Our A-to-Z Guide to Hocking Hills
Folks planning that idyllic getaway need not look beyond Ohio’s borders. The Hocking Hills region is an emerald jewel in the southeastern part of the state, filled with serene waterways, rolling hills, quaint hamlets, awe-inspiring caves, scenic gorges and miles of beautiful trails.
Attracting visitors from across the Midwest, the alluring valley is a natural playground for adults and families alike, offering disconnection from technology, reconnection to nature and a renewal of spirit. And it’s surprisingly convenient—less than an hour’s drive from downtown Columbus. “Even if you live as close as Columbus, and you get a cabin in the woods, you will feel like you’ve traveled a day, like you’ve driven for hours because it’s so different from the city,” says Karen Raymore, executive director of the Hocking Hills Tourism Association.
Indeed, there are seemingly countless ways to explore Hocking Hills. To help you get started, we offer an A-to-Z guide.
In addition to Conkle’s Hollow and Old Man’s Cave, both of which we’ll touch on later, Hocking Hills boasts four other unique sites. Ash Cave, arguably the most impressive recess cave in the Midwest, measures 700 feet wide, 100 feet from front to back and nearly 100 feet high. (It’s also wheelchair accessible.) Cantwell Cliffs offers visitors a rugged hiking trail through picturesque scenery, narrow passageways and sheer cliffs. Cedar Falls—a 50-foot waterfall—packs a powerful punch. And finally, the
Rock House is a 200-foot-
long sandstone corridor carved over millennia by erosion.
Offering some of the most beautiful scenery in the Midwest, it’s only appropriate that Hocking Hills is home to spectacular biking trails. Varying in distance and difficulty, they range from the 19-mile Hockhocking Adena Bikeway built atop a 19th- century railroad to the 52-mile Logan to Laurelville loop. A roughly 20-mile drive southeast of Ash Cave is scenic Lake Hope State Park in adjacent Vinton County, which offers miles of breathtaking trails, as well. For more info, check out 1800hocking.com/hocking-hills-bike-trails.
C Conkle’s Hollow
With its towering sandstone cliffs, Conkle’s Hollow was declared a state nature preserve in 1977 due to the abundance of rare, threatened and even endangered species that can be found there. Hocking Hills State Park naturalist Pat Quackenbush likes to think of the site (named for an early visitor who inscribed his name in the rock) as a small pocket of Canada in Ohio. Because of its cool climate, certain exotic floras that were transplanted during the Ice Age have remained. When the glaciers melted, many unique Canadian plant species died off—“except here,” he says.
Whether you’re in the mood for a mom-n-pop diner or a more upscale experience, it’s a good bet you’ll find what you’re looking for. There’s an Amish restaurant, the Olde Dutch, in Logan that serves down-home comfort food at a bargain. Echoing Katie Smith’s sentiments (See “Favorite places”), Raymore of the tourism association praises the Pizza Crossing for making “the best thin crust pizza in the world—in my opinion—and this is from a Chicago native.” And Glenlaurel, the Scottish inn near Rockbridge, offers six- and seven-course dinners by candlelight (reservations required). “It’s absolutely outstanding,” says spokesman Tom Selvaggio. “I would put it on par with the Refectory.”
There are many ways to soak in the sights and sounds of the Hocking Valley. Here’s a fun one: Do it on horseback. Several ranches allow visitors the chance to saddle up and hoof along the park’s equestrian trails. Spotted Horse Ranch, located just outside Laurelville, welcomes riders to take part in guided tours (up to four hours). A few miles east, near Conkle’s Hollow, sits Happy Trails Horseback Rides, which takes folks along scenic trails suitable for both beginners and more experienced riders.
Stocked with northern pike, bluegill, bass, catfish, crappie, muskie and saugeye, Lake Logan, just off Rt. 33, is a sweet spot to set your line. Boat rentals—with choices ranging from kayaks and canoes to pontoons and motors—are available, and bait shops are aplenty. For a more serene experience, try Rose Lake, which serves as the main water source for the area. Located just south of Old Man’s Cave, Rose is surrounded by trees, with its clear waters annually stocked with catfish, bass and—in early spring—trout.
Made to replicate the links-style golf that originated in Scotland, the folks at Glenlaurel are set to unveil an eight-hole course designed by renowned golf architect Michael Hurdzan of Columbus on May 1. “We have sand tee boxes and sand greens,” says Selvaggio of Glenlaurel. “As far as I know, there is only one more course [in the country] that was designed in this fashion.” Hickory shaft clubs will be available to rent. Plaid knickers are recommended, but not required.
Evidence found in Hocking Hills’ caves dates their use by humans back more than 7,000 years, although the area is believed to have been inhabited as long ago as 15,000 years. Hocking is a shortened version of Hockhocking, the name given to the Hocking River by the Delaware tribe. The region’s abundance of iron proved fruitful during the Civil War, as the Hocking Valley became a major hub in the building of railroads. For a time, Quackenbush says, “This was the richest spot in Ohio. My, how things have changed.”
I Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls
For those looking for that rustic getaway with a touch more, the Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls just might be the ticket. The inn welcomes folks year-round to enjoy its serene setting, tucked between Old Man’s Cave and Cedar Falls. The 75-acre retreat offers 1840s log cabins, cottages, a spa and a full-service restaurant (“Chef Anthony is an artist,” says Raymore, “and the setting really enhances the experience”). Couples can expect to spend between $145 and $289 per night, says innkeeper and co-owner Ellen Grinsfelder, and events—such as wine-tastings, nature hikes and cooking classes—can be found on the inn’s website, innatcedarfalls.com.
J Johnson’s pencil sharpeners
Home to 3,400 pencil sharpeners, the Paul A. Johnson Pencil Sharpener Museum is just as kitschy as it sounds. Located in the Hocking Hills Regional Welcome Center, just off Rt. 33 in Logan, the collection was the pride and joy of the Rev. Paul A. Johnson, a retired minister from Nelsonville who died in 2010. Some are shaped like cakes and hamburgers, others like grandfather clocks and antique model cars. The museum is free and open daily.
K Kayaking and water sports
Lake Logan is a hot spot for kayaks and motor boats alike (a 10 mph speed limit is enforced). A swimming beach is located at the northern end of the lake, while boat docks can be rented. The Hocking River also is a huge attraction for non-motorized watercrafts, including rafts, kayaks and canoes. Hocking Hills Canoe Livery and Hocking Valley Canoe Livery, both located just off Rt. 33 in Logan, offer rentals and campgrounds accommodating large groups in addition to river access. Folks can opt for trips of varying distances, with shuttle services at drop-off and pick-up points.
What started in 1992 as a small gathering on Bruce and Bobbi Bishop’s property in Rockbridge has blossomed 20 years later into a full-blown annual festival, attracting art-lovers and garden enthusiasts. The three-day event (July 13 through 15) features plant sales, gardeners offering advice, live music, more than 70 area artists displaying and selling their work and a stunning three-acre garden of lush plants, sculptures and ponds. For more information, visit www.lilyfest.com.
The folks in New Straitsville (just a few miles northeast of Logan) take great pride in their moonshine. During Prohibition, the town was well-known as a purveyor of the bootleg booze. And although it’s still illegal, moonshine—and the practice of making it—is celebrated each Memorial Day weekend with a grand event. This year’s Moonshine Festival (May 24 through 28) features a parade, music, carnival rides and a tractor pull, not to mention a working still that produces real moonshine, though it has to be thrown out, according to festival organizer Ken Burgess.
N Night sky
It’s incredible the difference a 50-minute drive can make. With almost no visible light pollution from the city, the night sky comes alive in Hocking Hills—“one of the darkest spots in the Midwest,” says Raymore. To help reconnect visitors with the cosmos, many cabins provide telescopes for guests (Getaway Cabins and At Boulder’s Edge, for example). And throughout the warmer months, nighttime events—such as stargazing and moonlit hikes and canoe trips—are coordinated. See the Hocking Hills events calendar at 1800hocking.com/calendar.
O Old Man’s Cave
Of the six major sites that make up Hocking Hills, Old Man’s Cave is by far the most well-known. Named for Richard Rowe, the hermit who inhabited the enormous gorge in the early 1800s, the site wows visitors with towering trees, sheer cliffs, trickling brooks, beautiful waterfalls and a massive recess cave. Hiking trails line the rim between the upper and lower falls, and they also take visitors along the creek, which carved out the black sandstone gorge. The Grandma Gatewood Trail, named for famed Appalachian Trail hiker Emma Gatewood, connects Old Man’s Cave with Cedar Falls and Ash Cave in a rewarding 10-mile loop.
P Plant life
There’s no question that Hocking Valley is a unique ecosystem, filled with all kinds of rare plant species. In fact, just last year, a flora called Godfrey’s Boneset, not thought to exist in the state, was discovered there. “That’s a big deal in the botanical world,” says Jim McCormac of the Ohio Division of Wildlife, also a former botanist for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The reason for this is that fissures and caverns in the sandstone emit cool air—“basically air conditioning,” says McCormac—that permit cooler-weather plants, such as hemlocks, to grow there.
Q Quaint accommodations
Independent and family owned cabins and other accommodations line the Hocking Valley, offering visitors a respite from the bustling city life, yet without the complete removal of modernity. Whether going for a romantic couple’s weekend or as part of a larger group, there’s a cabin to fit your needs, including those that are pet-friendly. A useful directory of accommodations can be found by visiting 1800hocking.com/hockinghills cabinscottages.
R Rock climbing and rappelling
On belay! With such steep cliffs, it’s no surprise that Hocking Hills attracts folks looking to live life on the edge. A designated area for climbing and rappelling can be found on Big Pine Road near Conkle’s Hollow. There, you can learn the basics or opt for a more challenging trip. Earth Water Rock: Outdoor Adventures offers standard three-hour trips by reservation only, while private outings with a professional guide are available for a half or full day, as well. For more information, visit ewroutdoors.com.
Antiques abound in the Hocking Valley, with outlets—such as the Logan Antique Mall— selling furniture, jewelry, china and trinkets of potential value. The Midwest Glassware Outlet boasts a 9,000-square-foot showroom with more than a million pieces of barware, stemware, plates, platters, Fostoria and a wide range of collectible items. Smaller general stores—such as Grandma Faye’s and Boulders Edge Emporium—are sprinkled around the area, stocking small amounts of grocery items, fire-starting equipment, maps and knickknacks. For a directory of area shops, visit 1800hocking.com/hockinghillsohioshopping.
T Touch the Earth
Many years ago, Mimi Morrison says she had a spiritual vision that led her to discover her life’s calling: to help people reconnect with Mother Nature. The Athens native left her teaching job and started Touch the Earth Adventures, by which Morrison and a handful of experts lead hiking groups, bird-watching expeditions, kayaking trips, weekend retreats for women and even weeklong getaways to the Carolinas, Virginia and Cape Cod. “I just get so much renewal from every experience and everyone I take out,” Morrison says. “I really feel like I have been able to open up a lot to a lot of people.”
U Urban legends
You remember that story of how Old Man’s Cave got its name? Well, what you weren’t told is that Richard Rowe, the hermit, still inhabits the cave—or, at least that’s what we’re told. (Rowe is said to have been buried by Native Americans somewhere in the park.) In another tale, a group of thieves fled from an armed posse into Conkle’s Hollow with a stash of stolen gold, which they hid in the gorge. When the posse caught up to the bandits, they killed them before finding out the location of the loot, which some say still remains to this day.
V Vinton County Air Show
Known for its aerobatics and barbecue chicken, the Vinton County Air Show—taking place roughly 15 miles south of Logan—features single-engine pilots from across the country performing death-defying aerial stunts. Also on the bill are radio-controlled airplanes, a candy drop for the kids and a few surprises. This year’s event, touted as Ohio’s largest free air show, takes place Sept. 16 from
11 am to 5 pm at the county airport (the show starts at
1 pm). There’s no entrance fee, but a parking donation is recommended to support the Vinton County Airport Pilots and Boosters Association, which maintains the airport.
Logan is home to the last operating washboard factory in the country, the Columbus Washboard Co. No, washboards aren’t quite as popular as they once were (those used today typically serve decorative or musical purposes), although, according to Raymore, U.S. servicemen and women still utilize them to wash their clothes. (“If you’re out in Afghanistan, you’re not
gonna find a laundromat,”
she says.) The factory recently opened a museum, and it hosts the annual Washboard Music Festival (June 14 through 16). Visit washboardmusicfestival.com for more info.
Drawing thousands of adventurers last year, the Warrior Dash promises to attract even more in 2012. It’s an obstacle course set on a grand scale, amid breathtaking scenery and culminating with a blowout festival of food, beer and live music. Among the challenges faced during the 5K course are towering walls, muddy expanses and even flames that require traversing. Taking place in Logan on June 2 and 3, the Ohio Warrior Dash (now in its second year) is one of nearly 50 scheduled across the country during the 2012 season. Oh, and costumes are highly encouraged. For more information, visit warriordash.com.
Y Yoga in the Hills
After you’ve Warrior Dashed your way through the muck, it might be time to unwind. Head to Glenlaurel each Wednesday, where—weather permitting—yoga instructor Shirley McClelland, who’s been practicing for 30 years, holds Yoga in the Hills on an outdoor deck among the trees. “I think most of us need a connection with the outside, and a lot of people are lacking that connection,” she says. “When people have that, they really respond to it.” For more information, call (740) 653-2256.
Z Zip lines
Another option for thrill-seekers is a canopy tour: Folks are strapped onto zip lines high above the ground and let loose to travel anywhere from 25 to 35 miles per hour downhill. Hocking Hills Canopy Tours, one of several companies offering zip line adventures, has a handful of packages, says co-owner Julieann Eckel. The full canopy tour is a two-and-a-half- to three-hour experience involving 10 zip lines, five sky bridges, a nature hike and a 25-foot rappel. Other options include zips at sunrise, twilight and nighttime, as well as the SuperZip, in which two people can race one another. n
Ben Zenitsky is an assistant editor for Columbus Monthly.