Wahkeena Nature Preserve

Wahkeena Nature Preserve is a scenic 150-acre preserve located in the northern Hocking Hills not far off US-33 near the village of Sugar Grove. We visited on an unusually warm, beautiful Saturday in November and although most of the wildflowers and other vegetation had gone to sleep for the winter, a few species of ferns and some azalea and rhododendron still provided hints of green.

The first thing you’ll likely notice when you pull into the preserve’s small parking area is Lake Odonata and an old log-style nature center sitting attractively behind the lake. The nature center offers informative displays on plant and animal life, geology and local history. Adults and kids will find the nature center fun to visit. A small gift shop is located there as well.

img_2014Before exiting the nature center, we picked up a self-guided map and began our interpretive hike on the 1.5-mile trail system. The map points out and describes mainly seasonal plants and trees passed along the way, but a few non-plant related points of interest are featured as well. We took the time to stop at each point to read the descriptions provided. It was a very educational hike and we did leave Wahkeena having learned a thing or two.

The last leg of our hike took us lakeside along the north shore of Lake Odonata. A large beaver dam sits in the middle of the lake. Although beaver sightings were reported earlier in the day before our arrival, we had no such luck. Before returning to the nature center, the trail passes a bird blind and then two large bird enclosures. One enclosure houses an injured red shouldered hawk and the other an injured barred owl. Both birds were hit by cars and received permanent injuries that prevent them from being able to survive in the wild.

Wahkeena is not a day long destination by itself but its proximity to other attractions in this part of the Hocking Hills would allow you to easily make a day of hiking and exploring this and other nearby parks and preserves. Included in this list would be Clear Creek Metro Park, Christmas Rocks Nature Preserve and Rhododendron Cove Nature Preserve.

Unlike most other area parks and preserves, Wahkeena has restricted open hours for visitation. The preserve is only open from late March to early November and then only open Wednesday – Sunday 8:00am to 4:30pm. Many educational programs are offered throughout the open months.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A Pictorial Tour of Old Man’s Cave

It had been a while since I last visited Old Man’s Cave, even longer since I visited in summer. During a recent short midweek getaway at one of our cabins, I decided to revisit the patriarch of the five Hocking Hills State Park areas. OMC can be crowded in summer, which is the reason I tend not to visit this time of year. For this hike, I decided to go later in the day, early evening actually, and happily found the parking lot pretty empty.

Have you ever revisited a place then later told your friends or family you forgot how beautiful the place was? This is how I felt during my hike. It sure is funny how time can fog your memory. I hiked the trails at no more than a lazy speed and just enjoyed the lush, rocky scenery, snapping many pics along the way. I hope you enjoy the below slideshow.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Cabin X Underway

IMG_1024As I announced in a post from January 2nd of this year, we are having built a new cabin. Due to weather and unforeseen delays, Cabin X is a little behind schedule but finally under construction.  We are calling it Cabin X for now because an official name has yet to be chosen. We would invite naming suggestions from the Internet but after reading how a British government web invitation to name a new $280 million research vessel resulted in the popular choice being Boaty McBoatface, I think we’ll pass.

Cabin X will sit on 6 acres. The acreage is mostly wooded with the building site surrounded by tall pines. The cabin will sit back from the road about 370’. Two or three dozen rectangular sandstone foundation blocks from an old barn removed to make room for the driveway will be incorporated into the landscaping. Perhaps a few of the barn’s hand hewn timbers will be incorporated into the cabin’s design.

One of our setbacks came when we were having the driveway installed. Below the cabin site, several springs emerge from the ground at the base of the hill. Our initial plan was to construct the driveway parallel to the base of the hill and then uphill to a building site we initially selected. After sinking a backhoe up to its axles, we realized we needed a plan B.

Fortunately, plan B is turning out to be a very nice option for many reasons. For one, now that there won’t be a driveway where the springs surface, we hope to create a small spring-fed fishing pond. If the water proves to be cold enough this summer, we would like to stock it with trout.

No official opening date has been determined yet for Cabin X but our guess would be around October 1st. We will post updates periodically on our Facebook page.

Hocking Hills Hiking Guide

As you may have concluded from the number of posts in our blog about hiking, we love to hit the trail! We enjoy visiting the waterfalls and caves in Hocking Hills State Park as much as anyone, and have done so countless times, but we also enjoy seeking out new trails. At this point, minus the Buckeye Trail, we think we’ve hiked just about all of them in the region. So with all of this local hiking experience, we thought, why not share it?

guidepage

We are pleased to make available, not to just our guests, but to anyone with a love of hiking and the Hocking Hills a concise guide to most of the hiking areas in the region. We’ve included over 20 parks, nature preserves and state forests containing close to 100 miles of trails in a region extending from southern Fairfield County, across central and western Hocking County, to northern Vinton County. Basically, enough trails to keep you coming back to the Hocking Hills for a long time.

Our Hocking Hills Regional Hiking Guide is a PDF format guide with plenty of embedded links to online resources and maps for additional reading. You are welcome to view the guide directly from our web site or save it to your device. The embedded links tend to open in the same window as the guide when viewing it from our web site. Downloading it to your device should make it a little easier to use. Enjoy!

Long Hollow/Chapel Cave/Airplane Rock Circuit Hike

I’ve wanted to provide a description and map about this crowd-free hike for quite some time so I’m glad I finally found time this winter to write it. It is one of my favorites circuit hikes in the Hocking Hills and visits three beautiful sites: Long Hollow, Chapel Cave and Airplane Rock. It begins from the rock climbing and rappelling area parking lot on Big Pine Road one mile east of Conkle’s Hollow. The total distance is 4.6 miles if you hike Long Hollow in its entirety. At that mileage, it’s not a super long hike but your pace will be slower than normal as you stop to admire the sites and scenery. I’ll also provide details for shorter out and back hikes to the three sites.

The aforementioned features reside peacefully in a secluded corner of Hocking State Forest east of Conkle’s Hollow. The majority of the hike uses bridle trails, which I normally do not encourage due to them typically being in rough and/or muddy condition, but these, with exceptions in Long Hollow, are tolerable. Bridle trails are always open to foot traffic. The trails are wide so if oncoming horses are encountered, there’s plenty of room to step aside.

From the rock climbing and rappelling area parking lot, a white-blazed bridle trail leaves the back of it and heads into the woods, beginning a nearly one-mile journey up beautiful Long Hollow. High sandstone cliff walls rim the hollow most of the way but dense hemlock growth on the hollow floor often obscures views of the rocks above.

Near the .5-mile mark, the trail arrives at the first of two junctions. If you desire to visit Chapel Cave and a waterfall at the hollow’s head, continue straight. This section of trail will be hiked out and back regardless if continuing on the circuit or returning to the parking area. Continuing up the hollow from the junction, in approximately .2 mile the trail will fork again at another junction. Taking the right fork will take you on a side trail uphill to Chapel Cave in a few hundred yards. Before arriving at this side trail, you’ll probably notice from below a wooden fence defining the edge of the trail to the cave before actually arriving at the intersection where the trail forks.

DSCF2917Chapel Cave is a large recess cave formed by erosion along a fracture joint in the bedrock. The shape of the cave is not unlike that of a chapel, hence one of its names. The cave is also known as 21 Horse Cave. Evidently at some point in history someone—perhaps a horse thief–figured out 21 is the maximum number of horses the cave will hold. If you visit, take note of the colorful striations of ancient sediments on the cave walls.

After visiting the cave, head back down the same way to where the trail forked and go right to continue hiking up the hollow. It won’t be long before you realize you are boxed in and have reached the head of Long Hollow. If the weather has been wet, a 90′ low-volume waterfall usually trickles over the cliff edge.

In the shadow of headwalls, the only option is to hike up or back the way you came. Be safe and return the way you came, going all the way back to the first trail junction. Go left to continue on the circuit hike. You will begin an ascent that will soon take you along the top of the cliffs, actually passing over the top of Chapel Cave and then very near the top of the waterfall you just visited. The trail will soon emerge onto a gravel forest/pipeline access road where you’ll go left to visit Airplane Rock in 1.4 miles. The road parallels a pipeline swath for most of the way before crossing over it just before Airplane Rock.

As you near Airplane Rock, the first thing you’ll notice is a latrine on the left. You should then see hitching posts and a few picnic tables on your left as well. On the right will be a fence with a gap in it wide enough for only a person to squeeze through. This begins the final approach to Airplane Rock–it is only 200 yards ahead. The fence keeps horses off the rock and protects the delicate cliff edge plant community found here.

Airplane Rock affords a commanding view of forested hills in the Big Pine Creek drainage and of CraneDSCF2930 Hollow to the north. The vista is similar to the one seen from the Rim Trail at Conkle’s Hollow, which is the next hollow to the west over the closest ridge you are seeing from Airplane Rock. If you walk north from the Rock along the cliff edge (be careful here) and look back you’ll see how Airplane Rock received its name.

Continuing the circuit from Airplane Rock, the trail makes a long descent into the valley of Big  Pine Creek. Trail blazes become orange after the Rock. In the valley, the trail will arrive at a junction. Go left and follow white blazes for a couple hundred yards to Big Pine Road. Go left on the road and follow it back to the trailhead in .5 mile.

For a shorter hike to Airplane Rock—2 miles roundtrip, you can follow the last section of the circuit hike from Airplane Rock to the trailhead in reverse. So, starting at the trailhead, hike right on Big Pine Road for .5 mile. Exit to the right at an orange metal gate immediately before a bridge over Big Pine Creek. Follow a section of white-blazed trail for a couple hundred yards to where the trail forks and then follow the orange-blazed trail to the right. The trail begins a long uphill ascent to Airplane Rock. It should take about 30 minutes to reach the Rock from the trailhead going this direction.

A secondary trailhead to begin a hike to Airplane Rock from, or even for completing the circuit hike, is located one mile north of Big Pine Road on Hockman Road. Hockman Road goes left off Big Pine Road .9 mile past the rock climbing & rappelling area parking lot. A metal sign on Hockman Road directs you into the gravel parking area. You’ll follow a gated gravel forest/pipeline access road that leaves the back of the parking area. This is the same gravel road the bridle trail coming up from Long Hollow merges into. From this parking area, Airplane Rock is a 1.7-mile hike one way. Completing the Airplane Rock/Long Hollow/Chapel Cave circuit hike from here totals 5.1 miles.

Have fun!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

long hollow post map

 

Boch Hollow State Nature Preserve

Boch Hollow State Nature Preserve presents yet another hiking opportunity in the Hocking Hills region. Formerly a permit-only preserve, it is now open to the general hiking public. The 572-acre preserve is also one of the state’s newest. Currently, 3.5 miles of trails traverse the property, but we noted many new trails under construction, so that number is sure to increase. The trail system is laid out in a series of three loops. For ease of navigation, a note posted at the trailhead kiosk suggests to stay right at each trail intersection. We did, and it worked out well for us.

Kathy and I hiked all the trails on a mild Saturday afternoon recently and were the only visitors there. We found the preserve and surrounding area very peaceful. During the middle of our hike Kathy commented how it was enjoyable to hike through a variety of habitat types and not just woods. I agreed. The trails at Boch Hollow travel through habitat types ranging from mature woodlands, ridgetop fields, wet bottomlands, pine plantations and small rock outcroppings. This provided enough variety to keep the hike interesting since the preserve doesn’t feature any magnificent rock formations, waterfalls or caves the Hocking Hills are known for.

One of the more scenic spots in the preserve is near the beginning of the hike. Approximately .5 mile from the parking lot the trail arrives at a scenic pond with a gazebo perched waterside and small dock extending into the water a few feet. No fishing is allowed though.

The trails here are wide and in excellent condition. For the most part they are free of roots or rocks and offer a pretty smooth path for hiking. Trail runners would really enjoy working out here.

We didn’t see a lot of life–flora or fauna–on our hike but deer signs were everywhere. They appear to bed down frequently in tall dried grasses that dominate the ridgetop fields. The shoulder seasons are undoubtedly the best times of year to visit: wildflowers in the spring and the changing of the leaves in fall.

Boch Hollow is located on Beach Camp Road approximately 7.5 miles north of Logan. Take State Route 664 North from Logan and turn right onto Beach Camp Rd. Arrive at the trailhead parking lot in .75 mile. There is a sign for the preserve on SR 664 at Beach Camp Road.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

A New Year = A Year of Change

hug-club-clip-art-335[1]Happy New Year! We wish nothing but the best for everyone in 2016.

2016 for us is going to be a year of some pretty big changes. For several years we’ve operated 8 cabins at four different locations reaching from southern Hocking County, just north of the Vinton County line, to northern Hocking County, just south of the Fairfield County line. A couple years ago we put into motion plans to reorganize (for lack of a better word) our business. By reorganizing, I mean downsizing a bit and relocating to lessen the distance between properties we own. To accomplish this, we decided to sell our 5 Main Property cabins—Wildwood, Ridgeview, Woodridge, Greenbriar and Birdsong.

A deal to sell Greenbriar and Ridgeview cabins was finalized and closed in late December 2015. There will be a transition period lasting until approximately January 20th where will continue to take reservations while gradually reducing our day-to-day involvement with each of these two cabins. After that, the new owner should be fully up and running, then any involvement from us will end. These cabins are being used as vacation rentals by the new owner.

The balance of the other Main Property cabins has already been sold. Wildwood Cabin was sold over two years ago; Woodridge and Birdsong about a year ago. All of these cabins were sold to the same owner and they were happy to hire as their property manager. Other than the names on the deeds changing, it was a flawless transition with very little change to the way we conducted day-to-day business. To this day it still feels like we still own them. Our management of these cabins will end starting September 1, 2016. This day will no doubt be a bittersweet one as this will end our time with cabins that got us started in this business. These cabins will continue to be used as vacation rentals after we leave.

So, when doing the math, you’ll see we will be down to 3 cabins by the fall of 2016—Evergreen, Rocky Ridge and Laurel Ridge, which we plan on keeping for many years to come—we love these cabins! These cabins are located in the same general area in northern Hocking Hills, which is very helpful for when we have to clean multiple cabins in a single day. Before we settle at 3 cabins, however, we are going to add a new one for a total of 4, which is where we ultimately wished to end up.

fontana_imageIn spring 2016, we will break ground on a two-bedroom log cabin situated on 6 peaceful wooded acres. This cabin’s location is in-between our Evergreen Cabin and Rocky Ridge Cabin on a quiet backroad approximately one mile north of State Route 180. The location is central to all area attractions and access in winter shouldn’t be too bad with no big hills to present any icy challenges. As construction begins and progresses, I will post updates and pics. We are excited!

As you can see, 2016 is a big year for us with many positive changes forthcoming. We hope 2016 brings about many positive changes for you as well!

Cedar Falls to Ash Cave

 

Any December day offering a high temperature near 70 degrees cannot go unhiked…and this particular one did not. My wife and I took advantage of El Nino’s gift by hiking a section of the blue-blazed Buckeye Trail from Cedar Falls to Ash Cave and back for a roundtrip hike of approximately 4.6 miles, according to the map. This section of the Buckeye Trail, along with the section from Old Man’s Cave to Cedar Falls, is also called the Grandma Gatewood Trail.

The first leg of this hike begins from the back of the farthest parking area at Cedar Falls. It’s the same beginning for a hike I described in a post from February 3, 2015 titled “A Hike Beyond Cedar Falls”. Actually, the first .3 mile is coincident. Where the trail (gravel access road) makes a sharp right, the Buckeye Trail goes straight and heads due south toward Ash Cave.

From where the trail splits from the gravel access road, it leaves the hemlocks and travels alongside a small stream before heading uphill to intersect Chapel Ridge Road in under a mile. Across the road it enters a parking area and then follows the approach trail to the Ash Cave Lookout Tower, a renovated forest fire lookout tower. I posted a short article about this tower in 2009. I, without hesitation, climbed the tower while Kathy was decidedly more comfortable with feet on terra firma.

The view from atop the tower is beautiful and far reaching. While I was at the top taking pictures, a mother and daughter with their two dogs arrived. They soon headed up the tower’s steps with their dogs but one of them—named Major–turned around after only a few. Kathy was more than happy to watch Major so the ladies could continue their way up the tower. When I returned down we just couldn’t leave a nervous Major until the ladies returned, so we stayed a few minutes longer. We learned from them that Major was a stray who just showed up at their home one day earlier this year and is now part of their family. Kudos to them!

Past the lookout tower, the hike is mostly downhill. The forest transitions back into being dominated mostly by hemlocks as you approach Ash Cave. Unbeknownst to us, a Christmas in Ash Cave celebration was scheduled for that evening. State park staff was busy setting things up in the cave when we arrived. A roaring fire was already blazing. Dusk was a little over an hour away at this point so we didn’t spend too much time in the cave and headed back the way we came. Before leaving the Hills, we had dinner at the always delicious Hocking Hills Dining Lodge. Tip: The berry cobbler dessert is a must.

All-in-all, this is a nice hike. With two magnificent geological features at each end, there is not much in-between that compares to those features. One highlight of this hike, though, is that it does get you away from the crowds. If you are visiting the area and want see both Ash Cave and Cedar Falls while wanting to get some miles on your hiking boots rather than your car, then consider hiking this section of the Buckeye Trail.

 

Rhododendron Cove

Rhododendron Cove is wonderful preserve small in size but large in beauty located in the northern Hocking Hills near the village of Sugar Grove. The preserve protects interesting geological features and a rich diversity of flora, most notably the largest known concentration of the state endangered great rhododendron. Hiking here is reminiscent of hiking in the Appalachian Mountains.

About 2.5 miles of out and back trails traverse the preserve starting in the floodplain of the nearby Hocking River and climbing to the top of an adjacent ridge. Most of the elevation gain occurs in a short, steep section of the trail and, as is typical along Ohio’s trails, there are no switchbacks to lessen the grade. Once on top, the walking is pretty easy. In non-foliage seasons, nice views across the Hocking River Valley will have opened up.

I was, naturally, expecting to see native rhododendron here but was really surprised at how much is actually thriving here. To see most of them you’ll need to take a few steps off the trail to the cliff line, which rims the ridgetop through the entirety of the preserve, and peer over the edge. Below you’ll see large expanses of the plant growing in and around the base of the cliffs and the numerous massive slump blocks that have broken free. The environment below the cliffs is a little cooler and more suitable for rhododendron to survive. Rhododendron bloom in late June into early July, making this preserve especially desirable to visit during that time of year.

Mountain laurel is well represented in the preserve, too. State endangered azalea also grows here. Wintergreen and blueberry round out the heath family of plants happily taking up residency on the dry ridgetops. More than a dozen species of ferns and an array of wildflower species will keep any hobby botanist busy.

Rhododendron cove is located at 2730 Pump Station Road, Sugar Grove, near Wahkeena Nature Preserve– also worthy of a visit. There is signage on US-33 for Wahkeena, so following those signs will take you right to the small gravel parking lot for this preserve. After turning onto Pump Station road off of Old Logan Road at the large Columbia Gas compression station, follow the road for 0.1 mile to the parking lot on the right side of the road, adjacent to a fenced area containing pipeline valves, etc. associated with the compression station.

Conkle’s Hollow

On the heels of my last hike and post I was able hit the trail again. It’s not every week I have time to fit in two hikes so I’m really enjoying this. For this hike I chose to visit  Conkle’s Hollow. It’s been a couple of years or more since I last hiked CH and oh boy how I’ve forgotten how beautiful this place is. The pictures below don’t do CH justice.

I first hiked the .5-mile out and back Lower Gorge Trail. Being in the deepest depths of the gorge reminded me of being in a southern Utah canyon, but Conkle’s Hollow has a very moist, lush environment not typically found in dry, sandy canyons of the southwest U.S. Especially this time of year, the green palette of ferns and moss, trees and shrubs painting the water sculpted sandstone creates a picture rich in color and form. Temperatures some 7 or 8 degrees cooler in the gorge felt good on a warm day.

I also hiked the 2.5-mile Rim Trail. In contrast to the moist, cool environment of the inner gorge, the rim was warm and dry. The community of plants on the rim differs noticeably from the one just 200 feet below. The rim offers many nice views of the gorge and surrounding hills. If you have a fear of heights, you may wish stay in the gorge. In many places the trail is just a couple steps from a precipitous drop, and there is virtually no fencing or cables. Soon, the rim will be a perfect perch for viewing fall colors. I might have to go back.