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.