Hocking Hills, where does one begin, this is an area I've been visiting since I was a child, it is so very dear to my heart and I know I'm not alone on this. Every year millions of people travel from all over the world to experience the beauty that is this natural area. You'll find everything from waterfalls, cliffs, and caves. By observing the rocks you can travel through time and observe the history of Ohio.
The first people to explore and establish in this area were of the ancient Adena culture over 7,000 years ago. More recently in the 1700s Native Americans would travel through these caves and hollows. In the 1800s white settlers began settling in the land and by the late 1800s it became a popular scenic attraction. In the 1920s the State began purchasing this land to preserve these natural features.
The rocks tell us so much more than that. The highlighted features of the Hocking Hills complex are carved from Black Hand Sandstone and shale. This bedrock was deposited more than 350 million years ago as a delta in the warm shallow sea which covered Ohio at that time. The millions of years following, the uplift and stream erosion created the remarkable features you can see today.
Sandstone varies in composition and hardness from softer, loosely cemented middle zone to harder top and bottom layers. The recess caves like those seen at Ash Cave, Old Man's Cave, and Cantwell Cliffs are all carved in the softer middle zone. Weathering and erosion widened cracks found in the middle layer of sandstone at the Rock House worked to create the unusual formation found there.
When observing the rocks you can also see interesting features like cross-bedding, honeycomb weathering, and slump blocks.
Although glaciers never reached the park areas, their influence can be found throughout the area in the form of the vegetation such as the towering eastern hemlocks, the Canada yew, and the yellow and black birch growing in the gorges.
While we weren't able to visit all of the parks on this trip, we did see quite a few...
Rock House, Conkle's Hollow, Old Man's Cave, Cedar Falls, and Ash Cave
(Missing - Cantwell Cliffs, Whispering Cave)
Click "Read More" to read about each place we visited and enjoy some of the photos we took along the way.
This is easily my favorite spot in the entire park. The cool, damp, darkness of the cave is peaceful as you look out into and over the forest beyond. While in the cave, your eyes never fully adjust to the dark areas, this trip I brought along a tripod to allow my camera's shutter to remain open for a long time so I could see just what the inside of the cave looked like, I never expected it to be so colorful!
About Rock House -
Rock House is the only true cave in the Hocking Hills complex. It is a tunnel-like corridor situated half way up a 150 foot cliff of Blackhand Sandstone, the ceiling is 25 feet high and the main corridor is 200 feet long by 20 - 30 feet wide, with 7 naturally formed 'gothic-arched windows' and great sandstone columns with bear the massive roof.
Evidence is strong of people using this place as a shelter - the small recesses in the rear wall, called hominy holes, were used as primitive ovens by Native Americans using the cave. There are chilled out troughs that fill with water which permeates through the stone allowing easy access to fresh water. In more recent years it has been said that outlaws, robbers, thieves, and murders would use this as a hide out earning Rock House its reputation as 'Robber's Roost'.
Conkle's Hollow Nature Preserve
While not an official part of the Hocking Hills State Park (it's actually a designated State Nature Preserve) it is in the same area and just as worth checking out. 200ft high cliffs line the gorge, slag rocks, caves, and waterfalls can be found throughout.
A boardwalk follows along side a small stream while the large cliffs loom overhead, while there we saw a black rat snake, heard a great number of birds - including warblers, and found some unique ferns and spleenwort growing on the slump rocks. Once the boardwalk ends you can continue on a bit further to a lovely little waterfall. The lush greens in the gorge, the tall trees, and the cool air put off by cracks in the sandstone make this a most enjoyable stroll. Next time we'll have to take the upper trail to the top of the cliffs!
Old Man's Cave
Old Man's Cave is the first natural feature in the park preserved by the state back in the 1920s and is still the most popular spot in the park complex. In the span of about a half mile you can go from the upper falls, through the high gorge, past the recess cave where the 'old man' once lived, by the middle falls, down into the low gorge, and to the lower falls (roughly one mile round trip). From this starting point you can walk part of the Grandma Gatewood trail that goes from OMCave to Cedar Falls to Ash Cave (6mi one way) which is also a section of the Buckeye trail and the national trails - North Country Scenic Trail and America's Discovery Trail.
Old Man's Cave gets its name from the hermit Richard Rowe who lived in the large recess cave of the gorge. After his family moved to the Ohio River Valley around 1796 from Tennessee, he went out with his two dogs in search of game one day and lived out his life in the area. He is buried beneath the ledge of the main recess cave.
It's kind of funny (in a sad sort of way) how a man who enjoyed solitude and this area so strongly's home became the most popular attraction in the region.
Cedar Falls is the area's greatest waterfall - in terms of amount of water falling. Its name comes from an error by the early white settlers who mistook the hemlocks for cedar trees.
Oh Ash Cave, my second all time favorite spot in the park. I have yet to find a photo that truly captures the grandeur of this massive recess cave. The horseshoe-shaped cave was formed, like most in the region, from the middle layer of the backhand sandstone being weathered and eroded though millions of years. Size wise the cave measures 700 feet from end to end, 100 feet deep from the rear cave wall to the frond edge, the rim rising up 90 feet high.
It was named after the several thousands of bushels of ashes found under the shelter by early settlers. The largest pile was recorded at being 100 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 3 feet deep. It's thought to be from Native American campfires built up over hundreds of years. Some think they may have been smelting silver or lead from the rocks, others think it may be from making saltpeter in the cave. Either way that's an impressive amount of ash.
Since 2015 we have been exploring and sharing all the amazing things we’ve found in nature.
Emily is an Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist who is most often found out in the woods.