When I think of clifftop vistas, cascading waterfalls, and well-groomed hiking travels, my mind travels to the mountains of Virginia or Washington. Then I hear a small voice 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 State Park is the second-most visited place in all of Ohio. A visit to Hocking Hills can make even the most novice hikers feel like they’ve conquered the world – as long as they have a mother’s hand to hold! Here’s my experience of spending one day in Hocking Hills with kids.
Can you do Hocking Hills in one day?
Yes! The Hocking Hills region is perfect for a day trip from Columbus and even Cincinnati. From downtown Columbus, Old Man’s Cave is only a 1-hour drive. From Cincinnati, it will take about 2 1/4 hours. This is an amazing place to pack a picnic lunch and enjoy some quiet family time. You may not be able to see everything on your first visit, but when it’s time to leave you’ll be ready to plan another day of exploring.
Have longer than a day? Check out my 3-day Hocking Hills itinerary for families.
Best Hikes for Kids at Hocking Hills
If you’re making the most of a short amount of time with children, I recommend visiting Old Man’s Cave and Ash Cave. These two hikes have the most WOW factor and are not rated difficult. Old Man’s Cave does have some level of anxiety for moms as the trail begins and ends at the top of the gorge. Little ones should be kept in a carrier.
Ash Cave and Old Man’s Cave are only 5 miles apart, but because of the curvy roads, your drive will take about 10 minutes. If you have additional time, Cedar Falls is right along the way.
Old Man’s Cave
Old Man’s Cave gets its name from the old hermit, Richard Rowe, who once lived in the recess of the cave. (Once you visit here, you may not think that sounds so bad)! The cave was formed over many years of rock erosion.
As I mentioned before, this is one of the most popular places in Hocking Hills State Park. Arriving as early as possible is best.
The loop at Old Man’s Cave has numerous stairs and even a rock tunnel! I recommend a trail shoe or hiking boot. (I wear these Adidas trail shoes (similar) and my son likes his Merrell hiking shoes). The rocks are often very slippery! Keep little ones close.
Having trouble finding a place to park at Old Man’s Cave? Check out these hidden gems of Hocking Hills.
The least-stressful trail at Hocking Hills is 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 ash 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 a .3- mile (one way), fully paved, wheelchair and stroller-accessible, hiking trail. Right now, Ash Cave is set up to be a loop trail, but those with mobility issues (or those with young), can return on the paved walkway. I’ve been here in the middle of winter and the trail is open, just slippery. The trail begins as 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 son! 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 on a dry week and it will be more of a trickle. It looks like a great place to play, but the park asks that visitors do not swim or play as the area is not monitored. For the best chance at seeing a flowing waterfall, visit in April or May.
If you’re interested in a full breakdown of the best trails in Hocking Hills for kids make sure you visit this post Best hiking trails for kids at Hocking Hills.
5 tips for a day in Hocking Hills with kids:
- 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! 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. For more info on the best Hocking Hills trails for kids check out this post.
- 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.
- There is very little cell phone service within Hocking Hills State Park. We always appreciate having an Ohio map on hand (imagine you live in the 1990s again, lol). Otherwise, download the directions from Google Maps before you go!
Driving to Hocking Hills from Columbus?
While on the way home, make sure to stop at Clear Creek Metro Park and view Leaning Lena. This massive rock hangs across the roadway! So much fun for kids! Have even more time? Stop at Wahkeena State Nature Preserve.
Have you been to Hocking Hills? What’s your favorite trail/area?
Want to try a new trail that is just outside of the park? Try Rockstall Nature Preserve.
Hotels in Logan are limited. The Mainstay Suites looks like a nice option for families.