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Road Trip: Discovering Hocking Hills

A glimpse of the Old Man’s Cave hike.

Updated Spring 2022: Scroll to bottom for a new rental and other area ideas

Ever since we returned from the Hocking Hills, we’ve been asking ourselves how all of metro Detroit isn’t familiar with the easily road-trippable destination, just south of Columbus in Ohio.

Only four hours away by car, it’s a legit treasure trove of magical canyons and waterfalls.

In short, if you’re the type who appreciates a scenic hike and has a penchant for outlandish lodging, this is exactly the type of place you’ve been looking for. There are plenty of both. What there is NOT plenty of, however, is restaurants, shops or spas. So, pack your hiking booths, as well as all the snacks and puzzles that will fit in your suitcase.

The three-bedroom Lost Cavern Airbnb.

STAY
We loved our two nights at the Lost Cavern Airbnb. It’s located less than 10 minutes from most trails and do you see those colorful lights glowing in the backyard caverns?! The property, which is tucked into the side of a forested hill, includes three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a small, open living area that offers a dining table, sitting area and small but well-equipped kitchen.

Outside, there’s limited space for little ones to run around, but there is a fabulous hot tub, grill and multiple lounge areas.

If the modern rustic lodge isn’t your vibe, you’ll find hundreds of other unique rental options online: treehouses, tiny homes and shipping containers! In fact, I found this architectural A-frame in the woods and promptly booked it for a fall getaway with a few extra guests.

The Doghouse at Brewdog brewery and hotel near Columbus, Ohio.

Side note: On our drive south, we stopped and spent a few hours at the Toledo Zoo to break up the drive, before spending a night at The Doghouse at Brewdog, a brewery-hotel-combo that’s dog-friendly, delightfully designed and located just outside of Columbus. A pour of choice upon check in? Porter and cookies before bedtime? Yes, please. We had a blast during our stay and would absolutely recommend it if you’re a beer lover.

The Upper Falls at Old Man’s Cave.
The Lower Falls at Old Man’s Cave.

HIKE
A few of our favorite family-friendly Hocking Hills hikes:

Old Man’s Cave is the most popular trail for good reason. It’s an easy and gorgeous introduction to the park, which you can tackle in pieces or as one long hike. (Check out the upper and lower falls along this river; we packed a blanket and picnic lunch to lay out at the upper falls, which is just a few steps to the left of the parking lot.)

Cedar Falls hike.

Cedar Falls is a wide, winding path under a canopy of trees, leading to a beautiful waterfall and stone pond among the forest.

The scale of Ash Cave is impressive, and hard to justify in a photo.

Ash Cave is accessible via a paved trail (stroller friendly!) but you can hike a return trail back to the parking lot to squeeze some elevation in. The scale of this gigantic, open cave is majestic and a plunging waterfall makes it ideal for photos.

Inside Rock House cave.
Annnnd nearly walking right past the cave entrance… lol.

Rock House is another quick trail that leads to the park’s only true cave, which you might hike right past accidentally. Duck inside to make some noise – echo, echo! – and listen to a ton of purring pigeons.

Conckles Hollow is the steepest trail but is totally manageable at only two miles. It offers some pretty, cliffside views and some fairly scary ledges to peer over if you’re brave.

TIMING
We found the off season – midweek in early March – to be perfect during COVID and we lucked out with beautiful weather, too. Some of the hikes are in pretty tight quarters so not having to deal with crowds was a luxury.

EAT
Don’t plan on dining at restaurants; there’s not much. Like, at all. Make a grocery run to Logan and stock up on all the snacks and grilling essentials you’ll need during your stay.

The sitting area of our Airbnb.
Hot tubbin.’
Family selfie. (Look at that little wave!)
Old Man’s Cave trail.

Updated Spring 2022:

Not surprisingly – based on our newfound adoration of Hocking Hills – we promptly planned another trip back. This time, we booked an eco-friendly rental with four bedrooms, hammock swings, hot tub, bonfire and the coziest sunken conversation pit family room. Naturally, we invited friends!

The Carpenter’s Cabin in Hocking Hills

The rental – dubbed Carpenter’s Cabin – is located about a 20-minute drive from most of the park’s popular hikes. I’d had my eye on this property while it’s build was being chronicled on Instagram, so I was completely geeked to stay at it once it’d been completed. It sits on a large, wooded lot, and feels extremely secluded. You can visit the Carpenter’s Cabin website for full details.

Like our first visit, we planned our first night’s stay in Columbus. Since we were traveling with my in laws, who also appreciate a good brew, we decided to stay once again at Brewdog. Except this time… we booked one of the brewery’s satellite “kennels” – operated via Airbnb – in the Short North neighborhood. This meant that we got to stay in the heart of the action AND paid far less for the five of us to share a two-bedroom rental than we would have at the hotel.

One of Brewdog’s Short North “Kennel” Airbnb rentals (this one with two bedrooms)

Before heading out to Hocking Hills, we took full advantage of city life. We grabbed dinner at Paulie Gee’s in Short North (delicious) and strolled the district while Mack’s grandparents stayed back at the Airbnb while he slept (God bless grandparents!); then strolled up to Happy Little Treats for a box o’ pastries in the morning.

Paulie Gee’s pizzas
Happy Little Treats :)

To kill time before check in at our rental, we swung into North Market where each of us could pick up lunch at any of the food stalls of our choosing (I went Middle Eastern, then added a soft pretzel), and also swung by the Franklin Park Convservatory and Botanical Gardens for a walk through the stunning atriums and some playing in the park, which was most appreciated by an 18-month-old Mack.

Franklin Park Conservatory
Franklin Park Convservatory’s Park and Playground area was a hit!

Again, we stopped into the grocery store in Logan, Ohio, on our way to the rental property, with plans to cook all of our meals on site and pack picnics for our daytime hikes. And again, I still recommend this tactic, especially if you’re traveling with kiddos. There’s simply not much in the way of healthy to-go foods and dining options and quite frankly, if you’re staying in lodging as cool as these rentals, you’ll want to stay back and soak up the vibes!

Note: No big updates on hikes here; we went back to all of our favorites!

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