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Shimmering from the rays of sunshine streaming through the surrounding forest, a thin veil of the oddly named Queer Creek splashed over the rim nearly eight stories above our heads, spilling into a small pool at my feet.
Its gentle beauty is dwarfed by the sprawling vastness of the recess known as Ash Cave, located in Ohio’s Appalachian foothills, known as Hocking Hills. The 700-foot wide, 100-foot deep cavity easily engulfed the nearly 2 dozen hikers scattered about, minimizing our very presence to an afterthought.
The approach to Ash Cave is an easy 1/4 mile walk along a paved path. As we strolled along the relatively short trail, we were immersed in a stately forest carpeted by wildflowers, ferns and moss-covered rocks.
The Wonders of Ash Cave in Ohio’s Appalachian Foothills
We appreciated the narrow gorge on a sunny afternoon with its soaring trees that provided the vast canopy which rose above our heads while a slender stream trickled alongside our path. I was not prepared for the tremendous gaping maul in the face of the sandstone precipice that confronted us.
The large piles of ashes that early settlers discovered beneath the cavernous ceiling provided the eponymous title to the largest recess cave east of the Mississippi.
It is believed the ashes had accumulated over a period of hundreds of years, the result of campfires made by Native Americans who used the cave as shelter while moving through the area.
I don’t know how the ancient ones felt, but as I tilted my head towards the ceiling I was awed by the surroundings and based on the hushed conversations of the others, the feeling was mutual.
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The Hidden Beauty of Ohio: Hocking Hills State Park
I have by no means seen all or even most of Ohio, but the Hocking Hills must be one of the more beautiful areas in Ohio.
Less than an hour southeast of Columbus, the region is home to great swaths of ancient forests, massive rock formations with high cliffs and narrow, deep gorges that have been sculpted by rivers, streams, waterfalls and erosion over a period of millions of years.
Hocking Hills State Park, a compact gem in the heart of Hocking County, showcases that natural beauty with 7 different hiking experiences in 6 different areas encompassing over 2,000 acres.
After settling into our lodgings, we sought out dinner in the town of Logan, Hocking Hills’ county seat. On a recommendation from an outgoing convenience store clerk, we found Millstone BBQ. Warm smiles and wonderful southern smoked meats on a mild Ohio evening made for a great start to our week-end.
Hocking Hills State Park Visitor Center and The Old Man’s Cave
The following morning, after breakfast, we tied on our hiking boots and headed to the Hocking Hills State Park Visitor Center located at the trailhead of The Old Man’s Cave.
The two-story facility opened in 2019 and has 8,500 sq. ft. of interactive displays showcasing the history of the park, its flora, fauna and geography. It also provided watering and restroom facilities before we headed out on the park’s most famous trail, The Old Man’s Cave.
We began our trek at the appropriately named Upper Falls, descending into the gorge. We were immediately impressed by the stone footbridge that framed the 20-foot tall falls as they cascaded into the turquoise pool below surrounded by Black Hand Sandstone cliffs, whose name is a nod to ancient American petroglyphs found on the sandstone in the region.
Continuing along the 1.5-mile loop trail, following Old Man’s Creek as it tumbled downstream, we found ourselves continuously enjoying the natural majesty of the surroundings.
We stopped to admire the Devil’s Bathtub, where the creek gets caught in a tight limestone basin. The swirling water disappears, eventually reappearing again into the large pool below. Its action reminded me more of another porcelain bathroom feature.
The trail is rated moderate. However, we encountered dozens of rock-hewn steps, three short tunnels through the sandstone walls and a few picturesque foot-bridges as we made our way to the trail’s namesake.
The Tragic Tale of Richard Rowe of Hocking Hills
By all accounts, Richard Rowe was a pleasant and kind man who preferred the company of his dogs to humankind. After observing the tumult of the War of 1812, Richard chose to escape the trappings of civilization and live a solitary existence in a gorge in the Hocking Hills area of southeastern Ohio.
He set up house in a recessed cave located on a vertical cliff 75 feet above a stream that measured some 250 feet long with its roof nearly 50 feet high. One wintery day, after several years of his hermit lifestyle, he climbed down to the stream for water.
The stream being frozen, Richard used his musket’s butt end to crack the ice for his water. Unfortunately, the loaded musket accidentally discharged with very disastrous results.
He was found days later by trappers who gave him as good a burial ceremony as possible. To this day, not a single person knows the exact space where Richard was buried in the Old Man’s Cave.
Today, as I watched several hikers scamper up the rock-hewn steps to the large cave carved into the sandstone by a millennium of wind & rain to relish Mr. Rowe’s former home, I had to wonder what he would have thought as another dozen or so were milling around the stream far below. Civilization had discovered his reclusive home.
Further along, we admired the quiet beauty of the lower falls before climbing the stairs to the rim, exiting into a noticeably warmer environment than the cool air of the gorge below.
Concluding the Day with Icecream, Pizza, and Beer
Later that evening, we celebrated with pints of a Coconut infused Cream Ale and a malty lager at Brewery 33’s outdoor beer garden located back in Logan, just 15 minutes from the park’s entrance. The pepperoni, green olive & onion pie we ordered from Pizza Crossing eased our well-deserved hunger.
The Sherman House Museum of Lancaster, Ohio
The following day, we occupied ourselves with a little history as we made our way to Lancaster, an easy 15-minute drive north on St. Rt. 33 from Logan.
Lancaster is a city home to 40 thousand people. On the quintessential main street, we discovered the modest, 2-story childhood home of one of the great, and controversial, generals of the Civil War, William Tecumseh Sherman.
The museum also introduced us to his brother, John Sherman, an Ohio senator who authored the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. The home displays Sherman family artifacts and discusses the loss of their father at a young age and the travails that followed.
The 2nd floor delves deeply into the Civil War and Sherman’s contributions. Our guide, Randy, was an energetic and entertaining speaker who made the 1-hour tour fly. His knowledge had me seeking him out several times for additional answers as we lingered another ½ hour over the exhibits.
The Stunning Ohio Glass Museum
Just down the block from the Sherman House, we found the Ohio Glass Museum. The city of Lancaster has been a center of glass production since the late 1880s. Housed in a former bank, the museum highlights several Ohio glass companies.
This includes Libbey of Toledo and Anchor Hocking, still in operation in Lancaster. A glass-blowing demonstration conducted by Theresa Sharp in the museum’s in-house studio is a must-see.
The Wrongly-Named Cedar Falls of Ohio’s Appalachian Foothills
We finished up our Hocking Hills adventure with one more hike through the State Park. After a moderate ½ mile trek, we came upon Cedar Falls, misnamed by settlers who thought the Hemlocks were Cedars.
We found ourselves with others sitting on boulders scattered around the valley floor, bracketed by steep rock walls and framed by statuesque Hemlock trees. We gazed at the falls, the park’s most ample one, as the forked waters plummeted into the stream below while a local canine splashed about in obvious joy.
The tumbling waters, gentle breeze and peaceful serenity lulled us as we briefly escaped into the idyllic beauty of the Hocking Hills in Ohio’s Appalachian Foothills.
Plan Your Trip:
Hocking Hills State Park is located 57 miles southeast of Columbus, Ohio in Hocking County.
- Hocking Hills State Park: https://thehockinghills.org/
- The Sherman House Museum: https://www.shermanhouse.org/
- The Ohio Glass Museum: https://www.ohioglassmuseum.org/
- Millstone BBQ: https://www.themillstonebbq.com/
- Brewery 33: https://brewery33.com/
- Pizza Crossing: http://www.pizzacrossing.com/
Author Bio: Frank Hosek is an Illinois-based Director of Human Resources who revels in traveling with his wife, Kathy. He enjoys discovering new experiences, meeting the people that make those experiences enjoyable, and sharing their adventures. He is a freelance writer for newspapers, magazines and travel websites.