When I think of clifftop vistas, cascading waterfalls and well-groomed hiking travels, my mind travels to the mountains of Virginia or Washington. Then a still small voice hears Dorothy say, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home” and I remember that I can have all of these in just a few hours drive- in the hills of southeast Ohio. Hocking Hills is the second-most visited place in all of Ohio, and my family traveled there a few months ago with our small children, aged 5, 3, and 1 to once again prove that hiking IS for amateurs– as long as they have a mother’s hand to hold!
The Hocking Hills region is perfect for day trips from Columbus and even Cincinnati, so pack a picnic lunch and enjoy some quiet family time. After peanut butter and jelly fingers were wiped, our first hike was the Rock House. I hadn’t been here since college and my husband had never been. I think this is where the saying, “ignorance is bliss” came from! This is a steep trail and that is suspended on the side of a cliff. Mothers of littles, this is not for the faint of heart!
The Rock House is the only true cave in the Hocking Hills region and it is located on the side of a 150-foot cliff. Stone stairs allow you to access the cave. Our little boys loved the echo their little voices could create, as well as the relative darkness to sneak around (not that they could ignore their hysterical mother yelling, “stay away from the edge!”. We were also happy to not find any bootlegger, robbers, or horse thieves in the cave, as local folklore suggests this cave used to be home to, you’ll only need to deal with mosquitos and other tourists.
The total trail is about ½ mile but with a steep descent and ascent it may feel like more for little legs. Bring plenty of water on a hot day, you will need it!
The kids needed a break and this mama needed a less-stressful trail, so our next stop was Ash Cave. Ash Cave is the largest recess cave east of the Mississippi and the grandeur of it is not overlooked by children or their parents. Ash Cave gets its name from the piles of ashes that were sitting in the cave when it was “discovered.” It is presumed that Native Americans lived in this cave for some time and the ashes were built up from their frequent fires.
The Ash Cave trail is only ½ mile and is fully paved and wheelchair and stroller accessible. I’ve been here in the middle of winter and the trail is open, just slippery. The trail begins as what appears to be a gentle walk through a hemlock forest past streams and rock walls, and then it opens to a massive cave with a rim of almost 700 feet wide and 90 feet high!
The floor of Ash Cave is sandy! I saw a little boy here with his trucks and diggers and I was so sad that we didn’t think to bring some toys for our construction-obsessed 3 yr old! This could be a great way to entertain your children while the adults take in the majesty of the cave.
Ash Cave has a waterfall, but we visited on a particularly dry week and it was more of a trickle. The boys really wanted to play in the waterhole, but they now ask that visitors do not swim or play as the area is not monitored.
Here are my 4 top tips for Hocking Hills:
- Pack as much food, bug spray, water, etc as you think you will need and then add more. The closest full service store is a WalMart and it is over 30 minutes away from the region.
- Stay on the trails! The best walks for kids are the Ash Cave trail or the Conkles Hollow lower trail. If you see the name “Rim Trail” be wary of taking small children because the cliffs are steep! We hiked many of these trails before having kids and I didn’t even like my husband being that close to the edge! Sadly, there are usually a few deaths in the park every year due to falls.
- Toilets are few and far between- and they are usually in the form of Portapotties or drop toilets. Bring plenty of hand sanitizer and wipes- potty training just got even ickier! 😉
- Frozen fans, unite! Hocking Hills is beautiful in winter, too. We went this past January on an unseasonably warm day (50 degrees, yes!) and the kids kept asking if they would see Elsa because of the many ice formations.
Have you been to Hocking Hills? What’s your favorite trail/area?