Hocking Hills’ hemlocks need your help. Not only do hemlock trees help define the beauty of the Hocking Hills they are also essential to the ecology of the region. These trees, however, are currently threatened by the recent discovery of the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, a non-native invasive insect that, if left untreated, will erase the hemlock tree from the landscape of the Hocking Hills. Fortunately, trees can be treated, minimizing the impact of these insects and saving thousands of trees. I’ve personally seen what invasive insects can do to other evergreen species in areas like the Black Hills of South Dakota and parts of the Rocky Mountains and I can tell you it would be devastating to see that happen here. You can help save our hemlocks by supporting the Hocking Hills Conservation Association. The HHCA is a collaboration of several agencies whose primary mission is to save hemlock trees. You can support HHCA with a financial donation or purchase of Hemlock Hero apparel. Here is their web site: www.hemlockhero.com.
If you like peaches, then you have got to stop in Laurelville at the Laurelville Fruit Co. and grab a bag or two. So many people across central Ohio–my wife and I included–look forward to these few weeks in summer when the peaches arrive. Many folks come to the area just for this reason; it’s like a peach pilgrimage or something. If you’re coming through Laurelville to stay with us or to visit the caves, you’ll find LFC on your way out of Laurelville on SR 56, right across from the Hocking Hills Visitor’s Center.
LFC is also widely known for their apples and cider in the fall.
I’ve done a lot of hiking and backpacking around Ohio, but mostly in southern and southeast Ohio, and the one hike I think stands out among them all is right here in the Hocking Hills. Mile-for-mile it is tough to beat the 6-mile roundtrip hike from the upper falls at Old Man’s Cave to Cedar Falls and back. This hike has it all: beautiful hemlock forests, waterfalls, overhang caves, amazing rock formation, scenic views, tunnels and more. Include people in the more attribute depending on your timing. I most recently re-hiked these trails on an unusually cool, beautiful Friday morning/early afternoon in July. I encountered many other hikers at both ends of the trip, but found long stretches of solitude in the middle.
I like to start this hike at the upper falls and stay on the rim of the gorge to Cedar Falls. The rim trail travels through beautiful hemlock forests almost the entire way. The trail is mostly level with exception of an uphill approach to the dam holding back Rose Lake. The trail crosses the dam and descends back to the rim. Above Cedar Falls, the trail crosses a uniquely designed steel footbridge before dropping into the gorge at the falls. The name Cedar Falls, by the way, is a bit of a misnomer. Early settlers to the area mistakenly identified hemlock trees as cedar trees; but the name stuck. On my hike, underneath one of the footbridges over Queer Creek downstream of the falls, two large snapping turtle were leisurely floating at the top of a deep pool, either catching some sun or perhaps people watching, I reckoned.
The hike back to Old Man’s Cave stays at the bottom the gorge. This section of trail is also part of the Buckeye Trail, the North Country Trail and the American Discovery Trail. As if this is not enough, it is also named the Grandma Gatewood Trail in honor of an Ohio born (Gallia County) grandmother who hiked the Appalachian Trail at ages 67, 72 & 75. The first time wearing Keds sneakers.
The gorge trail travels along the north bank of Queer creek, water on the left and a seemingly unbroken wall of the sandstone cliffs on the right. At a few locations, the distance between creek and cliff pinches considerably so you are forced to do some minor scrambling up and down rocks. It’s nothing technical, but if you’ve got a knee, leg or back injury you may wish to reconsider. Closer to Old Man’s Cave lower falls the valley widens before entering the wildly beautiful and wildly popular narrow half-mile gorge back to the starting point at the upper falls. There are 3 or 4 trail options for getting back up to the rim and the parking area, but I usually stay in the gorge to the upper falls and exit a series of steps carved right into the rock.
I’ve done this hike many times and at different times of the year but without a doubt I prefer a midweek off-season visit when it is not quite so busy. One memorable hike was in February 2010 right after a fresh 6″ snowfall. For even a longer hike, you can hike the Grandma Gatewood Trail all the way to Ash Cave from Old Man’s Cave via Cedar Falls and back. I believe the roundtrip distance is close to 12 miles. If you wish to see the waterfalls, spring is the best time for that. For this hike I’m writing about, very little water was flowing.
A few pics below. Happy hiking!
If not raccoons, then squirrels. It’s a never ending battle. Sorry birds.