One of my reasons for wanting to visit Hocking Hills this year, besides staying in a super cool Caboose, was to try out the new Whispering Cave trail at Hocking Hills with the kids. As a family, we’ve been to Hocking Hills numerous times, so it was exciting to know that this time we’d have a new area to check out. The Whispering Cave/Hemlock Bridge Trail opened in May 2017.
The trail head to the Whispering Cave trail is adjacent to the Hocking Hills Lodge and parking lot. Unfortunately, the Dining Lodge burnt down in late 2016.
You’ll start from the UU and, as I’ve marked on the map, to get to the Whispering Cave, you’ll want to go all the way to the VV (yellow trail). We did not follow the green trail all the way to the bottom of Hemlock Gorge because it was already a steep descent.
You know your family’s limitations better than mine, but completing the Whispering Cave portion was enough for our kids. The boys struggled going up all of the stairs and the steep climb on the return, and our 3 year old insisted that I hold her because her legs were too tired. I believe I counted approvimately 110 stairs, which are always much easier on the way down. Lol.
Once you arrive at Whispering Cave, the nerve-wracking descent will be over and you’ll be thankful you made this journey with your kids. The cave is something to marvel at- I’m not sure photos can do it justice. For us, it was less of a Whispering Cave and more of a “scream bloody murder” as C got a splinter from that pretty new fencing. (That’s when you’re thankful for a passerby with a Swiss Army knife).
Also, we visited on a Monday in June, and as you can tell, the site was busy. However, the hike had only been open for one month and it was summertime. I’ll be eager to see how busy this trail becomes on the weekends. Will it be as frequented as some of the other Hocking Hills hikes? I’m sure the scenery alone will cause that!
Have you been to the Whispering Cave yet? Have you been to Hocking Hills with your family?
Hocking Hills is the perfect family-friendly Ohio destination. The main attraction of Hocking Hills are her natural rock formations and numerous waterfalls, but all of these must be reached by hiking trails. Over the years I wished that someone would have ranked the easiest or best trails for young children. So, after multiple visits with our family, I’ve come up with a list of the best hiking trails for kids at Hocking Hills.
#1 Ash Cave
The easiest hiking trail at Hocking Hills for kids of all ages is the paved Gorge Trail at Ash Cave. This trail is stroller/wheelchair accessible and it’s only 0.3 miles long each way, so if you have young ones that want to walk, but tire out quickly, they should be able to handle the short distance.
The trail ends at the large cave recess- Ash Cave stands over 90 feet high and is almost 700 feet wide from end to end, so it’s sure to wow even the littlest traveler. The area is full of sand and the rocks can be slippery, so tennis shoes should be worn. However, on dry days I’ve found Ash Cave to be almost one giant (shallow) sandbox. If you have a little one that likes diggers or trucks, maybe pack a few small ones to give yourself a moment of solitude.
#2 Conkles Hollow
Conkles Hollow is a State Nature Preserve within the Hocking Hills area. This is one of the most dramatic areas in the winter, as the walls of the gorge can be filled with ice formations. On one winter visit my little ones through we had taken off to Elsa’s land in Frozen.
The best trail for kids at Conkles Hollow would be the half-mile Gorge Trail. The Gorge Trail at Conkles Hollow is paved and stroller-friendly, just note that if you do visit in winter, this area does not get a lot of sun and you may be walking on a sheet of ice instead of a paved trail! For the most part though, for the summer and fall visitor, this paved trail is without too many hazards for children to encounter and makes a must-see stop on your Hocking Hills vacation.
#3 Cedar Falls
Cedar Falls is one of the most iconic sites at Hocking Hills! For good reason – the waterfall and surroundings are truly magical. There are multiple ways to reach the Cedar Falls and with small children it’s hard to know which is the best!
I recommend parking at the main Cedar Falls parking area (this is not the one right along 374 but instead follow the signs to a stone sign and parking entrance). This trail is NOT stroller friendly, but you do enter the gorge via stairs which for me is easier if holding the hand of a toddler or wearing them in a carrier. I’m less nervous about falling! (Using this map, you’d only hike the portion where the yellow and purple go together and then turn around).
Rockbridge is another Nature Preserve within the Hocking Hills area. I had a hard time choosing the between a #4 and #5 for the best hiking trails, but I like Rockbridge because there is very little time in which I HAVE to be holding the hand of my preschooler. The path begins in essentially, a pasture, and then weaves through the woods before coming to Ohio’s largest natural rock bridge. This is the area where you’ll need to be extra careful with young children too ensure they don’t fall.
Another reason why I love the Rockbridge is because I’ve never found it to be as busy as Ash Cave or Old Man’s Cave. It’s not “off the beaten track” but in the words of a fellow traveler I met on our last visit, “Old Man’s Cave was like an airport terminal.” You’ll find out for yourself.
#5 Old Man’s Cave
Old Man’s Cave is one of the hallmarks of Hocking Hills. For the most kid-friendly experience, I’d take the stairs down to the bottom of the gorge and get on the blue Grandma Gatewood Trail. This trail allows you to view the main attractions of the Devil’s bathtub and Upper Falls. You will have access to the upper gorge and rim trails, but with younger children I’d probably just take the stairs back the same way you came down.
Have you been to Hocking Hills? Which trail would you recommend as the best for kids?
You can learn more about Hocking Hills HERE (i.e. find out why I don’t recommend the Rock House).
All aboard! Take a seat! I can’t wait to tell you all about our stay at The Hocking Hills Caboose- a unique Ohio lodging opportunity. Our young family had a fantastic time at this Hocking Hills cabin-like property, and I’ve been bursting to share!
I couldn’t believe the interest from friends and family- even grandma- on what it was like to sleep in a caboose. I’ll be honest, I’m no happy camper and was worried about whether the Caboose would be too primitive for my travel snobbery. Spoiler alert: I was pleasantly surprised by the furnishings AND the size of the bathroom.
First, a little history lesson. The Hocking Hills Cabooseis an authentic 1950s train caboose! It was originally a part of the Seaboard Air Line train systems and was probably used in service until the 1980s. Did you know that in the 1980s cabooses were no longer needed because new technology could monitor the train and apply the brakes? I did not! So this caboose ended up in a railyard in Columbus until it was purchased by the Hocking Valley Railway and then renovated for overnight stays! However, the Caboose has new owners and was completely overhauled last year- there’s new flooring, decor, and all new plumbing and heating and cooling. This makes for hot showers and cool air-conditioning!
I can’t think for a better place for the Caboose to be situated. Hocking Hills is the go-to Ohio destination for hiking and outdoor adventure. And The Hocking Hills Caboose is located only 2 miles from Ash Cave, one of the area’s most visited attractions.
Arriving at the Caboose, it seemed bigger than what I could tell from the photographs. The Hocking Hills Caboose has a maximum occupancy of five, but I immediately noticed that our family wouldn’t feel cramped. Once inside, the ceilings are high (I’m 5’10”) and there’s plenty of room to spread out.
The entrance opens into a kitchen. The kitchen is what I would call an “efficiency kitchen” as it contains a small fridge, sink, microwave, and plenty of cooking utensils. There is also a toaster and coffee pot (the latter is of crucial importance). The fridge is like one of those you had in your college dorm room, so if you’re bringing lots of food or meat to grill, make sure you bring it in streamlined packaging- i.e. freezer bags. We stayed for 2 nights and we were able to make it work.
One thing to note about the kitchen is that the only way to cook if there is bad weather would be via the microwave. I discussed with the owners about the need for a hot plate or griddle, but they shared that those are a big fire risk, and I completely understand! Just make sure you plan ahead or budget a little extra money in case you find yourself needing to eat out. There’s numerous restaurants in the Hocking Hills area that you’ll want to try anyway!
See that table to the right? There’s a built-in bench against the wall so it’s easy to pull the table out and use it! It’s like HGTV tiny home living!
The next area is devoted to bunks. There are two upper bunks and one lower. This worked out perfectly for our two boys! The top bunks are fairly high (the boys reminded me they were 6 steps!), but they had three windows at top and plenty of head room. If you’re traveling as a group of adults, these would be plenty big enough for big people – i.e. you better believe I climbed up there and sampled the space!
Keep walking and there are two lower bunks, which Mr. YT and I laid our claim. And then there’s a full bathroom. The bathroom was one of my concerns before traveling to the Caboose. I’ve been in the bathroom of a RV/camp trailer and they are hardly big enough to swivel in, let alone bathe three children. The Hocking Hills Caboose has a corner sink, full-sized toilet, and square shower. It was spacious enough for me to fit in the bathroom with one of our children while helping them shower. The bathroom was actually bigger than the recent hotels we have stayed in, but there is no tub.
I appreciated all of the unique railroad decor throughout the Caboose, including the lantern style-lighting. These railroad nail hooks were just a few of the small pieces that make this feel like an authentic train! I can see The Hocking Hills Caboose being a destination not only for families with children that love trains, but even adult train-enthusiasts or the local collector. If you look closely in the kitchen picture, all of the curtains were also train-themed fabrics.
While the interior of the Caboose was fun and family-friendly, the outdoors was where we spent most of our time. On the attached deck there is a grill and outdoor table with seating for 5. We spent both afternoons out here grilling and enjoying family time.
The fire pit is adjacent to the deck and also has seating for 5! We spent our evenings here roasting marshmallows and watching the moon rise.
Maybe the reason I loved the Caboose the most? It was disconnected from cable and internet! I know that may turn some people off, but for my husband and I, who are both able to work remotely, not being able to answer the phone or pull up Facebook FORCED us to disconnect and make eye contact with our favorite little people. Cell phone service was spotty throughout the Hocking Hills as well, so this truly was a getaway. We hope to visit the Caboose again next summer and make even more memories.
Have you been to Hocking Hills? Did you know you could stay in a Caboose?
One of the things I love about following various Instagram accounts is getting new ideas for where to take our hiking excursions. Whipp’s Ledges within Hinckley Reservation was one of the places that caught my eye for a family hike. I fell in love with this type of typography after last year’s trip to Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Hinckley Reservation is part of the Cleveland Metroparks system. While we only hiked the Ledges Trail, there appear to be 7 foottrails within the reservation, one of which is an all-purpose trail for hiking, biking, and rollerblading.
Whipp’s Ledges Trail is accessed from State Rd. Note: When we were there, a bridge was being repaired on State Road. You must enter the hiking area from the north.
There is a map at the entrance to the trail, but I’d recommend printing a trail map and taking it, just in case. There are blazes, but not many signs, making it a little confusing.
The ledges are really spectacular. It’s hard to believe that this type of place is just minutes from shopping malls and restaurants. Ohio keeps surprising me, and this is a gem of a place to hike.
The hiking is rugged, so I wouldn’t recommend these trails for any younger than 3. If you have a hiking carrier, you’d probably be ok! Also, prepare for MUD. Our kiddos wore their snow boots so we wouldn’t ruin their tennis shoes. The trail is only 1.25 miles in length though, so it’s definitely doable with young ones who tire easily.
Probably the thing I loved most about Whipps Ledges was that it was one of those places that just made you feel really SMALL. As a Christian, I’m always reminded that there’s something much bigger than me- and that HE is in control, not me. Taking our kids to these places is a nice jumping off point for those talks, too- how we worship a great Creator who made this beautiful place for us to enjoy. #endsdeepandmeaningfulconvo
Anyhow- Have you been to Hinckley Reservation? If you’re interested in going, my friend Tonya at The Traveling Praters covered nearby Worden’s Ledges. Next time we’ll definitely be checking them out.
What does that mean for the casual traveler like me? You must call and get permission to access the site. Don’t just show up!
The Mohican Outdoor School has field trip groups on many days and the first time I called they said we could not visit. If you’re coming from out of town, you can call and set up a time in advance, but since we live close-by I just called on a particularly nice day to see if the site was available.
The hidden waterfall is actually across the street from the School. My directions were to go to the school first and check-in. Don’t do like I did and mistake someone’s home for the office! Oye! The school office is actually located just below the visitor parking area. No joke- If you see a dumpster, you’re on the right track! The director I spoke with (after opening the door to her personal home), said they are working on getting better signage. Thank you and amen. 🙂
After you park near the Field Trip Center (across the road from the school), you will need to follow signs that are located on tall poles or trees. They aren’t the easiest to find!
We actually got off of the trail at one part and needed to cross the creek on foot to get back on the trail. There are no blazes.
Then, once we got to the bridge where you view the falls, there were signs saying the trail we were on was actually closed. Uhhh???
Normally I would have turned around, but I thought I should honor the sign. So on the way back we followed signs for the “main trail” and we ended up about 300 yards down the road from our van. Hmmmm.
If you go, I’d ask for very clear directions from the Outdoor School. I would not have been concerned except I was alone with my three kids AND there is no cell phone reception in this area. That’s not the best combination!
The Hemlock Falls trail is slippery when muddy, so wear your best hiking shoe (see my favorite HERE)! Also, our youngest is 3 and she was able to manage the trail with a little help from me. I wouldn’t bring much younger children unless you have them in a hiking carrier. It’s very hilly.
The # to call for Mohican School of Outdoors: 419-938-6671
Hemlock Falls is located approximately 25 minutes south of Mansfield, OH or 30 minutes north of Mount Vernon, OH.
The way people talked about having kids, I thought my life was ovvveerrr once we had a few babies. But hooray- it doesn’t have to be! If you’re a natural explorer you can still get out and enjoy fantastic scenery WITH kids in tow.
These 5 Ohio places have been tried and tested by our family. Some are even stroller-friendly!
Hocking Hills area
Hocking Hills is full of natural beauty in all seasons! One of our favorite times to visit is winter because of all of the ice formations.
Two areas in particular are perfect for parents of small children: Ash Cave and Conkles Hollow. Ash Cave has a 1/4 mile handicap accessible trail that is perfect for strollers or new walkers. The trail does get very busy on weekends, holidays, and in the fall, so plan accordingly (i.e. you may NEED the strollerfor containment).
Conkles Hollow has a one mile disabled access trail. This is also perfect for a stroller, BUT due to the cliff walls, a lot of sunlight does not hit the sidewalk. We’ve found this trail to be fairly icy and slushy in winter. Make sure kids wear snow boots, and you may want to forego the stroller. The ice formations on the rocks make this totally worth a little slipping and sliding! In summer, this is the perfect place to give the stroller a go- I’d stick with a single if possible because the trail isn’t very wide.
A ancient flint deposit used by Native Americans and now owned by the Ohio Historical Society, Flint Ridge has a few different hiking options for your family. One of the trails is mostly boardwalk/paved trail and is perfect for for strollers. There are other trails past the museum that are ok for ages 2+ to walk (no steep cliff faces). We visited last winter and it was MUDDY, so don’t wear good shoes. The museum is open March-October, so plan accordingly.
Located near Flint Ridge is Blackhand Gorge. Blackhand Gorge is named after a sandstone formation. A four-mile bike trail is perfect for your family’s stroller or bikes, and you’ll still see lots of great scenery even if you don’t get off of the beaten path. The Canal-Lock trail showcases of piece of the Old Ohio-Erie Canal towpath. This is an ideal hike for families, and even toddlers could handle the walk (with a little help from mom or dad). More info HERE.
Ohio’s first and only National Park, Cuyahoga Valley National Park really surprised me! My favorite spot in the park was the Virginia Kendall State Park (aka The Ledges). This wouldn’t be ideal for a stroller, but I’d say ages 4+ would have no problems handling the stairs and grades. Within Ohio, this is second only to Hocking Hills as a place that will remind your family how small we really are in comparison to Creation. My go-to summer hiking shoe
Deep Lock Quarry (within Summit Metro Parks) is also very doable with young ones. This trail would be best used with a jogging stroller and you will have to miss one small part of the loop, BUT it’s still worth the trip. Our kiddos loved climbing on the giant sandstone rocks. More info HERE.
This Ohio nature preserve doesn’t involve an vigorous hike, but it does offer up views of a rare coastal wetland habitat. The kids enjoyed viewing different birds, seeing lots of chipmunks, and then ending up on the shores of Lake Erie. This path is definitely stroller-friendly until you get to the beach (no swimming allowed).
2016 was a year of big travel and big changes for our family. We traveled Down Under in January and moved an hour away from our home of 7 years just two days after Christmas. Now that the boxes are unpacked we’re settled in to our new city (kinda) – I wanted to share with the world our travel plans for 2017.
That’s some lofty travel goals! Good thing we have 11. 5 months.
Outside of Ohio, we don’t have a bunch of concrete plans.
One trip that is booked is Topsail Island, North Carolina. Our family has been there numerous times, I think this will be Mr. YT and I’s 9th time! On our last visit C was only 9 months old, so this time should (hopefully) be a little more relaxed- and include more sleep.
On the way to the beach I’d like to cross off New River Gorge, WV. This National River was on my list last year, but the timing never quite worked out! It’s only a quick jaunt off of I-77 so I don’t see why we couldn’t leave a couple of days early for NC.
Fort Wayne, IN- June will take us to Fort Wayne for the Mr’s work conference. (Last year it was at Belterra Resort & Casino and we traveled alone). We’re planning to bring the kids this time and make it a family adventure. Did you know that Fort Wayne has one of the Top 10 zoos in the nation?
Beyond that, we hope to do another week of travel in the USA or Canada. I’m thinking a Canadian Road Trip to Montreal and Quebec City might be fabulous, but then I get sidetracked thinking of some Southwest miles we’ve accrued and how we could use them for Texas (Joanna Gaines, I love you) or Southern California. My van is OLD (we only buy used cars with cash) so I’m not sure it could even handle a road trip. Maybe that will pressure is into flying!
I’ve also got my eye on a few flower festivals. Tulip Time in Holland, Michigan is fairly close to home and looks like a fun weekend. I’d also like to head south again- New Orleans? The Lowcountry? Eh, first things first- we better sell our vacant home.
Have you made your travel plans for 2017? Where are you headed? Have you been to Fort Wayne?
Cuyahoga Valley National Park did not disappoint. Since we live in Central Ohio, we’ve frequented Hocking Hills, but were eager to explore somewhere new.
Only established in 2000, Cuyahoga Valley National Park lies between two of Ohio’s largest cities, Akron and Cleveland. I think much of its appeal is that the park is easily accessible from many major roads and highways…and you’re never more than 20 minutes away from a Starbucks or McDonalds. #Merica. 😉 It really feels like you’re in someone’s backyard, not out in the middle of nowhere.
We visited with our kids, but these 5favorite spots at Cuyahoga Valley National Park could work for old and young:
Deep Lock Quarry
Located within the National Park jurisdiction, but managed by the Summit Metro Parks, Deep Lock Quarry is named because the park contains the deepest lock on the Ohio-Erie canal. The early quarry provided rocks for the canal locks, later this sandstone was used to make millstones to remove the outer hulls of oats (i.e. Quaker Oats). I’m a sucker for history, so I enjoyed the walk even more thinking about how things would have been back when the canal and the milling were open for business. We did use our stroller on the trail, but we only walked back to the quarry steps and turned around, we didn’t make the full loop.
The Deep Lock Quarry park runs right next to the Towpath Trail, however, no bikes are permitted on the Quarry Trail.
Virginia Kendall State Park Historic District aka The Ledges
Southeast of Deep Lock Quarry is The Ledges. Oh my, this was my favorite of the favorites. If you’re looking for a place to wow the kids or overseas visitors, I would take them here. The little ones were sleeping so my husband stayed back and Jackson and I did a shortened version of the trail. So worth it! The Civilian Conservation Corp did much of the works here in the 1930s and the way they made things blend into nature- I swooned over this sandstone staircase.
Kids (and adults) will love exploring the moss-covered rocks and ancient rock formations. I felt transported to somewhere mysterious like Angkor Wat, the jungles of far-off lands seemingly placed in Northeast Ohio.
Boston Store Visitor Center/Blue Hen Falls/Brandywine Falls
Ok, so this is technically three areas, not one, but they are all within a short drive.
We began our first day at the Boston Store Visitor Center. The Center will provide you with a park map, Rangers are on staff to answer questions, and they have a small display on some of the Ohio-Erie Canal history (a better one is at the Canal Observation Center). From the Boston Store to Blue Hen Falls is a short drive and the Blue Hen Falls hike is less than one mile. This trail is hilly and unpaved, but you could do it with a jogging-type stroller. I saw a woman push her son in a wheelchair (you go, momma).
Blue Hen Falls isn’t massive, but it’s pretty. There’s a park bench overlooking the waterfall and if I didn’t have three kids – one trying to convince me to hike down into the falls, one trying to jump off every rock in the vicinity, and one trying to climb the barrier fence- I’d totally sit here and contemplate life. Ha!
Next is the park’s showstopper, Brandywine Falls. With a 60 foot drop, Brandywine is the second largest waterfall in Ohio. This area was chockablock full of tourists, but still worth the stop. My favorite part was the walkway TO the falls- the boardwalk is suspended from the stone cliffs.
Canal Exploration Center
The name gives it away, but this is the spot along the Towpath Trail where you can stop and learn all about the Ohio-Erie Canalway. I’ve visited old locks at places like Blackhand Gorge in Licking County, yet this museum helped me realize how absolutely NOTHING I understood about the canal, how the locks worked, or even the role of the canal in shipping goods from NYC all the way to the Mississippi River. Waa waaa.
We made it a point to stop in during a lock demonstration, and they even let our boys (and man) help out. Check the National Park Service event guide to see when these demonstrations are happening- the volunteers do a fantastic job!
Last on my list of favorite spots is Bedford Reservation which is managed by the Cleveland Metroparks. Our family hiked the short route to Bridal Veil falls and also visited the overlook to Tinkers Creek Gorge. This was an easily hike for the kids as the way to the Creek is a large wooden staircase, not as steep hill. That said though, leave the stroller behind! It was difficult to see much from the Overlook, as every tree is full of green foliage. I’d make a point to come here in October and enjoy the fall colors.
Get thyself to Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Grab some water bottles, some good shoes, and take the kids or your grandma. You won’t regret it.
As noted, most of these areas would be difficult with a stroller because of the rough terrain or numerous stairs. Try taking a hiking backpack(similar to ours). We did use the stroller at the Canal Observation Center because it provided some shade and rest during the Lock Demonstration.
You could do most of these highlights in one FULL day. Because of the ages of our kids and our driving time of 2 hours, we broke our visit into two days and stayed one night in the Akron area at the Residence Inn by Marriott Fairlawn. I’d stay a night if you know little legs will tire easily!
We love Residence Inns because they have a separate bedroom and living area and offer a free hot breakfast.
The Towpath Trail runs through the heart of CVNP and is a biker’s dream. Bikes can be rented in Peninsula and can also be taken on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.
This past fall a girlfriend and I packed up our kids and visited Wahkeena State Nature Preserve, the perfect day-trip for anyone in Central Ohio. Located just south of Lancaster in Fairfield County, the Preserve is ljust on the northern edge of the Hocking Hills region. Wahkeena is the Native American word for “Most beautiful.” The unassuming vegetation of this area really is beautiful.
There are 2-3 different trails at Wahkeena. These are short in length and fairly easy for children. Watch for the local wildlife though! #Notafanofthisguy
There is no handicap-accessible route, so don’t plan on taking a stroller. I carried our littlest in the hiking backpack. This worked well except for the wetland boardwalk. Two little boys on a moving boardwalk…hmmm…you can imagine! 😉
The Visitor Center is a must-see. There are taxidermied animals (a little creepy), and real ones! There are also fantastic diagrams showing how many bears, bobcats, etc have been spotted throughout Ohio. Interesting, and a little frightening! For ages 6-10 this would be the perfect place for a science lesson on habitats and environments.
The kids’ favorite part of the day was this barred owl. He is kept at the Preserve due to an injury he sustained when he was hit by a car. Owls are so majestic, the kids really enjoyed watching him.
Have you been to Wahkeena Nature Preserve? It would be a great pit stop on your way to Hocking Hills from Columbus. I think we’ll go back in a few years once my younger kids children understand a bit more.
There is no designated picnicking spot. We packed some sandwiches and ate them in the parking lot. Lancaster is only 15 minutes away, where you’ll find many eating out options.