Posted in Central Ohio, Hiking, Park review

Christmas Rocks State Nature Preserve

It had been a good hike so far. During the past several miles, we had enjoyed seeing rocky outcroppings, mature trees, and carpets of ferns. As we climbed a steep hill toward the top of the ridgeline, the trail widened and grew brighter. Distant buzzards soared effortlessly in the bright, blue sky. We found ourselves standing on a rocky cliff. A few hundred feet below, forest stretched out to the horizon. It sounds a bit like the Hocking Hills, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t. It was Christmas Rocks.

View from Jacobs Ladder Trail

Christmas Rocks sounds like the name of an album of holiday music. Instead it is a spectacular 554 acre nature preserve in Fairfield county. Until quite recently it was accessible by permit only. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) has removed that restriction, and now it is open to the public … if you can find it. There isn’t much online information about Christmas Rocks, but we’re attempting to remedy that.

The entrance to Christmas Rocks State Nature Preserve is a nondescript gravel road with a brown wooden sign announcing the preserve and a bit farther down the road, a small kiosk. As you walk down the road, a small stream (Arney Run) is to your right. The road parallels the stream, slowly climbing. Follow the road, ignoring all the small side roads on the left side. The road continues to climb, above the stream which will be in a valley to your right. You will eventually see another kiosk with more trail information. The road will turn from gravel into a mown grass path. Continue onward.

Eventually you’ll come to the first of two loop trails. If you go left, you will be starting the southern trailhead for the Jacob’s Ladder trail loop. This trail is designated as an orange path on the kiosk’s trail map and by orange markers on the trail. If you choose to go straight instead, you’ll be following the Christmas Rocks Trail, designated by a blue path on the map and by blue markers on the trail. We went straight ahead on the Christmas Rocks trail until we got to the upper portion of the trail. Then we did the Christmas Rocks loop. Once the loop brought us back to the road, we followed the main road southwards until we reached the stairway that’s the northern trailhead for the Jacobs Ladder trail loop (see my GPS trace near the bottom of this post). Both trails are well-marked by color coded posts and ribbons; there were wooden bridges over streams and wet areas.

The southern trailhead for the Jacobs Ladder loop trail is to the left.
The northern trailhead for the Jacobs Ladder loop trail is accessed via these stairs.

The Christmas Rocks trail takes you through mature forest with several large rock outcroppings, fern-edged trails, and hills. It also leads across ridgelines. It is very pretty countryside.

There were bridges over the streams.
The trail edged around some pretty steep hills.
Mature trees
A view from the trail
Deb making her way around an outcropping.
A recess cave
A fern-edged trail
What a big fungus! Deb thinks this might be Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus cincinnatus).
Poke milkweed (Asclepias exaltata)
Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly (Calopteryx maculata — Beauvois)
Blossoming wild onion
Moss reproduction
Spotted Wintergreen

The Jacob’s Ladder trail is very similar, except towards the end of the loop, you find yourself standing on a cliff looking towards the southwest over the heavily forested Hocking Hills in the distance. It is a spectacular view. According to the Fairfield County Visitors and Convention Center, from this point to the base of the cliff is a 100-foot sheer drop (30.5 meters). From the top of the cliff to the creek in the valley below is 300 feet (91.4 meters).

Deb snapping some shots
View from Jacobs Ladder trail
Another view from Jacobs Ladder

The trail lead back to the main path and from there we walked back to the park entrance. We walked both loop trails and returned to our starting point, a total distance of 4.75 miles.

I spoke by phone to Jeffrey Johnson, the SE Preserve Manager for ODNR and confirmed that even though you will see old “permit only” signs as you enter the preserve, a permit is no longer required. However the ODNR is doing an experiment by opening Christmas Rocks Nature Preserve to the general public. If it looks like the hikers are harming this fragile habitat, ODNR will re-institute the permit policy.

About the name, “Christmas Rocks”

The early settlers are responsible for the name, “Christmas Rocks.” Mr Johnson was kind enough to share two theories as to why they may have chosen this particular name.

  • The settlers may have collected ferns known as “Christmas ferns” (Polystichum acrostichoides) to use for a holiday decoration. Christmas ferns remain green most of the winter; when spring is nearly here, they brown and wither to make way for the new season’s foliage.
  • Alternatively, the settlers may have named the area “Christ Rocks,” and this named changed into “Christmas Rocks” over time. The inspiration for the “Christ Rocks” theory is that there are rocks in the preserve with large fissures (although they’re not on the trail). Seeing the fissures may have reminded the settlers of the biblical passage, Mathew 27:51:

    Suddenly the curtain in the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom, the earth shook, rocks were split open.

Deb’s two cents

Deb is inclined to believe the area was named after the ferns. Her thinking is that the two neighboring areas in the preserve, “Christmas Rocks” and “Jacob’s Ladder”, both refer to vegetation. Jacob’s Ladder is a spring, wildflower that is native to Ohio. Her guess is that it is (or was) prevalent in the region when sites were being named.

Jacobs Ladder (Polemonium reptans); it was named this because the way the leaves go up the stem reminded someone of a ladder.
The flower’s name also alludes to a Bible passage: Genesis 28:10-19.
Additional information

  • Address: 2340 Meister Rd SW, Lancaster, Ohio 43130 (estimated using Google Maps)
  • Directions: The trail-head for Christmas Rocks State Nature Preserved is located at the intersection of Meister Rd SW, Oil Mill Hollow Rd SW, and Crooks Rd SW in Fairfield County just south of Lancaster.
  • GPS Coordinates: 39.639748, -82.650034
  • Google Maps: View on map or get directions

Update: The park trailhead is close to the Mink Hollow Covered Bridge. Originally when we posted this article Christmas Rocks Preserve had no parking lot of its own, and people instead parked in the lot near the bridge. Since then a dedicated parking lot for the preserve has been installed. It lies between the parking lot for the bridge and the trailhead.

You can see a bit of the covered bridge peeking through the trees to the left of the car.
The Mink Hollow Covered Bridge — the Roof overhangs the bridge from either entrance.

Besides the Mink Hollow Covered Bridge, there are two other nearby covered bridges. If you are interested in seeing them, check out the county’s list of covered bridges.

A GPS trace of our hike is embedded below. For a larger resolution image showing more of the surrounding roads, click here.

GPS trace of our hike at Christmas Rocks

More on Fairfield County

© Deborah Platt, Robert Platt and 2012 to 2021

14 thoughts on “Christmas Rocks State Nature Preserve

  1. Thank you so much for introducing us to Christmas Rocks. Some very interesting features, without the crowds! Our cell did not work there, so if anyone goes, print off the great directions above. It is somewhat remote.

  2. Wonderful info. do you know if Christmas Rocks is currently open to the public? Will be in Hocking Hills at the end of April and this preserve looks worth hiking. do you know the number of feet of elevation from the trailhead to Jacob’s Ladder? We are older (60’s-70’s) and in fairly good shape but will have done a 5 mile hike earlier in the day. Thinking we would only do 3 miles. Thank you.

    1. No permit is required to visit Christmas Rocks. The difficulty with the trail to Jacob’s Ladder is not so much that it’s high, rather it’s the steepness. We visited one fall when it was covered in acorns (nature’s ball bearings) – it was rather challenging. That should NOT be an issue in the spring. If you go be sure and check-out the three nearby covered bridges.

  3. My wife and I took our 3 young kids here last weekend. Never heard of the place until I read your post. Was a fun hike up Jacob’s Ladder, with a nice view.

    It was hard to find, your directions were great and yes, it was worth the trip. Thanks!

  4. Hello, I would really like to try to hike the trail. I was there today but did not see any signs to the place or find anything on the map (high resolution on Google). Can you give me a little better directions to the road I need to locate? Thanks Kevin D.

    1. 1) Park in the lot near the covered bridge (see photo above)
      2) Walk back (north) towards the three way intersection of Meister Rd SW, Crooks Rd, and the gravel road (Old Mill Hollow). (see Google Maps above).
      3) Walk north on the gravel road (Old Mill Hollow) till you see the first Christmas Rocks kiosk. Continue on the gravel road, it will turn into the Christmas Rocks trail (see GPS trace above).

      Christmas Rocks Preserve – hard to find, but worth the trip.

  5. Just visited Christmas Rocks Nature Preserve this weekend, after seeing this post. It’s a real treasure — you can almost get deep enough into the woods that you can’t hear civilization any more, almost! Thanks for the information!

    1. Jamie, I’m glad you had an opportunity to visit Christmas Rocks. It was my favorite, new preserve last year (new for me anyway). We’ve gone to several new places this year that I really enjoyed. One of these that we’ve already written up is Lake Katharine State Nature Preserve. I really liked the terrain there. I didn’t hike the Pine Ridge Trail, but I’m told if I can make it back in the third week of May that Big Leaf Magnolias will be blooming along this trail. Apparently that’s the only place in Ohio where this southern tree grows.

  6. Very lovely walk with You thru Your very beautiful photos. I was inspired from name “Christmas Rocks “. Your posts are a great pleasure to read also. Thank You.

    1. Thank you, Carol. 🙂 I have to confess that I took the photo of the Jacobs Ladder flower elsewhere. It is already past its blooming season.

      It’s been so hot and dry here lately.

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