Winter Hike

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Even if you've packed up your holiday decorations, it's still possible to go "walking in a winter wonderland."

The annual Winter Hike through Hocking Hills State Park always delivers great fun and spectacular sights, said park naturalist Patrick Quackenbush.

The 6-mile hike, which started more than 50 years ago, takes place Jan. 16 this year. Hikers will travel from Old Man's Cave through the park's main gorge, past waterfalls and Rose Lake to Ash Cave.

"The ice builds and builds all winter long. The ice formations are breathtaking," Quackenbush said. "It's an absolute winter wonderland."

The area has a completely different look in the winter when it's blanketed in snow and ice, said Karen Raymore, executive director of the Hocking Hills Tourism Association.

"That's the neat thing about nature-based destinations," she said. "Every season they take on a different personality."

The event, which draws 3,000 to 5,000 participants, is not suited for small children, Quackenbush said. The hike is fine for older children, he added.

"It's six miles in the winter through the terrain of Hocking Hills," he said. "Still, it's mostly families that come."

The hike always attracts families who have resolved to spend more time together or become healthier, Raymore said.

"It's a great event to do those things," she said. "A lot of families get a cabin and make a weekend of it."

The hike is ideal for people who want to experience the splendor of Hocking Hills during the winter but haven't done much cold-weather hiking, Quackenbush added. The event is well-staffed with park rangers, naturalists and volunteers who monitor the trail. The local Kiwanis Club serves bean soup and cornbread at the halfway point.

"It's easy to find your way. Everything's well-marked," he said. "There's a lot of extra support."

Even though the event draws large lots of people, it's a fun, outdoorsy crowd, he said.

"I always see a lot of big smiles," Quackenbush added.

-Melissa Kossler Dutton