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  • Writer's pictureErin Schoen Marsh

Best Family Hiking in Ohio: Hocking Hills

Updated: Feb 21


Mom, dad, son (age 6) and daughter (age 4) pose in front of a small waterfall, all bundled up in winter clothes with their puppy.

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.


A young boy smiles with his little sister, who has her mouth open in a wide gape of awe. There is an overlook behind them with a waterfall.

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.


Rock formations along one of the hikes at Hocking Hills.

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.

A dad, young girl and young boy pose in a small natural alley on their hike. All three are bundled up for winter.

Rapid Review:

Southern Ohio family hiking trip

  1. Favorite trails: Ash Cave, Old Man’s Cave, Cedar Falls

  2. Accessible trail: Conkles Hollow

  3. Trail to avoid with kids: Cantwell Cliffs

  4. Favorite restaurant: The Feed

  5. Best time to go: Fall, early winter or spring

  6. Week or weekend: Weekend trip

  7. Family or adult: Both

  8. Lyft/Uber friendly: No


Trail breakdown

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!).


The same family is featured but everyone is a year older and the weather is warmer -- they are dressed in fall clothes with a waterfall behind them.

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.


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.


Accessibility

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.


DeafBlind

As far as being DeafBlind goes (hard of hearing and low vision, to be exact), hiking is one of my favorite things to do because it doesn't matter how little I can hear. As far as my vision goes, as long as the light is good, my hiking is not impacted. It's the cloudy days that I have begun to struggle a bit with seeing the path, so I will be experimenting with walking sticks for those days.


Find more photos and reviews on Instagram @wayfaring.writer


A dad and his young daughter stop to stare at the beauty of the rock formations at Hocking Hills State Park on their hike.

A dad, his son and his daughter pose in one of the natural caves at Hocking Hills.

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