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.
Chapel 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 Crane 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.