Posted in Park visit

The Hocking Hills at Winter’s End

Like a lot of other people, I’m totally ready to leave winter behind at this point. However Bob convinced me to open myself to winter’s beauty once more by hiking in the Hocking Hills this past Friday. It was sunny, but cold (around 20° F, -6.7° C), so we had to bundle up. We visited two attractions in the Hocking Hills State Park: Ash Cave and Cedar Falls. Then we hiked the Gorge Trail in the Conkle’s Hollow State Nature Preserve. To make things easier for ourselves, we reduced our hiking by parking in the nearest parking lot associated with each of our three destinations.

During our visit every little twig had its own layer of snow. As snow melted there were periodic episodes of clouds of snow falling off tree branches or cliff edges from far above our heads.

Ash Cave
Snow falling off the edge of the cliff at Ash Cave

The snow cone pictured above is formed every winter as the drizzly falls above it freezes on impact. Although I’ve checked out the snow cone many times before, this is the largest that I’ve personally seen it. When we photograph it during the Annual Hocking Hills Winter Hike, there are scores of people milling about to provide a sense of scale. To make up for their absence, Bob encouraged me to go over and stand near it to give you an idea of how big it is.

Bob talked me into posing near the snow cone in Ash Cave to give a sense of scale.

And in the photo below I climbed up the ledge on the other side of Ash Cave to give you another perspective on the cone. I also wanted to give you a glimpse of the region above the cave. The trees on top of the rim are quite tall in their own right, and you can see what a beautiful, sunny day it was, too.

Blue skies above Ash Cave

As we headed out of Ash Cave, the view was still beautiful.

Leaving Ash Cave
Cedar Falls

We parked near the picnic shelter at Cedar Falls and headed down the stairs. There was so much snow on the stairs that it was sometimes difficult to make out the individual steps. Through out our hike, both Bob and I were wearing YakTrax over the soles of our hiking boots for added traction.

From the parking lot near Cedar Falls, this is stairway down to the valley floor. If you do the annual winter hike, organizers clear the stairs, but during this hike we could barely make them out.

We were soon following the trail along the creek that leads to Cedar Falls. Below is a trail photo showing how lacy the trees looked all decked out in snow.

This was one of the sights on the way to Cedar Falls.

Cedar Falls is always beautiful, but I love the way it looks in winter. Although the falls are frozen now, when you are on site you can still hear the rush of water pouring down around the ice.

Frozen Cedar Falls
A closer look at frozen Cedar Falls
The Gorge Trail of Conkle’s Hollow

During warmer weather, the Rim Trail at Conkle’s Hollow makes for a beautiful hike. However the idea of hiking around the edge of the rim during icy conditions gives me the willies. And it seems that park officials agree, because the stairs leading up the rim were closed.

In case you were wondering if the Rim Trail of Conkle’s Hollow is open in the winter, the answer is “no”.

Update: I have since learned that the Rim Trail is open during the winter. However, park officials will temporarily close the trail when it is deemed to be too icy to be safely hiked, and that’s what was going on during our visit to the preserve.

The Gorge Trail follows a small stream along the bottom of the gorge until the gorge ends in a box canyon. From beginning to end the trail is about a mile. Since you have to double back to get out, it’s two miles total. During our hike the trail itself was buried in snow, but if you visit Conkle’s Hollow during warmer weather you’ll see that around two-thirds of the trail consists of a concrete sidewalk, and it has been designed to be wheelchair accessible. Below is a photo of the snow-laden trail.

The trail is beneath the snow between this bench and the rail fence off to the right. Believe it or not, there’s a sidewalk under all that snow.

Along the way, Bob went into the little recess known as the “Grotto” at the base of the cliff.

Bob in the “Grotto” of Conkle’s Hollow

As you can see below, the trees edging the cliff top above were also heavily laden with snow.

Looking up at the snow cliff edge in Conkle’s Hollow

As I mentioned previously, this snow would periodically tumble down in large clouds.

Snow falling from the trees that edge Conkle’s Hollow

This cloud managed to envelop Bob.

Bob in a falling snow cloud

Once we left the sidewalk region of the trail (you can’t see it; it’s underneath the snow), the trail became trickier.

Bob sheltering in a small recess cave in Conkle’s Hollow. To his left you can see a frozen spring emanating from the cliff wall (the dark area with small, white icicles). Little springs like this made icy patches that were slippery and had to be crossed carefully.

To get as close as possible to the end of the box canyon, it was necessary to cross the small, frozen stream. Since the ice wasn’t particularly thick, there’s some chance that it will break. Although the stream isn’t deep, I wouldn’t want to get my feet wet in such frozen conditions, so I don’t think I’d try this without wearing waterproof boots.

Bob crossing the little stream in Conkle’s Hollow

The trail terminates in the box canyon pictured below.

Bob in the box canyon at Conkle’s Hollow

This little frozen waterfall shown below is the end of the line. If you visit here during warmer months, you’ll see that it is a drizzly, little falls.

A closer look at the frozen falls at the end of the box canyon

This was the end of our excursion. Afterwards for lunch we stopped by at the Hocking Hills State Park Dining Lodge for a nice, hot meal. Despite my initial reluctance to get out in the cold, I was glad that I did. 🙂

Additional information

More on the Hocking Hills

© Deborah Platt, Robert Platt and 2012 to 2021

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