For the Most Enchanting Winter Escape, Head to This Appalachian Park
Frozen waterfalls, woodland lodges, and the devil’s own bathtub.
I know what you're thinking: Ohio is the last place on God's green earth you'd choose for a fairytale winter vacation, especially when snow globe towns across New England look to have been plucked straight from a Hallmark movie. I'm from Ohio myself and, hell, I'll admit it. Winter makes most of us want to pack up and move to Florida (seriously, one in 20 Ohioans eventually moves to Florida). But hear me out: one wander into the Hocking Hills after a snowfall is enough to change anyone's mind.
This state park on the fringes of Appalachia is where Ohio's most impressive waterfalls, caves, and gorges converge. In the winter, frigid temps transform the falls into ice curtains that dangle majestically over stories-high recess caves, conjuring scenes from Frozen. The trails are quiet, but inside the lodge is lively as ever.
If that doesn't sell you, how about the fact that Hocking Hills State Park is less than a four-hour drive from at least half a dozen major Midwestern cities—including Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Indianapolis. That means the park is easy for many to get to, and it’s perfectly plausible to tag on a few other wonderland pit stops along the way.
Get your boots on, we're going for a walk in the Ohio forest. Here’s everything to marvel at while you’re there.
Explore caves, frozen falls, and the Devil’s Bathtub
Hocking Hills State Park spans more than 2,000 acres and includes seven designated hiking areas. The easiest, most accessible area is the half-mile walk to Ash Cave, a horseshoe-shaped recess cave that soars 90 feet over visitors' heads. For most of the year, water plunges off the edge and pools in the sand. In the winter, though, the overhanging cliffs host icy daggers you most definitely wouldn't be wise to walk under.
From Ash Cave, you can take the Grandma Gatewood Trail—a very Ohiolike-named stretch of the 1,400-mile Buckeye Trail that circumnavigates the entire state—2.5 miles to Cedar Falls, a 50-foot waterfall. You could then go another couple miles further to Old Man's Cave, the most tourist-centric part of the park, where the most well-known sites are concentrated.
Here, you'll find a picture-perfect frozen waterfall framed by a stone bridge, a wealth of tunnels and recess caves, and rock formations like the Sphinx Head and Devil's Bathtub. The latter is a bowl-shaped sandstone basin where the water from Old Man's Creek froths and swirls like it would inside a cauldron. (Rest assured: Both Cedar Falls and Old Man's Cave are located a mile or less from parking lots, if your toes are too cold to walk the ole Granny Gatewood.)
Park-goers keen to avoid the tourist track entirely will be treated to the most spectacular cave of all and the only "true" cave in the park. Although recess caves abound, Rock House is one you can wander through and disappear into a hollowed-out sandstone abyss.
Go park hopping for more nearby adventure
Bet you didn't know that Ohio has more state parks than Utah has state and national parks combined? There are so many here, in fact, that Hocking Hills actually borders another one, Lake Logan State Park, where you can find locals passing their precious winter daylight hours. Bring your own ice skates or a fishing pole to join them on the frozen lake, and don't forget the binoculars for eagle spotting. When swathed in a few inches of snow, the hills around the lake are also popular for sledding.
And if you're willing to drive as far as 20 miles from Old Man's Cave on winding country roads, you'll find the most elusive and picturesque waterfall of them all. Corkscrew Falls is kept so far under wraps that it doesn't appear on tourist maps and requires a permit to visit. Once you acquire access to Boch Hollow Nature Preserve through the Department of Natural Resources, you can walk half a mile to the hidden spout and ice-shrouded gorge on an unmarked trail that begins at Zwickle Road and Ohio State Route 664.
Thaw out with a beverage
A day of enduring Ohio winter temperatures always calls for a beverage. The closest brew-with-a-view is found at Rock House Pub, inside the freshly renovated and hyggelicious Hocking Hills Lodge. If you’d rather indulge in flights of locally produced wine and your pick of eight charcuterie boards, set your GPS to Hocking Hills Winery, whose winter vibe entails a crackling fireplace and classic Appalachian folk music live on Friday and Saturday nights.
For moments when caffeine, not alcohol, is in order, the Hocking Hills Coffee Emporium is where to find specialty espresso drinks aptly named after local attractions, like Old Man Americanos or Lake Logan Lattes. Try a cardamom spice latte, matcha, or organic kombucha poured from the tap to regain your energy before the next hike.
Get cozy at a woodland rental
Sure, the nature sites and apres-hike havens are nice, but accommodations are where Hocking Hills goes buck wild. Overnighters get their pick of yurts, geodomes, tiny houses, and shipping container mansions that sleep a dozen people. One of the most spacious rentals around is the Hygge Box Hop, a Scandi-style cabin made of seven cargo containers (and with its own six-person outdoor sauna). On the other hand, some of the smallest stays are the (heated!) yurts at the Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls.
Additionally, you have treehouses, like those at River Ranch or the Instagramable cylindrical Hemlock oasis by Hocking Hills Treehouse Cabins, for example. You can find more tiny houses at the Lily Pad, with its all-glass garage door connecting lodgers to the great outdoors, and—of course—back to the lodge, which is always a safe option.