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Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Ohio stole my heart! I had no idea the state offered such beautiful scenery. 

I happened to come across a little, unknown park one day, checked how long it would take to drive and then my mind was made up. We were going to see Hocking Hills this fall. We decided to go over Thanksgiving weekend so that we could get the most time out of the trip. 

Day 1

We left early Friday morning. We loaded the car, got the kids some Tim Hortons for breakfast and headed out. We crossed the border into the States at the Peace Bridge and it took no time at all (likely because it was so early).

When taking long trips with the girls I like to break up the drive so we can stretch our legs and we don’t all go crazy playing endless eye spy or asking if we’re there yet. So our first stop was a hike I’d seen a while back and was happy to learn it was on our way. It’s called the Eternal Flame and you guessed it, it’s a flame that never goes out due to leaking gases in the earth (okay sometimes it does so bring a lighter!) The kicker? It’s under a waterfall! Which makes it even more magical. 

The drive here took us about 2.5 hours. We arrived at the parking lot to the trail head. It’s literally just a giant parking lot off the main road so I was a little unsure if we were in the right spot. We quickly found the trail map and started to make our way down.

The hike itself isn’t too long, about 1.2 miles out and back near Orchard Park in New York. I want to say it took us maybe 25 minutes to complete.

You’ll go through the woods as you make your way down into the gorge and then down a bunch of stairs. Follow the creek as you make your way to flame. We were lucky there was almost no water in creek so we could walk in it, not sure how it would be in the summer time. Along the way there’s another little waterfall you’ll pass, and the falling leaves everywhere was just gorgeous. It didn’t take us very long to find the flame, you round the corner and can see it in the distance, flickering bright.

As we got closer you could really smell the gas leaking out but it was so neat to see the waterfall flowing overtop and the flame tucked in the crevice glowing bright. The girls loved it and thought it was just so neat! We turned around from there and headed back to the car, and yes you have to walk back up the stairs haha. We did bring our dog and she and the two girls (4 and 6) had no problem with the hike. 

Onward we drove to our last stop for the day, Mohican State Park (another hidden gem I came across). This was a longer drive, took just over 4 hours and the route does have tolls. The park is centred around a 300 foot deep, 1000 foot wide gorge.

We arrived at the park in the afternoon but still had lots of light left. We took a peak at the covered bridge then headed on to hike towards Big Lyons Falls.

The trailhead is just to the left of the bridge (across the parking lot). The hike itself is a little tougher, my kids and dog had no issues but we are seasoned hikers. Definitely watch for roots and rocks and it does get a bit narrow. You will hike along the Clear Fork river upstream and then turn left towards Big Lyons Falls up what looks like a dried out riverbed. Again, maybe it has water flowing during other seasons but we were able to walk it. The trail is clearly marked but still can be tricky to find which way to go. The hike is not too long, both the upper and lower falls are located on a 2 mile loop, however we did just the upper falls as the girls were feeling tired.  

As you follow the trail you are suddenly welcomed into a recessed cave with towering sandstone cliff walls to the side. The waterfall (when running, again it was dry when we went) is usually an 80 foot drop that you can walk behind. It was absolutely stunning to see and the girls loved exploring it. There is a staircase to the right that will take you up and out of the gorge then over to Lower Lyons Falls however we turned around here as the kids were tired and we wanted to see a few more things before the night fell. 

Once we returned to the car we drove over to the Fire Tower. The kids and my husband stayed in the car but I climbed to the top. Going up was no problem and the view was breathtaking. Coming down is a little more terrifying. There is not much in terms of rails and it’s very open to the bottom so if you are afraid of heights, don’t look down!

Our last stop was a peak the Gorge overlook. A beautiful view but I do wish we had more time to go hike to the cable bridge. 

Two things I’d suggest seeing as well if you make the trip is the Mohican Memorial Shrine and Landolls Mohican Castle (where you can actually stay the night for a hefty price!) We didn’t get to either of these but they were on the list. We headed to a restaurant called “Trials End” just west of the park and really enjoyed the meal. The reviews were all great and the pizza was delicious! There is a neat little market and cafe further down that road that we also would have liked to visit but that will have to wait for another time! 

Our day came to an end with a stay at the Travelodge in Mansfield. I needed somewhere cheap to stay as we dedicated most of our funds to the cabin we were staying at in Hocking Hill. It also needed to be pet friendly. This was what’s to be expected for a low budget motel. The beds were comfy and the room was clean so I can’t complain. It’s definitely not glamorous and the main office reeks of smoke (despite the sign that says no smoking) but it did the trick for us. They did have free breakfast but again because we were staying at a cabin I had packed food for the weekend and we just ate in our room. 

day 2

The next day we headed to our final destination, Hocking Hills. The morning was very cold but we were in the car so it didn’t bother us. It took us 2 hours to get there and by that point the sun was out and the temperatures were warmer. We opted not to go to Cantwell Cliffs but if you have the time I highly suggest it! 

Instead we stopped at Rock House, a hike that to be honest I wasn’t expecting too much from. Boy was I wrong! The place was fairly busy (busier than I prefer) but I understand why. It’s a 1 mile loop (the nice thing about Hocking hills is all the hikes are fairly short which is great for the kids). We hiked down into the gorge and it was a fairly easy (again the dog and kids had no problem) but definitely watch your step.  You’ll come to point where you see the recessed cave to the left midway up the 150 foot cliff. Go in!

It’s incredible inside, a tunnel like corridor that extends 200 feet long and 20-30 feet wide. It boosts beautiful views out each little opening and the sandstone formations inside are so neat. The birds like to take a break in there and it does get fairly dark. The girls thought this was so neat to explore.

Once you get out of the cave you continue down further into the gorge and cross a little bridge. Then you continue back up and out of the gorge until you are back to the parking lot. I would say this was probably one of our favourite hikes the entire trip. 

Our next hike of the day was to Chapel Cave. It’s a bit more of a hidden gem and the trail is commonly used for Horse back riding so watch your step (lots of poop!) The trailhead is just off of a small parking lot and there’s no signs but there are markers. The hike takes you through the woods and it was much more my style (less crowded, more challenging). It is very muddy though, especially at this time of the year. A few times we had to look for the trail markers and back track but it wasn’t too bad, stick to the orange blazes until you meet the white blazes and stay on low ground. We passed lots of horses which was neat for the girls.

We climbed up to what we THOUGHT was the cave, although it seemed much smaller to me. It was neat to explore until my husband discovered a skunk in the far back of it and we got out just in time!

We continued up and came to another giant recessed cave that would normally have a beautiful waterfall. We looked across the gorge and realized AH THERE’S the cave! It was just as big as I thought but now how do we get there. We tried going up and over the waterfall but realized that wasn’t the best route. We backtracked down and found a way to cross the gorge and up to the cave (we had ended up following the orange blazes and didn’t turn off at the white).

Once you get across and are on the white blaze trail you’ll see a wooden fence, follow that up to the cave. We finally made it into the cave and WOW. If I was a bear, this is where I’d stay (and I’m surprised there wasn’t already one sleeping in there!) We shared the cave with the nicest group of people on horses and they were so friendly, even let one of my girls sit on the horse, which I swear was the highlight of her trip! They left and we took a few minutes to enjoy the cave ourselves. It was so incredible, I highly recommend this hike especially to avoid the crowds. The hike took 2-3 hours and was the longest one we did but probably the most memorable. 

We then drove into hocking hills and had lunch at Rock House Restaurant. The food was pretty good and the view was nice overlooking the park. I grabbed a coffee at Cafe 22 but it was very overpriced. 

After lunch we headed to Ash Cave which is located in the southernmost part of the park. The rain had picked up and so had the crowds. We waited for the rain to pass then took our chances. This is a very simple and flat hike. It didn’t take us long at all to reach the horseshoe-shaped cave. It’s huge, roughly 700 feet from one side to the other and 100 feet deep. The ceiling reaches up to 90 feet. The cave is named ash cave because of the huge pile of ashes found under the shelter by early settlers. There is a small waterfall that cascades over the rim and creates a pool below. I can only imagine how beautiful this place must be when the falls are flowing! We explored the cave then hiked back up out and to the car. 

We were finally able to check in to our cabin. We stayed at the Chalets at Hocking Hill and I couldn’t recommend it enough! We had a little A Frame cabin all to ourselves, equipped with everything we needed including a hot tub! Check in was so smooth and we were in cabin #5 which was the only one tucked more to the side. Every cabin was so private feeling and was amazing to come back to each day. The girls quickly made use of the hot tub before it got too hot for them and we unpacked for the weekend stay.

That night we went to John Glenn Astronomy Park for some star viewing. I had known this place fills up fast so we got a parking pass before leaving Canada. The instructor was so knowledgeable and entertaining, keeping everyone’s attention while we waited for it to get dark. Once it did we were treated with views through giant telescopes of Saturn. You could see the rings and it was my first time seeing it!

After that we quickly went to grab pizza at Capt. Ron’s Pirate Pizza and brought it back to the cabin to eat. It was delicious. The girls went to bed and we enjoyed the hot tub and a movie before turning in ourselves. 

Day 3

The next morning we made breakfast in the cabin then headed out to start our day. Our first hike was the old man’s cave trail. We started at the visitors centre and took a peek around. Then we continued down the trail (to the left when you come out of the visitors centre… follow big foots steps) and joined the crowd. Again, very busy place but I understand why. The hike is gorgeous. This is a 1-1.5 mile one-way loop that has 2 different exits to chose from. Either at old mans cave or further down at lower falls. We did not find this hike challenging at all, though there are stairs to climb and tunnels to pass through. 

We started at a beautiful bridge that brings you down into the gorge. You are then treated to views looking up at the bridge with a beautiful waterfall and small caves around the walls that the kids can explore.

Continue walking and you are hiking through the gorge with tower walls on either side. You’ll pass over a rock bridge that sits atop the devils bathtub and under a towering A frame bridge.

You continue on until you reach old mans cave. Here you can climb up and explore Old Mans cave or continue further to see the Lower Falls. As the falls weren’t really flowing we opted to explore the cave then take that exit back to the visitors centre.

On the way back we crossed onto of the A Frame bridge as well. This hike took us just over an hour. 

We decided we would do one more hike before heading back to the cabin. This one was called Whispering Caves and it took us a bit to find. You have to go behind the Hocking Hills Conference Center and follow the trail into the woods.  It’s about 1.5 miles long but goes up and down. 

You’ll start by going down a long set up stairs then turn right. The hike from here is a bit more challenging, watch your footing, but nothing we couldn’t handle.

You’ll hike along towering cliff walls and climb deeper into the gorge. There’s stone stairways carved into the bedrock and you’ll pass really neat rock formations and mini-recessed caves.

You’ll see a turn off clearly marked with signs that you can take down to the Hemlock bridge trail or continue straight to the cave. We started with the cave. You’ll know you’ve reached it when you come to a set of stairs and a giant recessed cave. The cave is nearly 300 feet wide and has a waterfall that drops 105 feet. We spent quite some time here looking around, the views are spectacular. And we had a bit of a drizzling waterfall. This is the end of the whispering caves hike.

We hiked back out and then took the route to the swinging bridge. This was a bit further than I thought but was pretty easy once you get down to the bottom of the hill and hike through the woods. The bridge is the parks first one created and is a cute little swinging bridge located along the trail. You can continue on past it hike but we decided to turn around after that. 

Once back at the car we opted to go back to the cabin and make some lunch. The day was getting gloomy so we hung out at the cabin, took a nap, played some games and then made dinner. We enjoyed the community fire pit and the girls got to enjoy s’mores. Then they headed off to bed and we enjoyed the hot tub. The chalet also has sauna pods available but for a hefty price so we didn’t utilize them. They looked incredible though!

Day 4

The next day we packed up the car and all our stuff then started the long journey back home. We stopped in Cleveland to get a view of the city and a quick bite to eat at the Fat Cat. My husband and I enjoyed their fried chicken sandwiches very much! Then it was time to head home, the trip was just over 8 hours. We crossed again at the peace bridge without any problems, though the wait time was a bit longer. (Heads up there is a toll getting through). I would highly recommend a trip to Ohio if you are ever given the chance. It is a beautiful state that I think is underrated!

A few notes about Hocking Hills. All the trials are one way, please respect that! Stay on the marked trails and remember to always bring out what you take in! I can’t tell you how many dirty diapers we saw tucked in behind rocks. There are no fees to utilize the trails at Hocking Hills.

For more information on the formations and history of Hocking Hills you can visit their site www.hocking

To stay at Hocking Hills Chalet visit: 
They have many different options beyond the A-Frames as well and are located just minutes from the park!

For more information on Mohican State Park visit: