Posted August 26, 2017
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*see our 5-Bambi rating legend at the end of this review.
When a fellow traveller we met at the Airstream factory suggested Ohio for “excellent hiking,” I pictured a corn maze.
“Seriously?” I chided, “There’s hiking in Ohio?!”
More than a million visitors a year drive through thousands of cornfields toward Hocking Hills – just southwest of Logan – to take a cool, shadowy, plunge into a sprawling network of blackhand sandstone recessed caves. People come for zip-line, mountain biking, rappelling, wheelchair and stroller accessible trails and even Segway tours. This state park is certainly dedicated to providing access! With more than 2,300 acres – remarkably maintained to keep trails navigable – hikers at all levels of experience and from everywhere in the world dig their heels down, way down into a gorgeous salad of moss, fern and mushroom slathered geologic eye-candy with hemlock forests and mysterious watery gorges.
Located within the park and right on the trails, Old Man’s Cave Campground offers 172 campsites and 23 are reserved for first-come first-serve campers, like us. Those non-reservable, walk-in sites are electrical only, as are most of the sites. The new section – sites 24 to 70 – have full hookups. Electrical sites are $30 a night and full hook-ups are $40.
The asphalt padded sites can accommodate up to a 50′ unit. This campground is spread out over rolling hills, so some sites are more isolated while others are rather crowded. Throughout our thirteen night stay from July 23-August 5, the sites were mostly full.
Because we were walk-in campers (arriving on a Sunday morning) and allowed only an electrical unit (no water or sewer) we used the showers to save our water. The park has several shower facilities located throughout – some newer than others. There’s a new laundry and shower building in the parking lot near the pool.
We have no complaints about Hocking Hill State Park. Local residents served as camp hosts and this arrangement may explain the home town pride and dedication felt throughout the park. We also appreciate that the park staff gave us permission to receive shipments from Best Buy and Amazon – so important for full-timers.
All that said, we’ve come to expect weak cell service. Some sites had a poor to moderate signal – most had no service at all. Site #1 had fairly good reception. At the ranger’s office – down the hill near the entrance – a cell booster is offered free to guests and can be accessed from outdoor cafe tables and chairs.
As soon as we settled in, we got crackin’ on those trails! The first and best trailhead was about ten steps away from our trailer – all well marked with maps and reference points.
Within moments of our descent the temperature cooled several degrees and we heard the waterfalls behind the thick drapes of vegetation. Our first glimpse of the water felt surreal – glowing with a stone-jade opaque light which changed constantly in color intensity and brightness – more like an entity than a substance. Impossibly beautiful … and potentially dangerous. Don’t let the well-maintained trails deceive you – they’re slippery – especially after a rain. But the display of human development enfolding and connecting the natural landscape is a trademark feature of Hocking Hills – an art form to consider – architecture designed to connect, not capture. We were smitten.
Occupied since the ice age by indigenous people – Shawnee, Wyandot, and the Lenape tribes – the paths are well defined and the infrastructure – stairs, bridges, tunnels, handrails – were upgraded over the years by settlers, miners, trappers, itinerant residents, and perfected in the 1930’s by the WPA. The work continues.
The ancient and ongoing development imagines the possibility of an occupied wilderness in balance. It certainly celebrates the delicacy of human handiwork in a place that has been called “home” for thousands of years.
I’m glad I remembered my camera on our first hike …
At the foot of Cedar Falls, I got lucky …
… when a jubilant young woman performed a perfect handstand.
Conkles Hollow State Nature Preserve, just a couple of miles from the campground will always be one of our most memorable hikes. We heeded the warning to stay to the trails. Once again, this is a dangerous area – narrow rim-hugging trails on the edge of steep bluffs with spectacular forest views and mushrooms in every color and size.
And, at the end of the day, a cool swim. It’s quite unusual for a State Park to have a pool – and it was staffed with real lifeguards. I took advantage every day. Open 11 am to 7 pm during the summer (closes Labor Day weekend). This is a well-maintained and safe pool. Our only regret about Hocking Hills is that we didn’t bring our son here when we was a child.
Camp hosts and friendly locals kindly advised us about the many fun things to do in the area, even invited us to dinner and let us in on the best places to eat.
The Beach Boys concert seemed to be the thing to do, so when in Rome … Very fun to watch the crowd go wild over that famous hit, “Ohio Girls.”
Hocking Hills Winery was a 12 mile, 20 minute drive – but worth it …
Our favorite haunt for refreshments was Brewery 33, and their top-notch IPAs and Saison. Great entertainment is offered several nights a week. We highly recommend this exciting new brewery and wish them well.
Even with mud slicks and power outages (due to heavy rains) we consider the $30 per night camping fee to be fair since Hocking Hills State Park has no entry fee. That’s right! Free hiking! There is a two week maximum stay, and we learned that in summertime many Ohioans will go home after the two-week stay, restock groceries and return to camp. It’s a locals paradise, a meeting place, sacred ground … We would have stayed longer (due to the rains we lost some hiking time) but with no WiFi and weak cell signals and no safe bike lanes to ride to town, we decided to move on … But, we’ll be back someday for more hiking In wonderland.
We proudly give Hocking Hills State Park a 4-Bambi rating! Thank you, Ohio!!!
|Our “BAMBI” rating system for Public and Private campgrounds and resorts explained:
– One Bambi: Should’a boondocked.
– Two Bambi’s: Better than a Cracker Barrel or Walmart.
– Three Bambi’s: Adequate for a short stay.
– Four Bambi’s: Great place! Met our expectations for an extended stay. Needs minor improvements or is not ideally situated for all our preferred recreation (walking, cycling, swimming, kayaking) without driving.
– Five Bambi’s: Destination Camping at it’s best! Critical as we are, there’s nothing we’d improve, and you can bet your sweet Bambi we’re going back!