My daughter, Jamie, and I wanted to swing by Hocking Hills State Park in southeast Ohio on a recent road trip to West Virginia. We learned the main attraction in the park is Old Man’s Cave, so that was our first stop.
I’d never hard of Hocking Hills until a friend shared something about it on Facebook. The photos convinced me it was worth taking the time to drive an hour out of our way, and are we ever glad we did!
There’s a large Visitor Center at Old Man’s Cave and a large parking area. Unfortunately, the Visitor Center was closed (presumably still due to Covid restrictions) so we couldn’t pick up any printed info, including a trail map. But the signage makes it easy to find your way for the most part.
Our visit was mid-day on a Tuesday in early May…and it was rainy. So there were very few visitors that day compared to what, I’m sure, would be normal for weekends and during the summer. (The size of the parking lot is a good indication of how busy it can get!)
Why You’ll Love Hiking Old Man’s Cave Loop
We wanted to see things we don’t commonly see in Minnesota, which is why we wanted to focus in on the main cave features of Hocking Hills.
But the cave was just one of the reasons we liked this hike so much…
Because it was early May and the columbine were blooming, spring was in the air. The trees and the moss lining the cliff walls were SO green, especially in the light rain. It’s lush with vegetation of all kinds. Mature trees tower over.
I found out later by looking at the map online that there’s also a Gorge Overlook trail. I’m sure it’d be beautiful. We took the one in the gorge, called Grandma Gatewood Trail (I’m sure there’s some history there).
The rock walls of the gorge, the intense greens, the creek and waterfalls and the dramatic cave all add up to almost sensory overload. Not in the way a mountainscape does—grand and sweeping…but in a more intimate way. You feel closed off from the world down inside the gorge.
Old Man’s Creek & the Waterfalls
We expected the creek and falls to be higher since we were there in the spring. Whether it’s just a small creek or whether it had been dry for awhile, we didn’t know. But it was very pretty just the same.
The creek water is clear with a greenish tint, particularly noticeable in the pool beneath the Upper Falls. There’s a Middle Falls right beneath Old Man’s Cave, and then a Lower Falls we didn’t get to see because we didn’t know about it (we didn’t have a trail map).
There’s also a water feature called Devil’s Bathtub where the creek falls into a cauldron and spins into a whirlpool.
None of the waterfalls are big or extra amazing, especially by Minnesota standards. But the overall setting in the gorge that makes them so lovely.
There were also several places where water was spilling down over the cliff walls, which added to the beauty and mood of the place.
Old Man’s Cave was named after an old man who really lived in it with his two hounds back in the day. It’s a large recess cave above the creek in a particularly beautiful spot in the gorge.
The hiking trail leads right up inside the cave. It’s quite dramatic. As far as caves go, Rock House is cooler…but the hiking loop to get to Old Man’s Cave makes this one the overall winner.
Cool Stone Walls & Bridges
Along with the stone walls of the gorge, there’s several human-made stone walls along the trail, with bridges that cross the creek fairly often. I love things like that so they made the hike even more enjoyable, even if it distracts from it being entirely natural.
What to Know about the Loop
Lots of Ups and Downs
You need good knees for this hike! It’s not long—maybe a mile around the loop—but there are plenty of steps. I wouldn’t call it strenuous, but consider hiking poles if you have knee or hip pain.
It’s a One-Way Trail
We’d couldn’t remember being on a one-way hike before, but it’s really nice! It seems less crowded when you don’t meet people on the trail. And in a few places the trail is simply too narrow to pass.
We did disobey the law once to get back up to the Visitor Center, but no one else was in that area at the time so we felt OK being a bit rebellious. 🙂
Try to Look at the Map First!
We would’ve saved some time and not have missed the lower falls if we’d have had a map. We also might have decided to hike the Gorge Overlook Trail if we’d known it was there. You can find one on this page, and hopefully the Visitor Center will open up again soon for a handheld one.
How to Get There
Set your GPS for Hocking Hills State Park in Logan, Ohio. It’s just over an hour southeast of Columbus, two hours east of Dayton and two-and-a-half hours east of Cincinnati.
Once you’re in the area you’ll see signs for the park, and then look for signs to Old Man’s Cave.
It was well worth adding a couple hours to our travel day to swing by Hocking Hills State Park. We knew we only had time to hit a couple of the attractions, and we’re very glad the hike to Old Man’s Cave was one of them.
It’d be well worth spending a day or two at the park. There’s a large campground nearby, although we didn’t stop to check it out. Maybe someday we’ll be back!
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Sharon is the founder and publisher of Active Outdoor Women. She loves getting outside in beautiful places to hike, paddle, camp, snowshoe, ski, ride—and encouraging others to come along! Besides maintaining AOW and her other website, Twin Cities Outdoors, Sharon writes and designs websites, newsletters, blogs, emails, books and other marketing tools for clients.