In the span of just two miles you will pass three waterfalls, hike through three sandstone tunnels, pass underneath the namesake Old Man’s Cave while being surrounded by cliffs towering upwards of 100 feet!
– Parking: 39.436472, -82.539639 (Far end of the parking lot, furthest away from the visitors center)
– Trailhead: 39.436361, -82.539194 (Just off the northeast corner of the parking lot)
– Distance: 2.0-mile loop
– Elevation Change: +/- 95 Feet
– Difficulty: Easy (stone steps could be difficult for some)
– Features: Upper Falls, Devil’s Bathtub, Blackhand Sandstone cliffs, Stone Bridges, Recessed Cave, sandstone tunnels, Lower Falls, Broken Rock Falls
The full Old Man’s Cave hike starts at Upper Falls and winds through the gorge past Old Man’s Cave and ends at Lower Falls. The Old Man’s Cave trail system is a series of one-way trails that guide the crowds of hikers through the gorge starting at various points upstream. Upper Falls is just one of more than a half dozen waterfalls located in and around Hocking Hills State Park. The clear turquoise water, the surrounding sandstone cliffs and the stone footbridge that frame the 20-foot tall fall only adds to the beauty that is Upper Falls.
To reach Upper Falls, park in at the Old Man’s Cave parking lot furthest from the visitors center. The trailhead is just off the parking lot’s eastern end near a wooden sign and walkway. The trail is well marked by blue blazes painted on trees along the path. This trail is also known as a section of the Buckeye Trail (the 1,444-mile-long trail that circles the state of Ohio) and the Grandma Gatewood Memorial Trail (a 6.5-mile long trail that passes through Old Man’s Cave, Cedar Falls, and ends at Ash Cave)
Note* Due to Covid-19 social distancing protocols, Hocking Hills State Park has implemented one-way trail systems for each hike. Follow all directions and avoid the opposite directions.
Starting at the trailhead, follow the path down the wooden ramp and across the footbridge that arcs above the falls. At this point, you can start to view the sandstone cliffs that surround the falls and the pool at the base of the falls. The footpath will eventually lead you to a stone staircase. Proceed down the steps and turn right at the bottom to walk over to the edge of the pool near Upper Falls.
The trail will take you along the creek and sandstone cliffs for a few hundred yards. At this point, you will cross a stone footbridge that spans over a feature known as Devil’s Bathtub. Continuing past Devil’s Bathtub I was in constant awe at the trail’s beauty. I was hiking during early February, so in addition to the Blackhand sandstone cliffs that surrounded the trail, I got to enjoy the ice formations that formed over sections of rock and hung over parts of the trail.
A note about winter hiking: when hiking during the winter months where snow and ice can accumulate, it is important to carry a pair of micro-spikes for your boots. These micro-spikes proved to be a savior during my weekend at Hocking Hills State Park, and I lost track of how many people commented that they wish they also had a pair. The ice that covers the steps and portions of the trails was causing people to slip and fall all around me, including a lady who slipped down an entire stone staircase at the rock tunnel. Thankfully she wasn’t badly hurt. I own, and highly recommend, the Kahtoola MICROspikes Traction System from REI.
Not too far after passing Devil’s Bathtub will you pass a junction in the trail. At this point, you can continue on the trail to view the Old Man’s Cave area and the Lower Falls area, or you can turn right and proceed up the steps towards the Old Man’s Cave Visitors Center.
Old Man’s Cave was named after Richard Rowe, a man who lived most of his life underneath the overhang cave during the early 1800s. I was informed by a park ranger that Richard’s body was buried under the overhang cave after his death. Old Man’s Cave is much smaller than the nearby massive Ash Cave, but more than makes up with the area’s beautiful surroundings.
The trail will follow the creek through the gorge along tall cliffs and through sandstone tunnels until you reach Old Man’s Cave. You can, at this point, explore the cave and return to the visitors center by hiking up the tunnel, or you can continue on the trail heading towards Lower Falls. The trail is well maintained and steps are cut into the hillside to help traverse the terrain. A well-marked intersection will identify the path you need to follow to reach Lower Falls.
There are three paths you can take from Lower Falls. One path leads you upstairs and out of the gorge to the visitor’s center. Another trail, located near the exit trail, leads a short distance over to Broken Rock Falls. The final option is to return to the trail junction prior to Lower Falls and continue hiking south on the Grandma Gatewood Memorial Trail (Buckeye Trail Section) towards Cedar Falls and ending at Ash Cave (an additional 5 miles away).
For the purpose of this post, I will recommend taking the short hike from Lower Falls to Broken Rock Falls (0.2 Miles Out and Back). To reach Broken Rock Falls, follow the trail to the left at the sign leading towards the visitor’s center. This trail will follow the sandstone cliff past a small overhang cave and down some steps eventually leading you to Broken Rock Falls. Broken Rock Falls is tucked between two massive sandstone cliffs. Snagging a good view of this waterfall will involve climbing on some nearby boulders for a better vantage point.
When ready, depart the trail by returning to Lower Falls and following the trail junction up the steps and out of the gorge. Follow the trail back to the visitor’s center.
My favorite features of this hike include the sandstone caves the trail cuts through the unique Broken Rock Falls and Old Man’s Cave. I felt Lower Falls was underwhelming after seeing the spectacular Upper Falls and Broken Rock Falls.