With the cold air whipping through Ohio, it's far too easy to grab a cup of warm cider and just stay inside and wait for spring. Yet, staying inside is a nonlinear path directly toward cabin fever. Ohio's majestic forests are known for their autumnal beauty as the leaves change, but winter also leaves a spectacular mark on these forests that is surprisingly fresh, crisp and serene.
Hocking Hills' moss-covered rocks stand against the backdrop of lush evergreens, and skeleton trees that are merely storing energy for spring's new buds. The waterfalls, depending on the temperature that day, either fill the hollows of these hills with the sound of fresh water, or provide you with one of nature's best displays – the natural ice-sculpture. Even if mother nature doesn't deliver a blanket of snow across the gorges, waterfalls and tree-lined trails, the rugged beauty of this region still shines, regardless of the weather. The trails, walkways and bridges underwent a series of improvements recently, and a new staircase has been added to descend into Cedar Falls.
Hocking Hill's beauty can be traced back to its geology. More than 300 million years ago, this area was a shallow sea. The area's signature Black Hand standstone was deposited by streams leaving pebbles and sand behind in the deltas. The caves, gorges and rocks were carved into this porous stone as ice sheets melted over the centuries. For the adventurous, each year, on the third Saturday of January, you can join more than 5000 hikers who, along with their dogs, make the annual six-mile trek from Old Man's Cave to Ash Cave. This hike will take you around five hours to complete. Ash Cave is Ohio's largest cave, where the east fork of Queer Creek cascades into a pool below. This cave provides a roomy shelter to rest and take photographs.
There is a return shuttle that will take you back to Old Man's Cave. There are educational activities and refreshments included in this hike, and many events start on Friday. These include a reenactment of a frontier encampment during the French and Indian War, a kettle of sassafras tea brewed over an open fire, and frontier games for kids. At the end of the trail, there is bean soup, cornbread and hot chocolate.
The lodging options surrounding Hocking Hills range from cabins, cottages, hotels, campgrounds, country inns and bed and breakfasts. Buffalo Lodging offers a romantic getaway, complete with a fireplace and gourmet meals for two, or a large family event that can sleep up to 32 guests.
Glenlaurel Inn offers beautiful loding in the hills, with a spa and golf course -- and more gourmet food.
Dress for the weather: Layer your clothing, wear proper footwear with good traction, and of course, hats and gloves.
To join the annual Hocking Hills Winter Hike, hikers should meet at Hocking Hills State Park Campground anytime from 9 – 11 a.m., on the third Saturday of January. The Winter Hike and per and post-hike activities are free. Donations are encouraged for the refreshments and the return ride to Old Man's Cave.