In Ohio, new Hocking Hills hikes well worth the effort

With Ohio’s fall color season quickly approaching, I recommend a trek on the new Whispering Cave Trail and the reconfigured Hemlock Bridge Trail at Hocking Hills State Park.

I tackled them both on a perfect early fall day in late September and found it well worth the effort.

The connecting trails follow the gorge where Queer Creek and Old Man’s Creek flow together and offer spectacular views of the confluence. Both are short – a mile or less – but steep. In hiking lingo, they are considered “moderate.”

Access to the mile-long Hemlock Bridge Trail is from the parking lot of the burned-out Hocking Hills State Park Dining Lodge – just off Route 664. It appears the top of the trail was reconfigured to lead hikers around the lodge’s charred skeleton. That part is easy, leading to steps that descend to the gorge overlook.

While still rough going in spots, the Hemlock Trail is well marked. A little more than a half-mile down the trail from the parking lot, the Whispering Cave Trail spurs off to the right.

It’s a short .2-mile up-and-down walk that dead-ends at (what else) a massive outcropping called Whispering Cave. A new, wooden bridge spans the cave here. Overhead, water cascades 105 feet from the rim to the gorge below. A sign congratulates all those who make it to the rocky end.

Whispering Cave Trail is not a loop. So, the way in is also the way out.

On my way back to the Hemlock Bridge trailhead, I encountered a couple visiting from Colorado. They were amazed to find that a place like Hocking Hills existed in Ohio. Like many out-of-staters, they were under the misconception that the Buckeye State is all flat cropland. I answered their questions and filled them in as best I could on the region’s history.

That history is colorful and a good reason to put a visit to Ohio’s southeastern state parks on a “to do” list for the fall season.

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