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.