Located in southeast Ohio just over an hour from Columbus, Hocking Hills State Park effectively shatters everything you thought you knew about the Buckeye State.
Totally unexpected in Ohio, and really the entire Midwest in general, Hocking Hills has an extensive network of caves, waterfalls, and enormous granite rock formations. Just goes to show that you really can find adventure just about anywhere!
25 miles of trails weave through all that natural beauty, and one of the unique things about the best hiking in Hocking Hills (say that five times fast!) is that you don't have to embark on long, strenuous treks to enjoy the park highlights. In fact, some of the best trails are less than a half-mile long — roundtrip!
Before we really dive into the best hiking in Hocking Hills, we would be remiss not to tell you about the different Travel Tokens we have. In addition to our popular US State Tokens, we also have a huge selection of US State Park Tokens, including (of course!) Hocking Hills State Park!
Best Hiking in Hocking Hills
1. Old Man's Cave
Distance: < 1 mile
Difficulty: Easy to moderate, mostly because of frequent mud
We can't even begin to discuss the best hiking in Hocking Hills without mentioning Old Man's Cave. One of the most popular trails in the park (perhaps THE most popular trail), the cave is easy to reach and close to several waterfalls.
The cave is named after a hermit — an old man — who lived inside it during the 1800s. Once he discovered the area, he lived out the rest of his life in the cave and to this day, he's buried under a ledge inside it.
This cave and trail are popular for good reason, so plan ahead, bring plenty of patience, and arrive early, especially on weekends or holidays.
There are several access points, as Old Man's Cave is linked to other trails along the Ohio Buckeye Trail and America's Discovery Trail. Because of that, the total distance you hike is quite variable, but the shortest, most straightforward route is 0.6 miles roundtrip.
During the winter, don't miss the annual Hocking Hills Winter Hike, which includes Old Man's Cave and several frozen waterfalls.
2. Upper Falls
Distance: 1.2-mile loop
Upper (and Lower, which we'll discuss in just a moment) Falls is commonly done as a loop along with Old Man's Cave. However, some people do opt to skip the falls and see only the cave if they're short on time, which is why we separated them.
This isn't even close to being the tallest or widest waterfall in the park, but what makes Upper Falls some of the best hiking in Hocking Hills is its picture-perfect setting.
A bridge crosses over the top of the falls, perfectly framing the cascade, and it flows directly into an impressive gorge. When the waterfall is flowing steadily, particularly in the spring and early summer, it forms an incredible swimming hole!
Depending on the time of year you visit, you'll also pass several small seasonal waterfalls and the fascinating Devils' Bathtub.
3. Lower Falls
Distance: 1.5-mile loop
As its name implies, Lower Falls is in the same area as Upper Falls and Old Man's Cave. And you can't hit the upper falls without hitting the lower, right?
Similar to Upper Falls, you can visit Lower Falls without also visiting Old Man's Cave. However, you'll literally pass right by it en route on the trail, so if you have a few minutes to spare, it's well worth the quick detour!
Lower Falls is significantly less crowded than Upper Falls and flows nearly year-round, which is why we think it's some of the best hiking in Hocking Hills State Park!
Insider tip: it's much lesser-known, but if you continue on just a bit past Lower Falls, you'll reach another one known as Broken Rock Falls!
4. Cantwell Cliffs
Distance: 0.9 miles one way
This short but sweet hike is for those who like to get off the beaten path. Reddish-brown cliffs here loom about 150 feet over the water, creating a dramatic backdrop for seasonal waterfalls, and colorful wildflowers seem to explode here in the spring.
The entire loop clocks in at just under two miles, but don't let that fool you; the scenery is phenomenal. In fact, this area is widely considered one of the most scenic not only in the Hocking Hills, but the entire county — which is really saying something!
So what's the catch? Cantwell Cliffs is located about 17 miles from any of the other hiking trails in the park. In our personal opinion, that's actually one of the factors that make it some of the best hiking in Hocking Hills, as the somewhat remote location discourages most visitors.
5. Ash Cave
Distance: 0.5 mile
As far as the best hiking in Hocking Hills State Park goes, Ash Cave offers perhaps the biggest effort-to-reward ratio. The trail is less than 0.3 miles roundtrip and much of it is even accessible for wheelchairs and strollers (you can turn back and make it an out-and-back rather than a loop)!
At a staggering 700 feet across the opening, Ash Cave is the largest recessed cave in the state. The bottom is sandy and soft, there are boulders to scramble up, and misty waterfalls drip down, making this a favorite for all ages.
The waterfalls here also don't have rock faces directly behind them, so more adventurous hikers can actually get right behind them!
Technically, Ash Cave is divided into two separate hikes: the lower accessible portion, which is the most popular and what most people refer to simply as "Ash Cave," and the upper trail, which is commonly referred to as Ash Cave Rim. This rim trail, while still fairly easy, is a bit more rugged and offers a more panoramic view of the cave from higher up.
6. Cedar Falls
Distance: 0.5 miles one way
This short half-mile hike comes with a tremendous payoff: one of the park's most impressive waterfalls (again, that's really saying something!). At 50 feet tall, Cedar Falls is actually the tallest in the Hocking Hills.
While Cedar Falls is short, don't dismiss it as easy. The trail involves a long series of steps which do a great job of getting your heart pumping. About halfway in, you can take a short detour down a rugged, undeveloped access trail to see a seasonal waterfall.
The trail also includes bridges, boardwalks, and unique rock formations, keeping it varied enough to stay interesting the entire time. The abundance of trees also means this is a particularly scenic trail in the fall during leaf-peeping season.
7. Rock House
Distance: 0.8-mile loop
Rock House is some of the best hiking in Hocking Hills, especially for families with young children. The stunning mossy cave at the end has natural windows, and each leg of the trail is less than 0.4 miles.
The cave is narrow and tunnel-like, and in fact, it's technically the only true cave in the Hocking Hills!
Other than some steps and the large rocks inside the cave, this trail is easy to navigate. It's also accessible from two separate parking lots, making it convenient even if you're short on time.
Where to Stay to Enjoy the Best Hiking in Hocking Hills
Unless you're local, you'll definitely want to stay in the area for at least a night or two to maximize your time in the Hocking Hills area. Fortunately, there are tons of excellent accommodation options!
Besides dozens of traditional hotels, there are also more bespoke options for the more adventurous. Ohio has several unique treehouses, and there are additional glamping options right in Hocking Hills, like these yurts and geodesic domes.