area of Hocking Hills State Park. Hikers can view several waterfalls, a shelter cave, and a rocky gorge. The entire trail offers so many beautiful views. Kids will enjoy the many unique bridges and even tunnels carved right through the rock.
You can either start the loop at the Hocking Hills State Park Visitor Center or near the Upper Falls kiosk. We began our hike near the Upper Falls on the blue Grandma Gatewood trail. Look for the stone marker about Grandma Gatewood.
The trail follows a boardwalk and then a lovely stone bridge over the top of the Upper Falls. Continue over the bridge and along the edge of the gorge to the right. Use caution with kids here as there is no railing along the gorge edge.
The trail continues down a set of steps to reach the bottom of Upper Falls. This is the iconic Hocking Hills picture with the waterfall cascading below the stone bridge. A perfect spot to stop for a family picture although you will likely not be alone at this popular spot.
After viewing the falls, continue along the trail as it winds along the bottom of the canyon. The trail will cross another stone bridge over a waterfall known as the Devil’s Bathtub.
Just past the Devil’s Bathtub, a set of stairs leads off the right. This is the shortest route for the loop and leads up to the Visitor Center. I highly recommend continuing on as the trail continues deeper into the gorge.
The trail passes another seasonal waterfall and crosses a unique concrete bridge underneath the A-frame bridge of the upper gorge trail.
This trail is just non-stop amazing! The rock formations are so intricate and the tunnels and bridges make this trail so fun.
Old Man’s Cave
The path then goes up and down more steps and even through a tunnel before reaching the Old Man’s Cave area. Here you can view another waterfall and stone bridge located just below the cave opening.
Cross the bridge and continue through another rock tunnel to view the cave up close.
From here, you can continue up the stairs past the cave and return to the parking area near the Visitor Center for a 1.0 mile loop. Or you can cross back over the stone bridge and make a right to continue further along the gorge and hike the 1.5 mile loop, which is what we opted to do.
Continuing through the gorge, the trail climbs up and then back down more steps to reach the scenic Lower Falls. This is a lovely spot to rest and is much quieter than the Upper Falls area. Again the waterfalls are rain dependent so you may see a lovely gushing waterfall here or just a trickle.
Broken Rock Falls
Now it’s time to start climbing back up. After climbing the steps up from the waterfall, you have another choice at the next trail intersection. You can keep right to complete the loop, or take the spur trail to the left to Broken Rock Falls. The trail to Broken Rock Falls is an out and back that adds an extra 0.25 miles to the total hike.
The trail to Broken Falls does involve even more steps as it follows along the edge of the bluff line. Broken Rock Falls is a pretty waterfall that appears to come out of a pile of broken rocks.
Completing the Loop
Retracing your steps back along the spur trail you will then continue straight to keep climbing out of the gorge.
A unique spiral staircase is the exit route. After climbing the stairs and passing through another tunnel, continue along the gorge exit trail back to the parking area.
Distance: 0.5 mile loop
Difficulty: 3/5 a short, but steep climb in and out
Scenic Value: 5/5 Really cool cave to explore
Rock House History
The Rock House is another must see area of the Hocking Hills. The only true cave in the region, the crevices in the back of the cave were once used as baking ovens for Native Americans. It also was later known as Robbers Roost because it was used as a hideout for bandits and criminals.
A 16-room hotel complete with a ballroom and Post Office was constructed on the site in 1835. It was located where the current picnic shelter now stands.
Rock House is located further north than the other Hocking Hills trails. It is closer to Cantwell Cliffs if you want to combine two hikes together.
A side road leads off the highway to two parking areas. You can start your hike at either parking area and the one-way trails merge together. The lower parking area starts with the rim trail while the upper parking area has the trailhead for the gorge trail. However, the lower parking area is where both trails exit near the picnic shelter so parking there avoids a longer walk back to your car.
Starting from the lower parking area, the trail descends quickly down the hill and down a set of stone steps. Be careful with kids as there is an area along the cliffs without any railings.
Reaching the Rock House
After descending the stairs, the trail hugs the lower edge of the gorge. You will soon see the openings in rock of the cave.
A trail and steps leads up through one of the cave openings directly inside the cave. This large shelter is so cool to explore but keep an eye on kids near the cave openings as there are drop offs below some of them.
Completing the Loop
After checking out the cave, continue back out the same opening and along the trail to complete the loop. The path continues down more steps to a large bridge and waterfall.
When we visited, the wooden and stone bridge had been damaged so we had to cross through the ravine to reach the other side. After crossing, it is a short but steep walk back up to the parking area.
Whispering Cave is one of the seven main hiking areas we did not have time to hike. The cave is located along one of the newest trails in the park, the Hemlock Bridge Trail. There are several hiking options to reach Whispering Cave, the shortest is a 1.5 mile loop.
To take the quickest path to Whispering Cave, park at the new Hocking Hills Lodge. Behind the lodge, you will see a sign and arrow along the back fence pointing to the trail.
This trail is more difficult than the other trails with a lot of inclines up and down. After 0.6 miles, a spur trail leads off to the right. Another 0.2 miles down this path will lead to the 300 wide Whispering Cave and a towering 150 foot waterfall. If you wish to continue further down the Hemlock Bridge trail, it will eventually cross a new suspension bridge and link to the Grandma Gatewood Trail. This trail continues on to the Old Man’s Cave area.
Other Hocking Hills Trails
While the seven areas listed above are the main hiking areas, there are miles other trails to explore. The region encompasses several more state parks, lakes, nature preserves, and state forest trails. We hope to return again to see more of the rugged canyons and waterfalls.
More to See in the Hocking Hills
The Hocking Hills also offers more activities other just than hiking. The curving roads offer several scenic road tours. There are also canopy and zipline tours. Kids may enjoy the mini-golf options, the AHA Children’s Museum, or seeing the farm animals at Muddy Boots or Fox’s High Ridge Farm. With a little train fan, we are hoping next time to ride the Hocking Hills Scenic Railway
Our kids love rocks so we did visit the KOA for a little gem mining experience. We just split a bucket between the kids and they each found plenty of interesting rocks.
Where to Stay in the Hocking Hills
The Hocking Hills offers numerous cabin and lodging options. If you need just a basic room, the new Hocking Hills Lodge may be a good fit.
However, if it fits your needs and budget, I highly recommend a private cabin. We were hosted at the stunning ReWild Rentals, located just minutes away from the best Hocking Hills hikes.*
ReWild Rentals has a 3 bedroom, 3 bath modern cabin that can sleep 8. They also have a smaller, one bedroom cabin currently under construction. You can even use discount code NOMAD to save 10% off your stay!
Each cabin is beautifully decorated with a luxury kitchen and bath. The owners have taken care of every detail from dishes, cookware, and utensils to even white noise machines, board games, and USM outlets. There were several things we forgot to bring but didn’t have to worry about because they were already in the cabin!
The kids especially loved the giant ping pong table, private fire pit, and hot tub. I loved that it was it an easy drive to reach places such as Old Man’s Cave, Cedar Falls, and Ash Cave. That allowed us to hit the trail early and beat the crowds.
Where to Eat in the Hocking Hills
There are many dining options in the area. The Hocking Hills Lodge offers both a cafe and restaurant. The Inn at Cedar Falls is a popular choice for fine dining. More casual meal options can be found at Hungry Buffalo, LaCascada Mexican Restaurant, Hocking Hills Diner, or Captain Ron’s Pirate Pizza. There area also several coffee shops throughout the area.
We enjoyed a delicious meal at the Millstone BBQ. Kids eat for 99 cents on Wednesdays, the meals include yummy cornbread muffins, and the portions were large. We also enjoyed a treat at Old Man’s Cave General Store. They have over 20 different flavors of softserve ice cream!
I hope this has inspired you to plan a trip to this amazing area of Ohio. The towering rock faces, gushing waterfalls, and scenic trails make this a must-see Midwest destination!
Have you ever visited the Hocking Hills?
*We received a complimentary stay at ReWild Rentals. All thoughts and opinions of the property are our own.