Published February 2005

Hocking Hills in springtime is a beautiful place with rugged hills covered by trilliums, spring beauties, and other flowers. In summer it’s a cool, shaded place with challenging hikes and climbs, and come fall, the hills are a riot of color with wild turkeys gobbling in the valleys. But winter? It’s a very nice place then too, especially for outdoorsmen who are fighting cabin fever and require a long walk or two on the wild side. Hocking Hills and its state park lies in southeastern Ohio below Lancaster and southwest of Logan, a park that many call the prettiest in the state with its steep cliffs, rugged ravines, and huge, jumbled boulders. A busy place in summer, but in winter it’s yours alone, or nearly so.

I was there just last week hiking and sightseeing with my wife, Jane, and our first stop was Ash Cave. There’s plenty of parking at Ash Cave and a wide cement walkway that’s handicap accessible. The walkway crosses a meandering little stream that flows along the valley floor past ancient hemlocks, sycamore, and near vertical cliffs of layered blackhand sandstone. The cliffs are honeycombed with small caves and grottos, and their surface has moss, lichens, and liverworts along with strange plants from a pre-glacial time. Ash Cave itself is at least 100 feet high with geysering waterfalls and a sand floor, and it’s quiet as quiet can be. We were the only people there, and the only sounds were spattering water and wind soughing through the hemlocks.

Old Man’s Cave is the most famous of the caves, and also the most picturesque. There’s a fine trail down into the gorge with handrails and steps dating back to the WPA. You’ll see a fine stream here, huge fallen rocks and deep, green pools, with little caves that our old timer guide, Leland Connor, said were once inhabited by bears. Leland is a local historian who knows more about the park than most, and is happy to pass his learning on to others. Outdoorsmen who like their hiking can make a 6 mile jaunt between Old Man’s Cave and Ash Cave through some of the parks prettiest scenery.

There are other places to visit like wild and lonely Cedar Falls, the Rock House, and Conkles Hollow. All offer good hiking, short or long, and a chance to stretch winter stiffened legs and see nice scenery. Of course, there’s more than just walking in wild country at and near this park, and plenty of accommodations of every kind. We stayed at Ash Cave Cabins in an ultra-modern woodland cabin and ended our evenings sipping wine before a crackling fire. On the other side of the coin, you can camp in the state park campground and roast hot dogs in solitude. Only one trailer was using the park when we were there.

In-between these two extremes are a host of B & B’s, cabins, and rustic complexes with or without cooking facilities. There’s good food waiting too, some of the most unusual at a place called Etta’s Lunch Box which had generous meals and over 800 childrens lunch boxes on shelves or hanging from the ceiling that go back to old originals.

Logan had its own offerings that included The Columbus Washboard Factory, the last in the country, where I was happy to take a tour, the Logan Art Gallery & Art Center with its offerings of pottery and paintings by local artists, and the Artisan Mall with LOTS of crafts and antiques. Don’t forget nearby Nelsonville with its Rocky Boots outlet and more crafts, and maybe a horseback ride into the high country. The Hocking Hills tourism folk have plenty of specific information by calling 1-800-HOCKING and if cabin fever is looming, this is a place to go. No traffic and few people in pretty country. Hard to go wrong.

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