LOGAN, Ohio — I sucked in my abdomen and scooched sideways by the slender passageway, sandwiched between large slabs of sandstone.
It had been years since I’d hiked the Cantwell Cliffs space of Hocking Hills State Park, dwelling to a labyrinth of extraordinary rock formations, together with a decent passageway often called Fats Man’s Squeeze (or, relying in your perspective, Fats Girl’s Squeeze).
Regardless of a number of years (and some kilos), I may nonetheless squeeze my approach by – yet one more superb journey in a spot that provides an limitless stream of them.
I’ve been visiting this park for many years, and but each time I’m right here I ponder why I don’t come extra usually.
Hocking Hills is, definitely, probably the most lovely out of doors area in Ohio, an enormous impediment course of large rock creations sculpted by water and erosion over tens of millions of years.
It is usually, alas, probably the most crowded park within the state system.
Hocking Hills was the one state park to fully shut earlier this 12 months, as a result of coronavirus pandemic and fears about overcrowding on the slender trails. Shut down in early April, the park partially reopened in mid-June and was completely open by early July.
Park officers used the closure to reconfigure many of the trails within the park into one-way loops to alleviate overcrowding and promote social distancing on the paths.
The modifications made will probably be everlasting. Even earlier than the pandemic, park officers had mentioned reconfiguring trails to chop down on overcrowding and erosion. The well being disaster gave officers the chance they wanted to reroute paths and erect tons of of latest directional indicators all through the park.
This was my first go to to the park since its reopening, and it took some getting used to. I admit to sometimes going the unsuitable approach, largely inadvertently, as a result of I couldn’t work out the place I imagined to go.
Pat Quackenbush, chief naturalist for the park, stated compliance with the brand new path guidelines has been excessive, maybe 90%. Even so, he recommends that hikers carry masks with them and slip them on at high-traffic spots, together with Previous Man’s Cave, Decrease Falls and Cedar Falls.
The brand new path configurations aren’t the one information from the park. The state began development this summer season on a brand new lodge, to exchange the one which burned down in late 2016. This new lodge, to be accomplished in 2022, will characteristic in a single day rooms, whereas the earlier model didn’t.
As well as:
* Easy accessibility to the Whispering Cave Trail, new in 2017, has been decreased due to lodge development. Parking for the trailhead, positioned close to the lodge, is full of development tools. The one option to entry Whispering Cave now’s through a considerably longer route from Previous Man’s Cave.
* The brand new guests middle, which opened final 12 months at Previous Man’s Cave, has been briefly closed as a result of pandemic. Restrooms are open, nonetheless, and park maps can be found.
* The John Glenn Astronomy Park, positioned on state park land and new in 2018, has suspended programming for 2020 due to the virus, though guests are welcome to collect on the park within the night to view the night time sky (parking reservations are required; see jgap.info.)
Regardless of the quite a few modifications and closures, the park has been drawing huge crowds because it reopened. The park attracts as many as 5 million company a 12 months – that’s about as many as Grand Canyon Nationwide Park attracts, although the Grand Canyon dwarfs Hocking Hills in measurement, 1.2 million acres versus 2,000.
Quackenbush expects the crowds to decrease considerably, at the least throughout the week, as college students head again to high school. However fall weekends are more likely to be packed.
Nonetheless, there are methods to mitigate the crowds: Go throughout the week for those who can; go to busy areas throughout the early morning or late afternoon hours; discover a few of the lesser identified areas of the park at busy instances, together with Cantwell Cliffs and Rock Home.
The park, for those who’ve by no means visited, is just not one contiguous property – it’s made up of six main areas, separated by as a lot as 20 miles, linked by each state forest land and personal property.
It’s attainable to go to all of the areas in sooner or later – I did, on my latest journey – though it’s actually higher to unfold your climbing over a few days. Take it slower, take a break, hop on a canoe or a motorcycle, go to a vineyard.
If you happen to tire of climbing, there are quite a few different actions within the space – ziplining, mountain climbing, mountain biking, kayaking and extra (see experiencehockinghills.com for an entire lineup of actions).
I, nonetheless, by no means tire of climbing. Not right here, anyway.
The favourite spots:
Previous Man’s Cave: The 1.5-mile path right here is the park’s greatest identified, a must-do path for first-time guests. It’s additionally probably the most crowded. After we arrived at 10:30 a.m. on a latest Thursday, the big parking zone was maybe one-third full; by the point we left at 12:30 p.m., nearly all spots had been taken. Get right here early, for those who can.
Pure sights alongside the path embrace Higher and Decrease Falls – each decreased to a trickle throughout my mid-August go to, however pretty nonetheless. Satan’s Bathtub, too, usually a fast-moving swirl of water, was unusually stagnant. The path’s namesake attraction is a 200-foot-wide recess cave, which hermit Richard Rowe referred to as dwelling within the mid-Nineteenth century. Don’t miss it.
Cedar Falls: Cedar Falls could be accessed through a 3-mile path from Previous Man’s Cave or a brief, steep ½-mile spherical journey path into the gorge. Early settlers mistook the hemlock timber right here for cedars, and misnamed the 40-foot waterfall. Even with the low water circulate of late summer season, this spot is attractive.
Ash Cave: A paved, handicapped-accessible path results in this large cave, 700-feet large and practically 100 ft tall. The acoustics listed below are terrific – throughout my go to, a girl enjoying a Native American flute gave the area a mystical really feel (that’s, till a younger boy yelled to his Mother, “Can I open the Doritos?”) One other don’t-miss spot within the park.
Conkles Hole: One other simple path with an incredible payoff, the mile-long gorge path at Conkles Hole winds by gorgeous fern-covered rock partitions and large mossy boulders, a scene from a film set. Conkles Hole is a state nature protect set inside the state park, so is ruled by completely different guidelines (no canines right here, for instance); an extended, tougher path winds across the gorge’s rim.
Rock Home: Situated about 9 miles north of Previous Man’s Cave, Rock Home is value looking for out. The one true cave within the park, Rock Home options an inside hall that stretches 200 ft lengthy, 30 ft deep and 25 ft excessive. Guests can stroll round inside, peering out the 5 intricately carved, window-like openings within the sandstone.
Cantwell Cliffs: On this journey, at the least, this path was my favourite – the least crowded, with a shock round each flip, together with large rock formations and dramatic overhangs. It was additionally probably the most troublesome, with plenty of up and down and a few climbing over rocks. The state has eradicated many of the gorge path right here, leaving a mixture rim/gorge path, a few mile in size, however which is able to take at the least 90 minutes to hike.
On the finish was the characteristic I had been in search of – a slender hole in rock with simply sufficient room to cover an grownup human. I shimmied by sideways, brushing towards the rock on each side, rising on the exit triumphant, and with one overwhelming thought: I actually ought to return right here extra usually.
If you happen to go: Hocking Hills State Park
The place: The park is positioned in Hocking County, southeast of Columbus, about 200 miles from Cleveland. The quickest route is I-71 south to Columbus, east on I-70 to U.S. 33, then east on 33 to Ohio 664 south (or get off an exit earlier for the Cantwell Cliffs and Rock Home areas). These winding roads to and thru the park make up the Hocking Hills Scenic Byway and are nice enjoyable to drive.
The place to remain: The state park provides a 159-site campground and 40 park cabins, with quick access to all of the websites. There are additionally tons of of privately-owned cabins and homes within the space, accessible to hire, a few of them fairly luxurious. See experiencehockinghills.com.
My go-to place to remain is the Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls, with in a single day rooms, cottages, yurts and cabins to hire, all surrounded by parkland. The pandemic has led to some modifications on the inn, together with the relocation of the spa into the primary inn constructing, decreasing the variety of lodge rooms from 9 to 4, however including new therapy rooms. The inn can also be including three geodomes for in a single day stays – massive, year-round, canvas-covered, half-globe constructions with heating, air con, a toilet, kitchenette and hearth. They need to be prepared for occupancy someday this fall. As well as, the inn additionally operates the area’s greatest restaurant, Kindred Spirits, which is open to the general public for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The meals right here is terrific, with loads of out of doors seating. See innatcedarfalls.com.
Editor’s word: That is one in an ongoing sequence about state parks in Ohio and surrounding states. Please ship ideas to Journey Editor Susan Glaser, at firstname.lastname@example.org.