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Little-Known Fact: Emma Gatewood, who began her hiking career at age 67 and completed the Appalachian Trail three times, favored the Hocking Hills section of the 1,250-mile Buckeye Trail.
I reach the camp check-in station ready for my annual spring pilgrimage to Old Man’s Cave and my walk through history. Of the six dispersed areas making up south central Ohio’s 2,000-acre Hocking Hills State Park, this is my favorite. Even though I’ve made the journey for several years now, I’m still awed by the mystery and stories contained in the orange sand that cakes my boots.
More than 250 million years ago the ocean carved deep gullies, rock formations, and waterfalls out of the Blackhand sandstone common to the area. The first humans in the region were Native Americans who inhabited the hollows of Old Man’s Cave 7,000 years ago. The Wyandot, Shawnee, and Delaware hunted and foraged along these trails through the mid-1700s. The main river that flowed beside the footpaths they used was given the name “Hockhocking,” or “bottle river,” by the early tribes. Eventually it was shortened to “Hocking,” a name that crops up frequently in this region.
I begin my journey on one of the lower paths at Upper Falls. This 5-mile trail, which connects Old Man’s Cave, Cedar Falls, and the handicapped-accessible Ash Cave, also happens to be the “Grandma Gatewood” section of the Buckeye Trail. Emma Gatewood, who began her hiking career at age 67, completed the Appalachian Trail three times and favored this section of the 1,250-mile Buckeye Trail.
Like many Ohio parks, Hocking Hills is a conglomerate of smaller, noncontinuous units named for their landmarks: Cantwell Cliffs, Rock House, Conkles Hollow, Cedar Falls, and Ash Cave. None offer more than dayhikes within their borders, but by hopping on the Buckeye, you can extend your trip around the state.
I continue my hike south in search of the cave of the “old man,” a Civil War refugee from West Virginia named Richard Rowe. The cave is a huge 200-foot-long recess, a large cavity guarded by an imposing shelf of overhanging sandstone. Supposedly Rowe is buried under the rocks of the cave floor, the victim of a stray shot from his own rifle.
I crawl into the cave. The walls are wet and the air is musty with age. Here a fugitive, a man who lived as a recluse in this cave a long time ago, went unnoticed for years and years. I sit and rest, happy to be alone and unnoticed for just a short while.
Hocking Hills State Park
20160 SR 664
Logan, OH 43138
Buckeye Trail Association
Worthington, OH 43085
Hocking Hills is in south central Ohio, 50 miles southeast of Columbus and 12 miles south of Logan.
From Columbus, take U.S. 33 south through Lancaster to the Logan-Bremen exit (OH 664). Follow OH 664 south about 12 miles to the Old Man’s Cave entrance and visitor center.
Fall is beautiful with the changing leaves, but this is also the most crowded season. Spring is a great time to see the waterfalls and streams. Ice formations highlight the winter season, when the average temperature is 25 degrees F. Since snowfall is rare in the area, the park hosts visitors year-round.
As settlers started moving into the area in the late 1700s, horse thieves hid stolen animals in the caves. Bandits waited, hidden from view on the sandy upper ridges, to hijack and loot those passing by on the footpaths below. These days squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, and blue jays are the most threatening looters around. You might also encounter deer and wild turkeys.
Contact park office for information.
Canadian glacial leftovers characterize the region with giant hemlock and many types of fern. The Canada yew and the yellow and black birch tell of a cool period 10,000 years ago. The cliff ledges surrounding the plunge pool of Upper Falls support rare colonies of the round-leaved catchfly, a threatened plant species in Ohio.
A seasonal dining lodge contains a restaurant, meeting rooms, TV lounge, game room, snack bar, and an outside swimming pool. There are no sleeping facilities at the lodge. The park office, also located inside the lodge, is open year-round. There is a visitor center located near Old Man’s Cave.
Forty gas-heated, family cabins sleep up to six people. They have two bedrooms (one with twin beds, one with a double bed), bath with a shower, living room with a convertible sofabed, complete kitchen, dining area, and screened porch. Each is furnished with a microwave, television, dishes and kitchen utensils, and bed linens. Reservations must be made by calling the park office.
Old Man’s Cave Family Campground, located on S.R. 664, 11 miles south of Logan, is open year-round on a first-come, first-served basis. Campers must register at the office.
- Reservations (614/385-6165) are required for the group camp areas which allow tents only.
- Some family sites have electric, and water is available near the parking lots. Showers, a dump station, coin-operated laundry, and flush toilets are available from April 1 through October 31. Certain sites accommodate pets.
- There is also a family walk-in area, located off S.R. 374 near Cedar Falls, with 30 non-electric wooded sites. These sites are open April 1 through October 31. Each site is designated with a clearing for a tent and fire ring. Pit latrines are located throughout the area. A water pump is located in the walk-in parking lot. Campers are welcome to full use of the facilities at the family campground.
- There are public telephones and an amphitheater near the group camping area.
- All sites provide fire rings and picnic tables.
A horse camp is located near Rockhouse in Hocking State Forest for those visitors who wish to ride on backcountry trails.
Picnic areas with tables, grills, latrines, and drinking water are located at each of the recess caves. Some areas have shelterhouses available on a first-come, first-served basis.
The swimming pool outside the dining lodge is free to cabin guests during regular hours, Memorial Day to Labor Day, and open to the general public for a small daily fee. Registered campers only may use the outdoor pool in the family campground.
Contact park office for information.
Permits are required and can be obtained through the park office.
Fees for the Old Man’s Cave Family Campground range run about $12 per night (non-electric site in season). Cabins are generally $84 per night.
- All park visitors must remain on the trails at all times.
- Swimming is not permitted at Rose Lake.
The area encompasses many cliffs that while beautiful also have the potential to be dangerous. For this reason, hikers are asked to stay on constructed trails. No rock-climbing is permitted.
Leave No Trace:
Heed trails to protect plant life.
All LNT guidelines apply.
The Hocking Hills State Park map is available from the visitor center in Logan. The park also provides hiking guides for $2. Buckeye Trail section maps can be purchased from the Buckeye Trail Association for $3.50 each, plus 80 cents shipping and handling.
Other Trip Options:
- By hopping on the Buckeye, you can extend your trip around the state. The Buckeye Trail follows the perimeter of Ohio and is the nation’s longest loop trail. It travels through a variety of landscapes, from urban to rural to wilderness, making use of bygone railroads and canal tow-paths. The Grandma Gatewood Trail has also been designated as part of two national systems ~ the north Country Scenic Trail and America’s Discovery Trail.
- The adjacent Hockings State Forest offers hunting, rock climbing, and rappelling.
- Conkles Hollow, a state nature preserve, features scenic geologic formations and rare and unique plants. It is located off S.R. 374, open during daylight hours only.
- Just 10 miles north of Old Man’s Cave lies Lake Logan State Park. Its 400-acre lake offers good fishing with world-record saugeye. In winter, Lake Logan is a great place to enjoy ice skating, ice fishing, and sledding. There are no overnight accommodations, but there are picnic areas, a swimming beach, a fishing pier, boat rentals, and launch ramps.
- The Hocking Valley offers a variety of points of interest for visitors. Local attractions include craft and antique shops, museums, canoeing, horseback riding, a scenic railway, hiking trails, and scenic drives. For tourist information about Logan or other parts of Hockings County, call the area visitor center at 800/HOCKINGS.
- Get more info. from the Buckeye Trail web site.