From high-adrenaline activities like rappelling down natural rock cliffs and ziplining through trees to more sedate activities like viewing thousands of pencil sharpeners, tasting peach moonshine or playing a washboard, there are plenty of things to do in Hocking Hills, Ohio.[See related story: Where to Stay Near State Parks in Southeast Ohio: Hocking Hills Lodging]
Hocking Hills Trails
Everyone from the novice to the experienced hiker can find their thrills on the trails in Hocking Hills. A good moderate hike is the Cedar Falls trail, just a short distance from the Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls where we were staying. This .9-mile hike is easy with a moderate elevation gain. The falls are spectacular.
The most popular hike in Hocking Hills is Old Man’s Cave, where there is a six-mile course, although you can opt for the shorter gorge trail, which is only .75 miles.
In addition to their stunning beauty, another big bonus of the trails in Hocking Hills is you don’t have to hike far to view amazing waterfalls, bridges, gorges and caves. As one hiker said, “You get a big payoff with just a short hike.” We saw several families out hiking with even small children and several of the trails are easy with little elevation change.
We strolled by scenic lakes and over bridges before coming to Devil’s Bathtub, a swirling rush of water that plummeted straight down. Apparently, the sandstone is harder in this area so rather than the rushing water slowly chipping it away from the side over time, the water goes straight down, which over time carved out the bathtub shape. The rumor is the waters will take you all the way to hell, but the rushing stream actually comes out farther downstream, under the bridge. I’m pretty sure you take a highway to hell, not a water slide.
We walked on the path surrounded by towering cliffs, a small lake, the stream and thousands of trees, some just barely clinging onto the sides of cliffs. After a walk through a short tunnel, we came to Old Man’s Cave, an area worn underneath a cliff made of black sandstone, a porous rock more subject to erosion than other types.
The legend goes that a man named Richard Rowe moved into the cave in 1796 after coming from Tennessee with his family. He is said to be buried there.
As we entered the cave I saw a sign for Grandma Gatewood Trail, the name for a six-mile section of this trail. I excitedly remembered that I had started a book about her, Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail.
When Ohio resident Emma Rowena Gatewood was 67, she told her family she was going for a walk. And what a walk she took – she became the first woman to hike the entire Appalachian Trail, all 2,168 miles of it, in one season. Even more remarkable? All she packed was an Army blanket, plastic shower curtain and a raincoat.
Another amazing short hike is to Ash Cave. This easy walk over a wheelchair-accessible path took us through a hemlock-lined gorge to a magnificent cave. The main feature of the 700-foot cave is the waterfall cascading from the cliff above into a large shallow pool. It’s one of the most spectacular waterfalls I’ve seen.
Things to Do in Hocking Hills When You’re Not on the Trails
While hiking and water fall viewing may be at the top of your list, don’t stop there as you’ll miss out on some local flavors, literally, shopping opportunities and some unique activities only found in Hocking Hills. There’s nowhere else you can tour a washboard factory, a pencil sharpener museum and waterfalls in a 1979 Cessna Skyhawk with a local pilot.
Note that some of the activities are seasonal or dependent on the weather so always check the website or call before you go.
Rappel down cliffs with High Rock Adventures
Sure, why not spend the morning lowering yourself down sheer rock cliffs? While I have no fear of heights, I may not be the most sure-footed person. But after being guaranteed we didn’t need a lot of upper body strength to participate, I harnessed and helmeted up and took off with the rest of our group and our two guides, Martin Strange and Sean Foley.
At least I’m not trying to climb up thousands of sheer rock cliffs with my just my fingernails, like the crazy climber Alex Honnold in the Netflix movie “Free Solo,” which I recently watched with my husband while cowering under my Snuggie on my couch even though I knew he wasn’t going to plummet down the sheer rock face.
Turns out it’s a lot of fun and not as scary as it looks. Martin and Sean were experts at guiding and instructing us, while making us feel safe as we scaled down the natural rock formations under we safely hit the ground.
High Rock Adventures has several other options including night rappelling, climbing classes, zip and climb programs, eco-nature tours and the Rock Challenge Tour. That involves a “variety of challenges including rock halls, squeezes, bouldering challenges, crawls, ascents and descents, without harnessed climbing or rappelling.” Yeah, no thanks.
Recall sharpening those #2s in elementary school at the Pencil Sharpener Museum
The late Reverend Paul A. Johnson began collecting pencil sharpeners until he had amassed thousands of the small items used for getting a good, sharp point on our pencils. It’s a good thing those molded pieces of plastic are small because he collected 3,400 of them, which are now housed in a tiny museum by the Hocking Hills Visitors Center. My favorite were the food-shaped ones, including a sausage one from Budapest.
View the waterfalls from above with Hocking Hills Scenic Air Tours
Harry Sowers has been flying planes for more than 50 years. He started Hocking Hills Scenic Air Tours 12 year ago, piloting up to three passengers at a time over the trees, waterfalls, farms and homes of Hocking Hills. He was hooked on flying ever since he flew in his first plane when he was 10. “I had that urge to get off the ground and see the vast world around me,” he said.
After our group helped push the 1979 Cessna Skyhawk out of the hangar – a first for me as I’m not completely sure I’d ever touched an airplane before – we maneuvered our way into the tiny airplane cabin, fastened our seatbelts and took off. Harry would cue us when the waterfalls were coming into sight, but capturing good photos was a challenge. Especially as for some reason my phone camera picked the crucial second to jam up.
But the ride was spectacular, with us getting up to speeds of 140 mph at some points. Our 30-minute ride was over quickly and we were back on the ground.
Harry offers air tours of varying lengths, from 20 minutes to 60 minutes. He has had nine marriage proposals and even a wedding performed during flight. One woman did turn down the marriage proposal, which made for a rather awkward flight.
Fly through the trees with Hocking Hills Canopy Tour
It was threatening rain and was a bit chilly as we once again harnessed and helmeted up for our canopy tour with Hocking Hills Canopy Tour. But luck was with us and the sun even peeked out at one point.
I do enjoy ziplining but don’t enjoy the recent trend of adding skybridges that are really difficult for someone under 6′ to navigate. You know the ones with the planks spread so far apart you can’t reach the next one without practically doing a split?
This tour has five skybridges, but they were all easy to cross with solid planks. That doesn’t mean they didn’t sway a bit when several of us were on them at one time, but that just added to the fun.
We also zipped our way through 11 ziplines, some as high up as 60 feet. Our entertaining and helpful guides, Bryon Moorman and Mitch Clark, kept us safe as they instructed us about each zip as we came to it.
Hocking Hills Canopy Tour is built on a former golf course, although you’d never know it from the natural-looking terrain. The platforms are perched high up in the trees and some have views of the river.
The company also offers Segway tours over rough terrain, a fun adventure if you’re up for something a bit different.[To view a video of our adventure, see Babes in the Woods.]
Learn how we used to do laundry at the Columbus Washboard Factory
I never gave much thought to washboards. But I walked out of Columbus Washboard Factory with my own mini washboard and an appreciation for how this tiny factory dating back to 1895 is still producing up to 30,000 washboards a year. At its height, before washing machines, it sold up to 1.3 million washboards a year.
So who still buys them? Our guide, Diane Hopkins, is one of two employees who make the washboards, and told us that 60 percent of their buyers are musicians and 40 percent purchase them for laundry purposes. The factory hosts an annual Washboard Festival every June, with musicians from all over coming to join in the fun.
There is a section devoted to US troops, as they are a primary user of the washboards when they don’t have access to washboard facilities and the factory puts together kits to send to the troops, and has sent 6,000 of them since 2003.
Gaze at the stars at John Glenn Astronomy Park
We were bummed that a cloudy night prevented us from seeing one single star at this recently opened astronomy park. But we did enjoy hearing the director, Brad Hoehne, tell us about the center and its programs. He showed us the huge telescope they use to see the stars after pulling back the retractable roof. Brad also told us they are working on getting a “dark sky” designation.
Guests are welcome to come to the center at night, set up a lawn chair and view the night sky at no charge.
Catch a show at Stuart’s Opera House
Located on a square in Nelsonville, Ohio, this historic building hosts more than 75 events a year. These include everything from Square Dance Calling Workshops to rock concerts. Around 7,000 local students participate in its Arts Education Program.
Get a taste of peach moonshine at Hocking Hills Moonshine
Brothers Brian and Eric St. Clair started producing moonshine and business is so good they are moving to a much larger building. Take a free tour and belly up to the bar for $1 samples of their moonshine. (The state doesn’t allow them to give it away for free.) Brian told us it’s the quality of the water in Hocking Hills that makes the moonshine and beer so good.
There are plenty more spirits in these hills, with several wineries and even an Irish pub. Head to Shamrock Irish Pub to hoist a pint or Jackie O’s Taproom with 16 beer taps. Grab a brisket burger and a brew at Capz Sports Bar & Grille. Brewery 33 Hocking Hills has an outdoor beer garden, fire pit, live music and food trucks.
Wineries include Shade Winery, Manchester Hill Winery, Rockside Winery & Vineyards and Hocking Hills Winery.
Paddle under the moon at Lake Hope State ParkThis 3,000-acre park has plenty of trails, including a 29-mile backpack trail, and eight mountain biking trails. You can also kayak and canoe in the 120-acre lake on your own or with one of the guided tours like Paddle to the Pads (lillypads) or a night kayak trip.
Float down the Hocking Hills river on an inner tube
Oh, how I love a leisurely float in an inner tube down a slow-flowing river. It’s an especially welcome activity as the temperatures heat up.
You won’t find high-speed, thrill-inducing whitewater rapids in Hocking Hills, but you will find class 1 rapids perfect for a relaxing float. Hocking Hills Adventures has trips in kayaks, inner tubes, canoes and rafts.
The Natural Rockbridge is the most popular kayak trip as it starts with a view of Natural Rockbridge. A 7-mile trips takes around 2-3 hours. There are also four options for canoe trips, lasting from 1-4 hours.
A raft trip takes you downstream about four miles from Crocketts Run to Canoe Livery, a trip that takes 3-5 hours depending on the level of the water. You get dropped off at the river, and picked up after the float, making for an easy day on the water.
For less time on the water, opt for Crocketts Run in a six-person raft, a trip that will take around 2-3 hours.
Saddle up and hit the trails on horseback
You’ve got your choice of places to ride, from a small indoor riding area with a petting zoo at Ellinger Farm to 35 miles of trails on 500 acres at Spotted Horse Ranch. Uncle Buck’s Riding Stable has guided trail tours from 1-2 hours long, with post-trail adult beverages available in The Lady Buck Saloon. Equestrian Ridge Farm offers private tours on its 200-acre horse farm.
Challenge the family to arcade games at The Fun Barn
Hocking Hills is all about getting out in nature and turning off the electronics. But maybe it’s a rainy day or you’ve worn the kids ragged with all the adventures. Take them to the Fun Barn, where you’ll find more than 100 arcade games, bumper cars, mini-bowling and a food court – just what kids love, right? The Fun Barn also has 11 movie theaters so you can catch a show with the kids.
Grab a club and hit the course for a round of golf
If the golfer in your family wants to hit the links, Hocking Hills Golf Club has an 18-hole regulation golf course with scenic views. The Urban Grille has food and a full bar for apres-golf refreshments.
If you’re like me, and mini golf is more your speed, Hocking Hills has a few options. Adventure Golf at Rempel’s Grove and Hocking Hills Mini-Golf both have 18-hole miniature golf courses.
Shop for handmade crafts, boots, art and more at local shops
Don’t you always travel with a bit of space in your suitcase in case you find some local gems? Although with a full schedule, shopping time was limited during my trip, a few items caught my eye – and found their way into my suitcase.
Our inn, Inn & Spa at Cedar Hills, has a cute gift shop with gift items like candles, bird houses, country wares and jewelry. After our tour of the washboard factory, I couldn’t resist picking up the mini-size washboard to hang up in my laundry room. And maybe even use to work on those stubborn stains.
There’s also the Wind Chime Store, which promises the “chime of your life” and has hundreds of wind chimes. You’ll also find bakeries, antique shops, a quilt shop, leather shop, paperback exchange and plenty of gift shops.
The Amish first moved to Ohio from Pennsylvania in 1808 and now number more than 60,000. So if you’re in the market for any Amish furniture, visit Miller’s Furniture of Lancaster owned by an Amish family.
The restaurant Hungry Buffalo has the Chief Logan General Store with a large selection of gifts, local handcrafted items, boots and outdoor gear.
I’d never shopped so fast in my life as I did at Rocky Outdoor Gear Store. They were closing shortly after we got there, and we were also having dinner at its grill. I had a surprisingly delicious spaghetti dinner, and while I generally enjoy leisurely dining I also wanted to make it to the third floor to check out the clothing and the boots. So I took a few bites of the pasta, then raced to the third floor for ladies clothing, raced down for a few more bites, then back up the second floor to try on boots.
While I didn’t score any boots as they didn’t have my size, I picked up a good gift items. I could have done a lot more damage had we had more time.
Wind down with a massage or other treatment
Nothing de-stresses me quicker than a massage. A short walk from my cabin at Inn & Spa at Cedar Hills took me to a former cabin turned spa. The therapist led me into a room with a view of the woods where I had a lovely hour-long massage.
Debate: What’s better for destressing? A walk in the woods in beautiful scenery or a good massage? Luckily for me, I didn’t have to decide on this trip as I was able to have both.
Other spas in the area include Ash Cave Day Spa, located on 70 acres with trails and gardens; Natural Remedies Massage, which also offers yoga and a meditation float pod; and Blue Valley Massage and Traveling Spa, which will also bring the spa to you if you have a group of four or more.
Other activities in Hocking Hills include birding, fishing, ATV rides and a long list of free activities that include walking tours, antique train cars, archery and feeding hummingbirds. Here’s a bit more information to help you plan your trip to Hocking Hills.
Hocking Hills Weather
Winter: The temperature can range from the low 20s to the mid 40s. The gorgeous wintry scenery, which includes frozen waterfalls, is worth adding that extra layer of clothing for warmth.
Spring. The temperature begins to warm up in late March and the wildflowers start to bloom. Expect temperatures in the 30s to 60s and you may get a bit of rainfall.
Summer. Expect lots of sun and temperatures ranging from around 50 to 85 degrees. You’ll want a jacket in the evenings.
Fall. You’ll find Hocking Hills ablaze with fall colors in October and November. The temperatures will be similar to spring, so you’ll want a sweater or jacket in the evenings
Hocking Hills Map
Here’s the main thing you need to know about navigating Hocking Hills. There is no cell service in most of it so you need to be prepared with an offline map. You can download one on your phone or pick up one at the Hocking Hills Regional Welcome Center.
The Hocking Hills Maps site has several maps that include foliage driving routes, hiking, waterfalls and wildflowers and a state map.
For more information, visit Explore Hocking Hills.
– Jan Schroder, Editor in chief