Whether you know me at all, you know I love a good underrated destination. After a trip to the state of Ohio in 2019, I was pretty convinced that Columbus was the gem of the trip. However it’s the Hocking Hills, just one hour south of the city, that really wowed me on my trip. Though I’d never heard of it before my visit, it turns out there are some incredible things to do in the Hocking Hills!
Because of its proximity to Columbus, the Hocking Hills are a great getaway for a day excursion, overnight getaway, or weekend trip. I spent an overnight in the Hocking Hills during my trip, and I think this is a great amount of time if you want to plan a trip too.
In this post, you’ll find a guide to planning a trip to the Hocking Hills and the best things to do in the Hocking Hills region. I also include other advice to help you make the most of your time in this beautiful part of southeastern Ohio – no matter how long you have.
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Shawandasse Tula (Shawanwaki/Shawnee), Kaskaskia, Hopewell Culture, Adena Culture, and Ofo peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
This post was originally published in July 2019, and was updated in July 2021.
Planning Your Visit to the Hocking Hills
Inside the Pencil Sharpener Museum, located outside the Hocking Hills Visitor Center. Definitely a must see and an easy stop when you’re getting more info about the area!
Before I jump into the best things to do during your day in the Hocking Hills, I want to cover a few quick logistics. I promise I’ll keep it quick; you can use the table of contents above to jump to the section you care about.
- Driving & Parking in the Hocking Hills Area – The Hocking Hills is traversed by a network of two-lane state highway roads. They’re fully paved and easy to drive. There are parking lots at almost every popular destination in the park too, and if you arrive early enough there won’t be any problems finding a great place.
- Hocking Hills State Park Entrance Fees – Here’s a fun one: there is no fee to enter Hocking Hills State Park! Woo! The park is totally free, which makes it great for travelers or families on any budget.
Those are the basic logistics you need to know about visiting the Hocking Hills. Now let’s dig into what you can do once you get there!
The 5 Best Things to Do in the Hocking Hills
No matter how much time you have – and what time of year you visit –, you’re going to have to make some choices among the fun things to do in the Hocking Hills. There’s so much to do, it’s inevitable that you’ll have to choose between which parts of the park you’ll visit, which nearby attractions you’ll enjoy, and which hikes you’ll make.
1. Explore Hocking Hills State Park
No trip to the Hocking Hills is complete without visiting its namesake state park. Hocking Hills State Park is 9.5 square miles, full of surprising natural beauty crisscrossed by winding trails and roads. Here are some of the highlights; you could also spend a day or more hiking at or between these sights.
Old Man’s Cave
Old Man’s Cave is the top attraction in Hocking Hills State Park. It’s named for the hermit Richard Rowe, who lived in the large recess cave of the gorge in the late 18th century. Old Man’s Cave is generally considered to be one of the most picturesque parts of the Hocking Hills, including a gorge and waterfalls. It’s also one of the easiest parts of the park to visit.
Ash Cave is another popular sight in Hocking Hills State Park; to me, it offers the most wow factor. This huge cave has several easy trails including several with overlooks.
I personally loved the popular trail that takes you to the cave floor. You can walk right up to the edge of the pool formed by the waterfall that helped created this cave.
Another beautiful waterfall system in the Hocking Hills, Cedar Falls is a moderate walk that ends with scenic views of the region’s biggest waterfall by volume.
Cedar Falls is beautiful year-round, but when I visited in the early summer it was a gorgeous verdant climb down to the banks of the Queer Creek. From there, you’ll walk up the stream to the falls.
I didn’t make it to Conkle’s Hollow on my overnight trip to the Hocking Hills, but everyone I talked to – locals and those from Columbus – raved about it. It’s a huge gorge, arguably the most stunning vista in the Hocking Hills, especially in the autumn when the fall foliage is at its peak.
There are a handful of hikes in Conkle’s Hollow, including some that are more challenging if you want a more ambitious option for your day in the Hocking Hills.
2. Zip Lining
I started my short trip to the Hocking Hills with an adventure I’d never done before: zip lining! The massive trees and verdant canopy provide the perfect setting to strap yourself into a harness and zoom among the boughs on the zip lines.
I did the “Original” tour at Hocking Hills Canopy Tours which included 10 rides around their 53-acre property. They also offer a fun alternative if you’ve tried zip lining before: night zip lining! Stars overhead, adrenaline-pumping – what’s not to love?
3. Bouldering/Rock Climbing/Rappelling
For you more adventurous types, there are some other options. If you love rock climbing or bouldering, Hocking Hills State Park has some good rock formations in the designated “Climbing and Rappelling Area,” including Amazing Grace and Rectangle Rock.
There are also some good spots for rappelling if you prefer down instead of up. High Rock Adventures offers rappelling tours if you want a guide (and night rappelling, because yes, the night sky is really that good here!).
If you love to get out on the water, I feel you. Kayaking is one of my favorite adventure activities, and you’ve got great choices in the Hocking Hills. Hocking Hills Canoe Livery offers canoe, kayak, and raft trips on the Hocking River. They also offer a moonlit tour if you want to do some adventure water sports under the area’s great dark skies.
One of the other big attractions in the Hocking Hills is the night sky overhead. John Glenn Astronomy Park opened in 2018 at the edge of the State Park and it has become an instant crowd-pleaser.
Director Brad Hoehne met me before sunset during my visit and showed me around the huge plaza. He ended up giving an impromptu tour of the night sky on one of the private observatory telescopes as other folks turned up over the course of the evening.
If you have any interest in the night sky, JGAP is one of the best stargazing spots near Columbus and great for all ages.
One Perfect Day in the Hocking Hills
Now that you’re fully inspired by all the things to do in the Hocking Hills, here’s what I think you should do if you only have a single day or two half-days with an overnight. I created this itinerary based on my own experience with a few modifications so you can make the most of your one day in the Hocking Hills.
- Early Morning – Rise early to drive from Columbus if that’s where you’re staying. Like I said above, it’s a 70-minute drive, so you’ll want to set out early to get a full day in the Hocking Hills. (As an aside, I highly suggest staying the night so you can enjoy the day completely. I’ve recommended a few places to stay at the end of this post.)
- Breakfast – There are a few local restaurantas that serve breakfast in the nearby town of Logan. M&M Family Diner or Pearl Diner are both good local options. After lunch, I recommend swinging by the town’s Kroger grocery store to grab a picnic lunch.
- Mid-Morning – Head to Hocking Hills State Park for a bit of sightseeing. The park is of a good size that you can see 2-3 of the sights I recommended above in a morning. I’d start with Old Man’s Cave since it tends to draw the biggest crowds; then Ash Cave for sure too.
- Lunch – For lunch, break out your picnic lunch. You can eat while hiking, or swing by one of the picnic areas in the park. Cedar Falls is a good option with picnic tables near the parking lot.
- Afternoon – The afternoon is a great time to get your heart racing with a zip lining course at Hocking Hills Canopy Tours. Their “Original” 10-line tour is a perfect option.
- Dinner – Head out toward town to Millstone BBQ for dinner. I had the pulled pork with cornbread and it was utterly delicious. Their dishes are all hearty enough to help you recover from a day of outdoor adventure.
- Evening – Obviously, the best thing to do after dark is stargazing! Head to John Glenn Astronomy Park to see what they’re watching in the sky during your visit. If you crave a little more adventure, you could sign up for one of those night canoeing, rappelling, or zip lining tours I recommended instead.
After all that fun it’s time to call it a day… or is it night? You could drive back to Columbus if you have the energy, or check out one of the accommodations I recommend below.
Where to Stay in the Hocking Hills
During my trip to the Hocking Hills, I stayed at the Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls, right in the heart of the region. The private luxury cabins are cozy and perfect for a weekend getaway; I could easily have stayed on the back porch all night! The Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls also has a beautiful small spa where you can relax even more with a massage, and a restaurant set in the original rustic building which is perfect for dinner or a nightcap.
Hocking Hills State Park also has a large number of accommodation options. You can choose to stay at one of the area campgrounds, book a cabin or cottage in or near the park, or spend the night in a treehouse – yes, you read that right!
V’s Recommended Vacation Rentals
As usual, I’ve perused some of the vacation rental options in the area, and here are some of the cabin rentals that catch my eye:
- Woodland Ridge Cabins–This gorgeous cabin offers a wood-burning stove, hot tub, and gorgeous views. From $156/night; book on Expedia or VRBO.
- Hilltop Cabins – This gorgeous, historic cabin will feel like you’ve stepped back in time, with some creature comforts and plenty of room for the whole family. From $209/night; book directly on their website.
- The Yurt at the Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls – Part of the property where I stayed, this yurt is a more off-beat option. From $269/night; book on Booking.com.
Now you’re all set to plan your own trip full of things to do in the Hocking Hills, whether you stay just one overnight or turn it into a weekend trip (I won’t blame you!). If you have other questions about visiting or things to do in the Hocking Hills, let me know in the comments!
This post was created in partnership with Hocking Hills, Hocking Hills Canopy Tours, and the Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls. All of the various activities, excursions, and other recommendations were included at my own discretion.