While Tom and I were exploring Conkle’s Hollow, the Grand Canyon of Ohio, we also checked out some of the other parts of Hocking Hills State Park. We had been to Hocking Hills several times before, but it had been almost 20 years since we were there last.
Hocking Hills State Park has changed in the last 20 years. It is still a dispersed parks – the 2,000+ acres are not all one connected parcel – but the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has worked hard to make it feel like more like a single park instead of a bunch of different parks. There is a nice Visitor’s Center with a small snack shop, a dining lodge, a campground, and cabins you can rent. There have been massive improvements to the trail system with many places more accessible than they were 20 years ago. There is even a bike trail/ hiking trail between the cabin rental area and the most popular section of the park, Old Man’s Cave.
After spending some time at Conkle’s Hollow, we drove to the Old Man’s Cave area. This section of the park has the Visitor’s Center, the Naturalist’s hut, and a large picnic area. There are also several trails, including a gorge trail and a rim trail. This is by far the busiest area of the park. We were there on a Thursday and the parking lot was almost full. There were, however, no staff present anywhere – not in the Visitor Center, not in the (closed) snack shop, nowhere along the trails. This seemed like a missed opportunity to connect visitors with the park.
We walked along the trail by the creek in the gorge. Our most helpful advice came from a boy who told us that we “could go down by the stairs, but the tunnels were definitely the funner way.” So we descended the stairs to the gorge floor, then walked along to the tunnels, which were indeed “the funner way.” The tunnels are not natural, but were carved in the rock to aid the trails. But they were still fun (and short for anyone who is claustrophobic).
We explored Old Man’s Cave which derives its name from the hermit Richard Rowe who lived in the large recess cave of the gorge. Rowe’s family moved to the Ohio River Valley around 1796 from the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee to establish a trading post. He and his two dogs traveled through Ohio along the Scioto River in search of game. On one side trip up Salt Creek, he found the Hocking Region. Rowe lived out his life in the area and is buried beneath the ledge of the main recess cave. Earlier residents of the cave were two brothers, Nathaniel and Pat Rayon, who came to the area in 1795. They built a permanent cabin 30 feet north of the cave entrance. Both brothers are buried in or near the cave. Their cabin was later dismantled and relocated on the nearby Iles farm to be used as a tobacco drying house.
There are some ups and downs to the Old Man’s Cave trail, so it is not handicapped accessible, but there are handrails and nice stairs. There is a new bridge over the creek at the bottom which is more a work of art than a bridge. There is a new observation bridge over the gorge that gives a scenic overlook of the entire area.
It was fun to spend the day at Hocking Hills and see the improvements that have been made to the park. It is definitely worth a longer stay in the future.