Hocking Hills is the most popular Ohio State Park – and for great reason! Stunning natural beauty complete with gorges, rock formations, and caves makes this a premier destination for travelers, especially those with kids. Yes, you can visit Hocking Hills in one day, but it’s best if you can do two or even three! We recently visited the Hocking Hills region, and here is our 3-day Hocking Hills itinerary for families.
Day 1 – Travel to Hocking Hills, hike, and check-in
We left mid-morning from our home in North Central Ohio and planned to stop and picnic before arriving at Hocking Hills. Thankfully, Clear Creek Metro Park is an easy stop for those taking US-33 E to get to the park.
Clear Creek Metro Park
Clear Creek Metro Park is known for the “clear creek” that flows through the park. Clear Creek is part of the Columbus Metro Park system, but it’s really closer to Hocking Hills than Columbus.
We parked at the Creekside Meadows Picnic area and ate lunch and then took a short walk on the Creekside Meadows Trail. This trail is a flat trail through a meadow (captain obvious! lol), so it’s perfect for young children or even toddlers. For reference, here’s a park map of Clear Creek.
Hocking Hills Rappelling Area – Chapel Cave
After lunch, it was too early to check into our lodging, so we headed out on a search for Chapel Cave. This cave is also known as “21 Horse Cave” because legend says that it can fit 21 horses. After all, this is a bridle trail.
Parking for the trail is found on Big Pine Rd. at the Rappelling and Rock climbing area. From the parking lot, take the orange blazed trail at the north end of the lot (do NOT cross the road for this trail).
Because this trail is a bridle trail and low-lying, be prepared for mud! While it’s only .5 mile to get back to the cave, trying to weave our way through the mud did take some mental work and physical agility. Our visit was during the spring, you may not have to deal with so much mud in late summer or fall.
Follow the orange blazed until you see a wooden fence – you will also see a white blaze. Follow this fence line up to the rock facing – the cave will soon be in sight!
Chapel Cave (or 21 Horse Cave) is so cool for kids! Our family was so excited to be inside a real cave (not just a recess cave – like Ash Cave). They enjoyed playing hide and seek with another child. The back of the cave is really dark – so bring a flashlight and explore.
The Hocking Hills Caboose
Everyone was so excited to finish our hike and check-in at The Hocking Hills Caboose. We stayed at the Caboose almost 4 years ago, but our kids were so young then that they didn’t remember very much about their experience.
But within 10 minutes, it was like they owned the place, all over again!
The Hocking Hills Caboose is the perfect Hocking HIlls cabin for kids, but also those “kids at heart.” The cozy interior sleeps 5 on single beds and two bunks located in the cupola. A full bathroom with a shower makes this quite the “glamping” experience.
The Hocking Hills Caboose is the perfect place to help you maximize your time in Hocking Hills. It’s conveniently located to the top hiking spots and it’s also located right along SR 56, which is the Hocking Hills Scenic Byway. The Caboose also has a propane grill, so you can save time and money on eating eat.
While we love the Caboose for its location and modern conveniences, the best part of the Caboose is the memories made staying with your family on such a unique property, It’s a special time to be disconnected from the outside world (no cell service or TV), but also be sharing a space in nature with those you love most.
Read my full review of the Hocking Hills Caboose.
So after we unloaded the car and ate burgers on the grill, we decided to pack in one more adventure for the day.
Ash Cave is just a 5-minute drive from the Caboose, and we figured the crowds would be smaller now that most of the daytrippers were at home or at dinner. We arrived at the Ash Cave parking lot and found we had it nearly to ourselves!
The Ash Cave trail is perfect for kids because it’s only .3 miles each way and it’s paved. (You do have the option to continue on the trail and return on the gorge, but since we’re always visiting here with little ones, we stick to the accessible trail).
Since we had our daughter in the backpack carrier for the trail at Chapel Cave, we let her run the trail and carried her when we needed to. This Ash Cave trail is also suitable for a stroller.
Sharing the massive 90-foot-tall recess and waterfall with only a handful of people during the day’s golden hour was really a special experience. Our big kids didn’t want to leave (and really wanted to wade in the water).
Ash Cave is a very popular hike with tourists to Hocking Hills because it is so accessible for those with children or disabilities. I recommend leaving this one til late in the day – or visiting very early in the morning – if possible.
Day 2 – Hiking, lunch with a view, a haunted tunnel, and a campfire
Old Man’s Cave
Thanks to our darling daughter, the Caboose-crew was wide awake by 6 am. This enabled us to beat the crowds and pull into the Old Man’s Cave parking lot by 7:30. I highly recommend visiting early in the day.
Old Man’s Cave is one of the hallmarks of the Hocking Hills region and it’s not hard to see why. The trail consists of an Upper and Lower Falls, the Devil’s Bathtub, and the namesake – Old Man’s Cave. Old Man’s Cave is named after a hermit who once lived within the rock recess.
The first part of the trail crosses the top of the gorge, so be careful with small children and warn bigger kids to stay away from the edge. Our older children are 7 and up and I felt confident with them walking without holding our hand, but they are seasoned hikers.
Old Man’s Cave is one of the jaw-dropping places within Hocking Hills. If your time is limited, try to fit this one in!
Our hike at Old Man’s Cave took us roughly 90 minutes. I’d allot at least an hour – we took many stops along the way for photos.
Lunch at Lake Hope Lodge
Tip: Bring an Ohio map or atlas AND download the directions to Lake Hope Lodge. A wireless signal is nearly impossible within Hocking Hills State Park! If you need to log on to Google Maps, I recommend driving to the John Glenn Observatory! We stopped here a couple times while out hiking to 1. use the restroom and 2. Respond to text/work messages.
After a short, scenic drive along the Hocking Hills Scenic Byway, and a stop at the Caboose for a snack, we headed to Lake Hope Lodge.
Lake Hope is one of the main attractions in Zaleski State Forest. While this area isn’t adjacent to Hocking Hills, it is in the region! It took us about 35 minutes to drive to Lake Hope Lodge from our accommodation at the Hocking Hills Caboose.
Lake Hope offers a beach, cabins, and hiking trails; but the thing I really wanted to check out what the view from the dining room at Lake Hope Lodge.
Visiting on a Wednesday morning at 11:30 am (before school was out), we found that we had the lodge nearly to ourselves. We ordered a takeout meal for everyone so we could sit on the picnic tables outside. I’m not sure if this was a COVID precaution or just their general way of doing things, but the servers would only serve the tables inside the lodge, not the ones on the balcony. However, a full take-out menu with drinks allowed us to eat outside with no issues. We wanted to enjoy the brilliant sunshine.
Whatever you order, make sure you get the french fries! They were just like the ones from the fair.
About 10-minute drive from Lake Hope Lodge, along a winding gravel road, lies the “haunted” Moonville Tunnel. This Ohio attraction had been on my Bucket List for quite some time, and I was happy to check it off as a family.
The Moonville Tunnel was constructed in the 1850s when Samuel Coe gave the Cincinnati and Marietta Railroad Co the land needed to construct their railroad line across his property. The formation of a small mining town, Moonville, soon followed. While the town was completely abandoned by 1947, the ghosts of those who were deceased near or within the tunnel, are said to remain. Read more about the history of Moonville from the Ohio History Connection.
We didn’t see any ghostsm but we did have a fun time exploring the tunnel and talking to other visitors. The kids didn’t find it to be “as creepy as they expected.”
Tip: Bring a flashlight to examine all of the graffiti that’s been left throughout the years. There’s also a very clear creek next to the parking lot. This may be a fun place to pack swimwear and play in the water on a hot day.
Family time & s’mores around the fire
Our drive back from Moonville meant rest for the toddler and a cool down for the rest of us! We spent the rest of the evening enjoying family time, building a fire, eating leftovers from Lake Hope Lodge, and of course, eating s’mores.
Day 3- Time to leave Hocking Hills, but one more hike before we go
We planned to make Day 3 another full day, but thanks to the lack of sleep from the baby and a little girl with some really bad allergies, we decided to do one last hike before heading home. That’s the reality of traveling with kids- sometimes our expectations aren’t always the reality. After 2 full days of adventure, we just couldn’t handle a busy third!
Big Spring Hollow
Cue Natalie Cole singing, “Saved the Best for Last” (lol, child of the 90s), because our hike at Big Spring Hollow was another awe-inspiring Hocking Hills experience! The hike itself is nothing spectacular, as this hike is actually located on a bridle trail, but arriving at the cliff face and falls is worth a “WOW!”
Just like Chapel Cave, this trail is accessed by parking at the Rappelling and Rock climbing lot on Big Pine Rd. After parking, cross the road and then the bridge to the trail. Turn right immediately after crossing the bridge!
This flat (but muddy) trail will take about half of a mile to get to the Big Spring Hollow Falls! At over 100 feet, it’s the largest waterfall in Hocking Hills State Park!
The boulders surrounding the falls were slippery, but our big kids loved climbing on them and exploring the nearby creek. There’s also a small cave before the waterfall (you’ll see it to your right), which was fun for our children to play in.
That’s all for our 3-day family-friendly Hocking Hills itinerary! This would be so easy to replicate! If you’d like to try other trails here are my recommendations for the best trails at Hocking Hills for kids.
Have you been on a getaway to Hocking Hills? I’d love to hear about it!
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