Erin Schoen Marsh
Best Hiking in Ohio: Hocking Hills
Updated: Jan 16
Most know Ohio as a “flyover state,” but the “armpit of the Midwest” is vastly underrated. Ohio has Lake Erie, the Ohio River, the Maumee River, beautiful state parks, nationally recognized zoos and some of the friendliest people you will meet, along with some surprisingly great cuisine. The rocky hills of southeastern Ohio, particularly Hocking Hills, provide ample state parks for avid hikers.
Several years ago, we began to give our children, now 7 and 9, the option between an experience or a party for their birthdays. My son, whose birthday is the day before mine in the dead of winter, typically chooses an experience. One year we did Great Wolf Lodge, and once the world shut down from the Covid-19 pandemic, he chose a weekend in Hocking Hills, now an annual family tradition.
Hocking Hills is where my husband proposed to me and where we celebrated our honeymoon – too poor for a “real” getaway – so it is a much-loved spot. We stay in a wood cabin with a hot tub on site and spend the days hiking various trails, playing board games and relaxing our sore muscles in the sauna.
We went two years in a row for our January birthdays, and while we are avid winter hikers, the steep climbs and rock stairs covered in ice were challenging and downright dangerous for young kids. This year we opted to go right after Thanksgiving – a much safer bet when hiking with children.
Southern Ohio family hiking trip
Favorite trails: Ash Cave, Old Man’s Cave, Cedar Falls
Accessible trail: Conkles Hollow
Trail to avoid with kids: Cantwell Cliffs
Favorite restaurant: The Feed
Favorite cabin: Newly built custom log home
Best time to go: Fall, early winter or spring
Week or weekend: Weekend trip
Family or adult: Both
Lyft/Uber friendly: No
Each of our family members has a different favorite trail, but we’ve narrowed it down to three: Old Man’s Cave, Ash Cave and Cedar Falls. While these trails might be a bit challenging for younger kids – although my daughter has been hiking them since she was 4.5 – they are short, which makes them doable for little legs.
If you want a more substantial hike, you can walk from Old Man’s Cave to Ash Cave, which is 6 miles. Many of the trails connect to one another, but we have yet to ask our children to complete such lengthy hikes (but it’s coming!).
All of these hikes offer scenic views, picturesque valleys, interesting rock formations and cool caves. For the history nerd, take a stroll through the Hocking Hills State Park Visitors Center, which can be found at the trailhead for Old Man’s Cave.
Conkles Hollow is the only accessible trail we have found in Hocking Hills so far. It’s a there-and-back hike that is paved most of the way. The last quarter mile is not accessible, which is unfortunate as the last bit is the most visually stunning.
Cantwell Cliffs is one of the most beautiful hikes, with steep inclines and rapid descents, but it is terrifyingly close to the edge when you have little ones trailing beside you. We hiked it once when the kids were tiny and the stairs were treacherous mounds of ice; we vowed never again. However, if you are an adrenaline junkie and not afraid of heights, this is the trail for you.
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