Published: March 2nd 2012June 5th 2011
The famous Y bridge in Zanesville Ohio
In the popular imagination, Ohio is definitely part of the Midwest, flat and mostly farms.
Most people, including some state residents, don’t know that the southeastern part of the state is very different to the stereotype.
This part resembles a miniature version of eastern Kentucky across the Ohio River, all rounded hills and sandstone valleys.
Like its neighbor, it has some fantastic sandstone formations deep in the woods.
Unfortunately, this area also shares two other things with eastern Kentucky, rural poverty and a long history of coal extraction.
In the early 1930s, the best of the sandstone formations were incorporated into the Hocking Hills State Park
The trails in this park are described by a plaque at the main entrance as the most fascinating in the state of Ohio.
In many places that would be considered bragging; here it is just a statement of fact.
Today, I explore some of them.
Along the way to the park, I encountered one of Ohio’s more famous civil engineering landmarks.
Zanesville, Ohio is home to the Y Bridge
Route 40, the National Road, passes directly
Upper falls in Hocking Hills State Park, in pretty low water
over a river junction.
The bridge splits in the middle over the junction, forming a letter Y.
The National Road is a historic highway, so the junction became famous.
The best view of the bridge, incidentally, is from a city park located on a nearby hillside.
As for why bridge (sorry, couldn’t resist), a road existed on each bank of the river junction in the middle 1800s, and joining all three together made navigation easier.
Old Man's Cave
Hocking Hills State Park is divided into sections, each of which protects a particular rock formation.
Most of them are canyons worn into the sandstone by streams.
The most popular section is Old Man’s Cave
The canyon is named after a hermit, who really did live in a cave in the rock in the 1830s.
The trails were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, and their incredible stone work shows throughout.
The main trail starts by following the edge of the canyon upstream.
Officially, the trail follows the edge of the woods along the road, but many people have worn a path
The Devil's Bathtub, a natural pothole
along the upper rim instead.
The view into the canyon is pretty good from here.
Eventually, it reaches a bridge over the stream.
The bridge is just above the first main feature, Upper Falls
The view from the bridge shows a large pool with a sandy beach, and lots of pine trees.
Unlike Kentucky further south, the canyon here is cool enough that pine trees thrive in its depths.
From the bridge, the trail works its way down the side of the canyon.
At one point, it passes through a three foot wide slot that was cut into the sandstone wall.
When it reaches the floor, the view fest truly begins.
Water and wind have worn the canyon walls into a series of fantastic grooves.
Small caves appear in several areas.
In places, rocks have fallen into the canyon, creating yet more sights.
Seemingly every step of the trail reveals a new wonder.
Upper Falls is a two drop waterfall.
The water slides to a ledge, and the freefalls.
The pond at the bottom covers the floor
The claustrophobic tunnel just before Old Man's Cave
of a rocky amphitheater, with the falls itself at the far side.
The bridge is visible at the top of the falls.
Below Upper Falls, the canyon narrows and grows deeper.
In the middle of this section is the second official feature, the Devil’s Bathtub
This feature is a natural pothole.
The water drops six feet into the pothole, and pours another three feet off the lip.
The trail crosses a bridge just below the bathtub.
A sign warns against swimming in the pothole, because the walls are all slick rock.
Once someone is in it, it is nearly impossible to climb back out.
Below the pothole, the canyon continues to deepen.
It reaches a junction with a steep side canyon.
This canyon has a series of drops that must be pretty impressive waterfalls in high water.
Today, they were little drips over the rock face.
Below the junction, a narrow ledge sticks into the canyon.
The top of the ledge is near the cliff height, so people hiking along the rim like to climb onto the ledge
Old Man's Cave
The rock grotto where a hermit lived in the middle 1800s, giving the area its name.
for a photograph.
Below the junction, the canyon reaches a series of cascades.
The trail, in turn, passes through a claustrophobic tunnel in the canyon wall to get around them.
On the far side of the tunnel lies a rocky grotto.
On the other side of the brook sits a huge overhang in the canyon wall.
This is the first place where the rock color is the natural yellow of sandstone instead of black and green from plants.
A side trail goes directly under the overhang, where people look like ants.
This area is the actual Old Man’s Cave where the hermit lived.
From here, the trail continues down the still deepening canyon.
It reaches a ledge with trees visible beyond it, the top of Lower Falls
The trail climbs the canyon wall for a bit, and then drops through a series of switchbacks.
This part of the trail has pretty stonework.
At the bottom, it crosses the creek on a beautiful old stone bridge and reaches a beach in front of the falls.
CCC stone bridge
One of several stone bridges built by the Civilian Conservation Corps at Hocking Hills State Park
Lower Falls is also a two drop cascade, with a sliding section above a freefall.
It’s taller than Upper Falls.
It too falls into a large pond in front of a large stone grotto.
Unlike Upper Falls, it’s possible to wade through the creek and around the edge of the pond, and walk behind the waterfall.
A sign requests that people stay on the trail, but a dip in the pond is irresistible for many people.
From this waterfall, it’s time to pay the price of all that beauty.
The trail forks.
One branch continues down the stream to another part of the park, a hike of several hours.
The other part climbs back to the parking lot.
The climb is rather dramatic.
The trail first follows a little side stream into a rock filled grotto.
The stream drops from the cliff above onto the rocks.
Except in really high water, this waterfall is a set of rain drips.
The trail follows switchbacks behind the waterfall, passing from ledge to ledge, always climbing.
At the end of the last ledge,
Lower Falls at Hocking Hills State Park, in pretty low water
it reaches and climbs a series of wooden stairs beside the rock.
The view from the stairs is a long way straight down.
The stairs are merely the prelude to the final feature, another tunnel.
This tunnel climbs straight through the rock ledge.
Did I mention that it is tight enough to cause claustrophobia, and it has no lights?
I found my way through by feeling for the steps one at a time.
Eventually, it tops out on a cliff above the canyon, with a view downstream.
The walk back to the parking lot from here is pretty straightforward.
Cedar Creek Falls
The next part of the park I saw is called Cedar Creek Falls
It’s the largest waterfall in the park by volume.
Three separate trails go to the falls from the entrance road.
One is short and steep, one is medium and rocky, and one is long and gentle.
Oddly enough, only the latter two are marked.
I found the short trail from the obvious but unlabeled roadside parking lot just after a bridge.
The waterfall, it turns
Cedar Creek Falls
The largest waterfall in Hocking Hills State Park
out, is just downstream of this bridge.
The unmarked trail follows the roadside for a while, and then enters the woods.
It soon reaches a set of steep wooden stairs.
The stairs drop into the ravine.
They terminate at the junction with the other two trails.
A short spur trail then goes upstream to the falls.
The waterfall falls into yet another rock grotto.
This one has a large ledge above it from which the stream emerges.
The water slides down the rock a long way to an overhang, and then has a short drop into the pool.
At the current water level, a knob of rock split the slide in two, merging again just before the drop.
I’ve seen many prettier waterfalls on this trip [see The Land of Falling Water
], but the setting makes this one special.
After the waterfall, I took a bit of time to see the best parts of the other two trails.
Both of them consist of a section that ascends along a stream, followed by a hike through forest.
The ascent on the medium trail is
Ash Cave in Hocking Hills State Park. The waterfall is barely visible in the center right.
through a side ravine.
The trail goes directly under steep cliffs, and in parts squeezes through big rocks.
At one point, it’s only two inches wide.
Short and dramatic.
The longer trail goes down the canyon.
It passes really high vertical walls.
Eventually, it reaches a stretch of rock with a trickle of water over it.
In winter, the water freezes to create a frozen waterfall.
I turned around at this point.
On the way out, I had to pay the price of taking the short trail to the waterfall.
I had dozens upon dozens of stairs to climb.
My legs were burning by the end, but I made it.
The last section I saw is called Ash Cave
Remember Yahoo Falls in Kentucky? [see The Cumberland
Ash Cave was much like the grotto behind it, a huge overhanging cave created by wind and water.
The trail to the cave is short and flat.
The state paved it a while back, making it one of the only handicapped accessible wilderness trails in Ohio.
Joy to the World
The site of the former settlers' church. The pulpit was the large rock on the right. This part of the cave has crystal clear acoustics.
The paved portion ends at a sandy section right in front of a huge semi-circular overhanging cliff.
The cave is unbelievably big.
It was shorter than the cave behind Yahoo Falls, but the overhang was longer.
The cave features smooth walls that have amazing acoustics.
Normal voices in most sections carry throughout the cave.
I felt an irresistible urge to sing hymns in the perfect sound, which is appropriate since it was used as church by early settlers.
The pulpit was a large rock on the far side of the sandy section.
As noted earlier, the name of the feature is Ash Cave, even though it is clearly a ravine carved by water.
The reason is obvious enough; the stream has low enough volume that it normally doesn’t flow.
After a big rainstorm, a pour over waterfall appears in the center of the overhang.
I’ve seen pictures of what this waterfall looks like.
Today was the day after a thunderstorm, so the waterfall did appear, but it was very narrow.
The water broke into raindrops on the way down.
Unlike Yahoo Falls, where the bottom pool is bowl shaped, here the pool was flat.
One could get very close to the waterfall while staying dry, from almost any direction.
By the time I was done with the cave, it was getting dark, so it was time to go.