The NEW Whispering Cave Trail at Hocking Hills- with kids

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.

Map from ODNR – red graphics are all mine, lol

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.

According to ODNR, the trip is only .8 miles each way, but like I mentioned, there are some steep cliffs.  Make sure you wear proper footwear or hiking tennis shoes.  If you’re dealing with children under 3, I’d recommend something like a Kelty child carrier– this trail is in NO way stroller-friendly.  Check out instead:  Best Hiking Trails at Hocking Hills for Kids

The yellow trail (pictured above) is mostly what hugs the cliff as you make your way into the Whispering Cave.

This way!

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?

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Best hiking trails for kids at Hocking Hills

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).

#4 Rockbridge

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).

Looking for a place to stay?  Check out the Hocking Hills Caboose.

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The Hocking Hills Caboose- Unique Ohio Lodging

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 Caboose is 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?

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* I would like to thank the owners of the Hocking Hills Caboose for hosting our stay.  As always, all opinions are my own.*

A day in Hocking Hills- with kids

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!

Hocking Header

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!  

1- my first sign to be worried

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 mosquitoes and other tourists.

2- Rock House interior
The inside of Rock House. Blurry because I’m shouting while taking photos.

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.  

5- spy my tiny family in Ash Cave
I spy my little family in Ash Cave.

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.  

Hotels.com Destination Inspiration: Not sure where to go? You've come to the right place!

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.  

4- giant tree rock house trail

Here are my 4 top tips for Hocking Hills:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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! 😉
  4. 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.

The closest accommodation is in Logan, Ohio.  Check current rates here.

Have you been to Hocking Hills?  What’s your favorite trail/area?