Safe cavin'

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources will host its Annual Winter Hike on Saturday, Jan. 17. Starting at 9 a.m., groups will make the six-mile trek from Old Man's Cave to Ash Cave, the main artery of Hocking Hills State Park, with guides in tow and refreshments and return transportation waiting.

Many around here know about the Hocking Hills region - it's a popular day trip - but most don't know much about it. That said, here's more on the state park, its history and the peculiar geology that made it famous.

Areas of interest

The 2,356-acre Hocking Hills State Park offers some of Ohio's best outdoor areas, including these six striking geological features. Though areas of interest are spread out and somewhat remote, each offers parking and hiking trails.

Ash Cave: The largest recess cave in the park measures 700 feet long, 100 feet deep and 90 feet tall. Most say it's the region's most spectacular spot. Pulpit Rock, a large stone at the entrance, was used by preachers who took advantage of the great acoustics.

Cantwell Cliffs: The northernmost attraction gets less foot traffic, though it offers what you came to see: a towering waterfall, gorgeous rock formations and a slim pass known as Fat Woman's Squeeze. It offers trails through the bottom and along the rim.

Cedar Falls: Midway between Old Man's Cave and Ash Cave is a waterfall used to turn a grist mill in the 1800s and made powerful by the confluence of Old Man's and Queer creeks. It's bound by hemlock trees, though pioneers wrongly labeled them cedars.

Conkle's Hollow: Known for waterfalls, thrilling trails and breathtaking overlooks, the state nature preserve was frequently used by Shawnee and Wyandot as a favorite hunting ground. It was named for a mysterious inscription once visible from the gorge: W.J. Conkle 1797.

Old Man's Cave: This favorite spot was actually named for an old man, settler Richard Rowe, who set up his homestead there before accidentally shooting himself. He's buried somewhere nearby. The recess cave is only one feature of a giant sandstone gorge.

Rock House: This long stone tunnel is the only true cave in the park. Many have called it home, including American Indians who made ovens from small recesses in the stone wall. The space also was rumored to be a hideout for bandits. (Yeah, totally sweet.)

Five Things You Might Not Know About the Hocking Hills

1. One of the lovely, rugged trails from Old Man's Cave to Ash Cave is actually part of three larger systems: the Buckeye, North Country and American Discovery trails.

2. The Hocking Hills region is home to 9,000 acres of forest, nine state parks, four nature preserves, a national forest and the most distant of the Columbus Metro Parks.

3. Elk, mountain lion and marten once lived in Southeastern Ohio. They're still gone, but during the past few years, black bear populations have rebounded slightly, returning from groups (or "sloths") in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

4. Hocking Hills is sometimes known as the "Hot Tub Capital of the Midwest," due to the large number of rental cabins and cottages offering an outdoor activity for the less adventurous.

5. Many of the region's features have been carved from Blackhand sandstone, which has a middle layer more susceptible to erosion than the top and bottom. Its name comes from a large black handprint sketched on a sandstone cliff near the Licking River.

Sources: Ohio Department of Natural Resources,,, Friends of Hocking Hills State Park, naturalist Pat Quackenbush

What: ODNR's Annual Winter Hike

When: 9 a.m., Saturday, Jan. 17

Where: Hocking Hills State Park, Logan