The 59th Annual Winter Hike
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
Outdoor enthusiasts will head into the Hocking Hills this January 20, 2024 hoping for a repeat performance by Mother Nature, who last year delivered some spectacular scenery for the annual Winter Hike. Last January, some 5,600 hikers were treated to the awesome beauty of the sun sparkling on icy waterfalls, and sandstone rock formations covered with newly fallen snow. This year's hikers will hope for the same wintry weather, but will not be disappointed, no matter what the forecast. The rugged beauty of this region is a delight all by itself, and in any season.
The Winter Hike follows a trail that winds through Hocking Hills State Park for about 6 miles. The trail starts at the park campground, and continues to the Upper Falls of Old Man's Cave. Hikers are led in small groups on an interpretive walk to this point, and then left to finish the hike at their own pace.
Old Man Richard Rowe, area hermit
In case your guide doesn't tell you, Old Man's Cave gets it name from one of its first inhabitants. Hermit Richard Rowe lived in the cave and is buried at the site. Before Rowe, brothers Pat and Nathaniel Rayon used the cave as temporary shelter around 1795 while they built a cabin nearby.
The trail continues to the beautiful Cedar Falls, and passes crystal-clear, spring-fed Rose Lake on the way. Cedar Falls plunges a dramatic 50 feet into a crystal pool. Here hikers can descend a staircase and view the tallest tree in Ohio, a towering hemlock that extends upward 149 feet from the valley below.
Cedar Falls is also the the mid-way point of the hike. Here hungry hikers will enjoy a hearty lunch--steaming bean soup made the old-fashioned way in huge iron kettles, corn bread, and plenty of hot beverages.
Tall trees, big caves, great bean soup
Hocking Hills State Park is home not only to Ohio's tallest tree, but also to Ohio's largest cave. As you continue on after lunch, the trail takes you right to Ash Cave, where the east fork of Queer Creek cascades in spectacular fashion over the rim to a pool below. Like Old Man's Cave, Ash Cave was important as shelter to the area's earliest inhabitants. This roomy recess served a stopover along the main trail that connected the West Virginia villages of the Shawnee Indians with their villages along the Scioto River at Chillicothe.
When you reach Ash Cave, you will have been walking for about five hours. At this point, park officials provide vehicles to drive you back to Old Man's Cave, although hardy hikers can certainly continue on the trail if they wish. If you are ready for refreshments, though, we should tell you that the last group of hikers were treated to doughnuts and hot drinks back at Old Man's Cave.
Meanwhile back at the cave
Back at Old Man's Cave, hikers were also invited to sample sassafras tea brewed over an open kettle, and enjoyed a reenactment of a frontier encampment during the French and Indian War. We don't know yet what post-hike activities are planned for this January. Each year brings something new, and you are bound to enjoy the surprise.
Pre-hike activities are also offered the evening before. Naturalists' programs, games, and refreshments begin on Friday, January 19, at 7 p.m. in the Dining Lodge of Hocking Hills State Park.
New and improved Winter Hike
Those who have not participated in the Winter Hike for a few years will be delighted with improvements and repairs to the trails, walkways, and bridges, and the new staircase that descends to Cedar Falls. And if you haven't been in the Hocking Hills region for awhile, you might not be aware that the population of black bears has been growing in southeastern Ohio.
Hikers just might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of one of these awesome creatures among the caves in this area.
Abundant wildlife, beautiful scenery, stunning geological formations, and thousands of years of human history--enjoy it all at the 2024 Winter Hike. And don't forget the fresh air, exercise, and great food. See you there!
January 20, 2024, 9:00 - 11:00 a.m.
Hikers should assemble at Hocking Hills State Park Campground at any time from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturday, January 20. The Winter Hike and all pre-hike and post-hike activities are free. Donations are encouraged for the refreshments, and for the return ride to Old Man's Cave. Commemorative patches and hiking stick medallions are available for purchase.
The Grandma Gatewood Trail
When you hike this 6-mile segment of trail, you are actually walking three trails simultaneously. This segment is part of two national systems, the North Country Scenic trail and America's Discovery Trail.
You are also walking a segment of Ohio's Buckeye Trail that is officially christened the "Grandma Gatewood Trail." This part of the trail is named in honor of Emma Gatewood of Gallia County who, at the age of 71, hiked the Appalachian Trail by herself. Yes, Grandma Gatewood completed a solo hike from Maine to Georgia in 1958. In 1959, Gatewood walked some 2000 miles from Missouri to Oregon. In 1960 and 1963, she again hiked the Appalachian Trail solo, and in the years between, walked countless miles all over the Ohio countryside.
Yes, Emma Gatewood loved to walk, but her favorite hike was this very same 6-mile stretch of trail that connects Old Man's Cave, Cedar Falls, and Ash Cave. Emma Gatewood led the first Winter Hike and continued to do so for the next 12 years, missing only one hike until her death in 1973 at the age of 85.
|by Donna Fioto||