Hubs and I had a rare opportunity to get away last weekend so we decided to visit Old Man’s Cave in Hocking Hills State Park, a place I had not visited in at least ten years. Saturday evening we drove down to Ohio University, Hubs’ alma mater, and had dinner at el mejor Mexican restaurant in Ohio, Casa Nueva. We spent the night at the site of our wedding, his family’s cabin, which is nestled in the hills of Coolville.
We rose early to the pattering of rain, but by the time we’d driven an hour north to Old Man’s Cave, the skies were dry. OMC is one of the most popular parks in Ohio, but on this particular summer Sunday the skies looked forbidding enough that most people didn’t dare attempt to hike the many narrow and slippery passages that comprise the trails here; the massive parking lot was only about 10% full. We decided we were willing to take the risk, since numerous plans to hike this summer have been subverted by thunderstorms, or maybe because we still fancy ourselves a bit invincible.
Attached to the parking lot, the Visitor’s Center warmly welcomed us with public restrooms, a large map of the trails, free apples from the nice lady running the info booth, and a small nature center stocked with not-entirely-deceased creatures (compliments of a talented taxidermist) representing their living brothers you might find wandering around Hocking Hills. By the time we returned from our hike they were also selling Velvet ice cream. What do the other state parks got!
We decided to hike a “strenuous” 6-mile loop that would take us from Old Man’s Cave to Cedar Falls, heading out along the river at the bottom of the gorge, then back along the ridge. You can find a map of our route here:
The trail doesn’t waste any time taking you directly to the cave (see top photo), which actually was inhabited by an old man for many years. Both Old Man’s Cave and Cedar Falls, where there is additional parking, were crowded with people who brought their pets and young children, but as we traveled deeper into the park the chatter quieted and we were left listening to the birds and trickling water. We passed very few people in the three miles between each site.
This park is popular for a reason; it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve hiked in the midwest, and the rolling countryside that envelopes it makes for a scenic (“and fun,” says Hubs) drive. OMC is a site worth visiting year-round. In fact, the only other time I’ve been here was immediately following a heavy snow in January, when consistently cold temperatures allowed icicles to grow to the size of didgeridoos and dramatically hang over the opening of the cave, threatening to spear anyone standing below. I took the most beautiful black and white photos of snow-capped boulders that day, but this was before digital was popular so I have no easy way to share them with you (read: I’m too lazy to use the scanner). It was gorgeous then and equally gorgeous this summer, with wildflowers blooming along the river and colorful mushrooms feasting on dead trees.
After admiring Cedar Falls and the many dogs bathing there, we climbed several flights of stairs to get to the trail that would take us along the ridge. We welcomed the breeze that met us at the top on this particularly humid day. We walked along a beautiful wildflower garden where dozens of butterflies erupted at sound of our footsteps and momentarily stopped them as we stood there in awe, feeling like we had entered Alice’s wonderland. We stood there just long enough for them to return so that I could snap a photo:
We made it back to the visitor’s center roughly three hours after we’d departed, which was twice as busy as when we’d left it. Parts of the trail were indeed strenuous and difficult to navigate (read narrow and slippery!), but I’d rate the majority of the hike as “moderate,” with enough inclines to keep my heart rate up but not enough to need to take breaks. We had a snack before driving the 90 minutes back to Columbus, feeling very satisfied with our day and vowing to return this autumn!