Posted in Hiking, Park visit

Hocking Hills State Park: Old Man’s Cave / Cedar Falls Loop Hike

We are going to describe one of our favorite loop trails in the Hocking Hills State Park. The outbound portion of the the trail follows the Grandma Gatewood Trail, named after the famed Emma Gatewood. The Grandma Gatewood Trail is a segment of the 1,500 mile Buckeye Trail and is marked with blue blazes or blue marker posts.

Deb just passed through a gap between a cliff and a slump block. The stairs that were carved into living stone are the work of the Civilian Conservation Corp, a works project of the Great Depression era.




Below is a screenshot of the GPS trace of our hike courtesy of Google’s My Tracks app. We started at the red marker near the Upper Falls and traveled counter-clockwise. The large body of water near the center of the map is Rose Lake, which we passed on our return route.

GPS trace of our six-mile, loop hike between Old Man’s Cave and Cedar Falls. To view a larger, interactive version at Google Maps, click here.

We arrived at the Old Man’s Cave parking lot around 9:30 AM on a sunny, July morning. At one end of the parking lot is a sidewalk leading to the Visitors Center. The center includes restrooms, a gift shop, and a snack bar (open in the summer).

Go to the sidewalk below the parking lot and head away from the Visitor Center and toward the Grandma Gatewood trailhead and the Upper Falls.
Commemorative placard at the start of the Grandma Gatewood Trail

The Grandma Gatewood Trail starts with a boardwalk that passes a small falls and then crosses a stone bridge over the Upper Falls, it then descends a set of stone stairs down to the a sand beach across from the Upper Falls. The Upper Falls is one of the most photographed waterfalls in the state.

The falls above the upper falls… what I call the “Upper upper falls.”
A stone bridge crosses above the Upper Falls

At this point, we’re in the gorge canyon that comprises most of the Old Man’s Cave site. The rim walls are made of hard Blackhand sandstone and extend from about 50 ft to several hundred feet in height. There are several waterfalls along the route. During spring, or during an unusually rainy summer, there are even some small, temporary falls drizzling off the rim.

This outbound hike to Cedar Falls would take us past the following features:

  • Upper Falls
  • The Devil’s Bathtub
  • Under the A-frame bridge
  • Old Man’s Cave
  • The Sphinx
  • Lower Falls
  • Over a boardwalk in Rose Valley
  • Whispering Falls
  • Cedar Falls

At Cedar Falls we stopped for lunch before returning via a different route.

From the Upper Falls, we next went down some stairs and crossed a bridge over the stream. Despite it being a warm day in July, the air was moist and cool in the gorge. The canyon towered high overhead and the stream dropped into a feature known as the ‘Devil’s Bathtub’ and then over a small falls.

The Devil’s Bathtub has captured quite a few logs at this point.

We descended farther into the gorge, past a waterfall below the Visitors Center and then back and forth across the stream via bridges.

This is a series of falls below the Visitors Center.

An open concrete bridge crossed the stream below the A-Frame bridge that spans the gorge. Hours later we’d return from our loop hike via this A-Frame bridge.

The A-frame bridge passes over a cement bridge.
We crossed the cement bridge that sits under the A-frame bridge on the trail to Old Man’s Cave.

Going past a bend, Old Man’s Cave came into view on the opposite cliff face. Old Man’s Cave is a tall, but shallow recess cave.

Old Man’s Cave and Middle Falls

Then the path descended into a tunnel though the rock. On the opposite side, the path splits. To the right, a stone bridge crosses the stream offering a view of the Middle Falls and then leads up through Old Man’s Cave back to the visitor center. We did not cross this bridge. Instead we followed the path to the left that goes toward the Lower Falls.

This tunnel in on the way to Old Man’s Cave, right before you come to a bridge to cross over to Old Man’s Cave.
Woman reading placard describing the geological feature known as “The Sphinx”. To the left is the bridge leading over to Old Man’s Cave (don’t cross it for this hike). Beyond the bridge is Old Man’s Cave. The dark portion in the cliff on the right-hand side of the photo is where people exit the tunnel.

Before going to the left, we paused to look downstream at the rock formation known as the Sphinx that looks like the profile of a man’s face.

The cliff to the right is known as “The Sphinx” because it looks like the profile of a face. It looks like the nose has become a bit sunburned.
Beyond the Sphynx, stairs carved in stone along side of a cliff

We arrived at the Lower Falls soon after passing the Sphinx. The Lower Falls is spectacular with the gorge walls soaring high above on either side. The path splits again with another stone bridge leading off to the right. We didn’t cross this bridge either in order to pursue our six-mile loop hike, but in a previous article we discuss how you can go to Broken Falls after crossing the bridge at Lower Falls.

People gathering near the Lower Falls

On the way to Cedar Falls the Grandma Gatewood Trail parallels Queer Creek. Bob Neinast provides a detailed explanation of the geology behind Queer Creek’s name here. The route is marked with both the standard Buckeye Trail blue blazes and wooden posts with a line of blue paint around them. There are numerous wooden and stone bridges along the trail and wooden stairs or stone steps in a few places.

Boardwalk near Rose Valley

Rose Valley is the low region below Rose Lake. There is a nice boardwalk that allows hikers to pass through this relatively muddy region. However it is impossible to hike the trail without getting into mud at some point or other. A few metal benches have been placed near the half-way point. Since the valley is heavily forested and tends to be a little cooler and moister than up on the rim, resting on these benches can be quite pleasant.

Benches are located periodically along the trail in conjunction with signs to provide orientation.

Sandstone outcroppings are visible on the adjacent rim wall. Here and there, the trail skirts large slump blocks.

Slump blocks along the trail
Deb approaching a slump block next to Queer Creek

We continued our journey on the Grandma Gatewood trail. As you get closer to Cedar Falls, the path goes up and down steep hills, threading it’s way between cliffs and large slump blocks.

Traversing some trail obstacles
The Grandma Gatewood Trail passes over this boulder. If you click on the photo to look at a larger version, you can see that there is an approaching person scrambling over the bolder going the other way.
Bob approaching a natural tunnel formed by a giant slump block leaning against a cliff.

Eventually we turned a corner and saw a hundred foot high sandstone cliff. A stream of water poured off the top landing near the creek. This was “Whispering Falls”. This waterfall flows well in the spring and after long periods of rain, but tends to dry up in the late summer and fall.

Whispering Falls is the white, misty plume just visible in the upper right against the darker trees.
Whispering Falls, viewed head on. Bob is standing in front and to the left to provide scale.

Finally we came to a metal bridge across one Queer Creek’s feeder streams. The path veered to the left. We were at Cedar Falls. Rather than immediately heading for the falls, we took the path up to the parking area. The trail forks here with one path leading upwards to the picnic area and the trailhead onward towards Ash Cave.The other path follows the feeder stream to the waterfall named Cedar Falls and then beyond to the Gorge Overlook Trail back to Old Man’s Cave. We went up the ramp to the picnic area for lunch. There we found picnic tables and restrooms.

Red squirrel having lunch at one of the picnic tables near Cedar Falls

From the picnic area, were we to continue following the Grandma Gatewood Trail, we would end up at Ash Cave. However at this point we wanted to turn around and head back toward the parking area at Old Man’s Cave. We re-traced our steps heading back down into the gorge. But instead of heading back along Queer Creek, we headed up the feeder stream towards Cedar Falls crossing several bridges across the feeder stream. Since it was mid-summer, the viewing area for the falls was filled with people.

Cecar Falls

The path back to Old Mans Cave via the Gorge Overlook Trail is reached via the stairs immediately adjacent to Cedar Falls. Go up the stairs and follow the sign that directs you to the “Suspension Bridge”. We followed the path out through an open field and then crossed a latticework steel suspension bridge that spans the stream above the falls.

The Suspension Bridge — The decorative piece at the top is a representation of one of the park’s geological features known as “The Sphinx.”

We crossed the bridge and we were now on the Gorge Overlook Trail which would return us to Old Man’s Cave. This trail is marked with red marker posts (and mysteriously in one spot a white blaze). The trail is wide and pleasant going through mixed deciduous and hemlock forest.

Trail after the suspension bridge

The trail follows the rim of the Queer Creek gorge. It crosses a number of small streams via stone bridges. At the half-way point, the forest opens onto Rose Lake.

Rose Lake

The trail crosses the lake’s earthen dam, then turns sharply left and downward. The trail continues on past an overlook with benches and finally ends up at the A-frame bridge at Old Man’s Cave. We crossed the bridge, stopped briefly at the Visitors Center gift shop and then returned to our car.

Bob checking out the view near the overlook
Looking over a little waterfall on the trail between Rose Lake and the A-frame bridge
Trail beyond the overlook
Going across the A-frame bridge

By the time we were ready to leave, it was almost dinner time, so we headed up the road to the nearby Hocking Dining Lodge for dinner. The Dining Lodge is located near the Hocking Hills State Park cottages.




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© Deborah Platt, Robert Platt and TrekOhio.com 2012 to 2017

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