Story & Photos by Matt Bayman
People often associate Conkles Hollow with Hocking Hills State Park, but it is in fact its own nature preserve, separate from the park. It’s also considered one of the best places in Ohio to hike, especially in the fall.
Each year, thousands of people come to Conkles Hollow State Nature Preserve in Logan to hike the 2.5 mile Rim Trail, plus the 1 mile Gorge Trail. Both trails take hikers through different parts of this truly magical place.
The Rim Trail (for the brave at heart) circles the rim of Conkles Hollow gorge. The gorge is formed out of Black Hand sandstone and sometimes rises nearly 200 feet above the valley floor. In some places, there is only 100 feet between the two sides of the gorge, which is considered one of the deepest in Ohio. The panoramic views of the surrounding Appalachian foothills on the trail are some of the best in the state.
The Gorge Trail, which is wheelchair accessible, passes through the middle of the fern-covered valley, looking up at the tall cliffs and rock formations on the sides, and the hemlock, birch and hardwood trees growing above. At the end of the trail is a beautiful waterfall that many visitors to the Hocking Hills region are unaware of.
There are several things to remember when hiking Conkles Hollow. For the Rim Trail, in order to avoid unnecessary congestion or injury, all traffic flows counterclockwise around the gorge. This makes navigating some of the more challenging and narrow parts much easier.
The first thing hikers do upon entering the trail is climb a long set of stairs, followed by several hills. At the steepest part of the ascent, a rope on the side of the trail helps hikers pull themselves to the top of the gorge. Once at the top, the beautiful views come right away, and continue to come one after another.
There are several clearings and rock ledges on the Rim Trail where hikers can relax and enjoy the view, which is a good thing after the steep climb.
The first part of the trail is the most rewarding, but probably the most dangerous. Parts of the trail are located just inches from more than 100 foot drops. In the winter, or after rain, these same areas can be slippery. People have been injured from falls (and worse), so be careful. And if you don’t like heights, don’t go. Or, just go and do the Gorge Trail, which contains no heights.
With that said, it really is possible to stay back from the edge on the Rim Trail. In fact, in many areas, there are two trails blazed. One goes near the edge and the other stays a little farther away.
There are a few other uneasy places along the Rim Trail, but after completing the eastern side of the rim, the trail moves to more solid ground, away from the edge, but remains equally beautiful, passing several waterfalls and unique rock formations.
The final descent is made easier with several long sets of wooden stairs that gradually take hikers to the floor of the gorge and back to the parking lot, or, to the start of the Gorge Trail.
The Rim Trail takes about two hours to hike, with plenty of stops to enjoy the scenery. The Gorge Trail (pictured above) can be done in less than 45 minutes.
There are several hidden treasures located near Conkles Hollow State Nature Preserve that are also worth checking out.
The first is the Hocking Climbing and Rappelling Area, which consists of 99 acres of forest land that has been set aside specifically for rock climbing and rappelling. If you don’t have your own equipment, contact Hocking Hills Ecotours for help.
A couple of lesser-known caves—Chapel Cave and 21 Horse Cave—are located near Conkles Hollow. Chapel Cave is near the rappelling area on Big Pine Road and is easily accessible, while 21 Horse Cave requires a hike to reach it.
Just down the road from Conkles Hollow is Grandma Faye’s Grocery and Souvenir Shop. It’s a great place to stop for breakfast or lunch before a hike, or for a tasty treat or dinner afterwards. They have ice cream, burgers, drinks, T-shirts, crystals and gems, and everything else.
A major recommendation for hiking Conkles Hollow, or just visiting the Hocking Hills region, is to visit during an off-time, with Tuesdays and Wednesdays being the least busy. This way, you can take your time and not be crowded or rushed on the trails.
Finally, while most visitors to Hocking Hills are familiar with Old Man’s Cave, Ash Cave and Cedar Falls, which certainly are beautiful, don’t forget about some of the peripheral attractions in the area, namely, Cantwell Cliffs and Rock House (both part of Hocking Hills State Park) and nearby Rockbridge State Nature Preserve. All three are stunning works of nature and beautiful in the fall.