In Ohio, only Lake Erie, our inland sea and northern border, drives more tourism than the comparatively tiny Hocking Hills region. The core of the Hocking Hills is Hocking County. About 3 million visitors flock to the region each year to marvel at the incredible rock formations, cool hemlock gorges and impressive waterfalls.
The undisputed centerpiece of the Hocking Hills is Hocking Hills State Park and the popular Old Man’s Cave. This site and nearby Ash Cave and Cedar Falls are magnets for those seeking to commune with nature in perhaps the showiest scenery in the Buckeye State.
There is much more to the Hocking Hills, which extends into Hocking County’s neighboring counties. Many people might not be aware of all its hidden gems.
So I was pleased to recently receive a wonderful little guide, “Hocking Hills Day Hikes.” Author Mary Reed is a veteran hiker who is intimately familiar with the trails of the Hocking Hills, and she succinctly and clearly outlines 25 day hikes.
The book is elfin in dimension at roughly 4 by 7 inches, and for good reason. It slips neatly into your back pocket, and it will prove much more useful than your cellphone when out on the trail — especially when there is no cell service, as can be the case in this area.
A short but useful introduction covers most details that visitors would want to know, especially first-timers. As Reed notes, all of our state parks, forests, preserves, etc., have no entrance fees; Ohio is one of the few states that doesn’t charge for access. The only exception in the book is the privately owned Butterfly Ridge Conservation Center in Rockbridge. Entry to this 21-acre site is $5, and it’s well worth the five-spot for the lepidopteran education. Sixty butterfly species have been recorded along the preserve’s mile-long trail.
Each site account in the book begins with basics: trail length(s), contact information, hours, dogs (yes/no), and facilities such as picnic areas, restrooms and visitor’s centers.
The meat of the book includes directions to each site, detailed on-the-ground trail directions and descriptions of interesting flora and fauna that might be encountered. A black-and-white photo of some particularly interesting aspect of the site heads the account, and a clear trail map fills one page. With this book in hand, no hiker should get lost.
My favorite section of the site accounts is the “Trail Description.” Reed includes plenty of fascinating information here, such as why Old Man’s Cave was so-named, or how Ash Cave got its moniker. In some cases she mentions the bounty of wildflowers to be seen, or the aural soundscape of pigeons gone feral and living high on wild cliffs and in the rock houses.
I highly recommend this small but info-rich book. For the price of half a tank of gas, you will have an invaluable guide to some of the best day hikes in the Midwest.
Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch on the first, third and fifth Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at www.jimmccormac.blogspot.com.