You’ll think you’ve stepped onto another part of the world when you first lay eyes on Ash Cave in Hocking Hills State Park. This natural wonder is not only unique, it’s the largest recess cave in Ohio.
Formed over centuries by wind and water, the horseshoe-shaped cave is an awe-inspiring spectacle, with a towering sandstone amphitheater that seems to touch the sky. In winter, the park’s landscape transforms as a massive icicle forms from the cave’s rim.
So unsurprisingly, Ash Cave is one of the most popular spots and things to do in Hocking Hills. Let’s look at how you can make the most of your visit there.
Table of Contents
What Is Ash Cave?
In the heart of Hocking Hills State Park, you’ll find Ash Cave, the largest recess cave in Ohio with a length of 700 feet, a depth of 100 feet, and a height of 90 feet. Located in the park’s southernmost part, this impressive cave is formed by the weathering of the middle layer of Black Hand sandstone, while the upper and lower layers remain intact.
Getting to Ash Cave, means you’ll get to walk through deep gorges and paths once tread by Native Americans. You’ll spot a variety of wildflowers, including jewelweed, large flowered trillium, and Dutchman’s breeches, adding to the natural beauty of the area. The Ash Cave trail is also wheelchair accessible!
Inside the cave, you’ll encounter one of the tallest waterfalls in Ohio, a stunning feature that adds to the unique atmosphere of Ash Cave. The cave’s name comes from a large pile of ashes found by early settlers, believed to be the remnants of Native American campfires or metal smelting activities.
Over the centuries, Ash Cave has served many purposes. Archaeological findings suggest it was used as a shelter and workshop by early inhabitants. It has also been a meeting place for local communities, a worship location, and even now, it’s known for its acoustics and is a popular gathering spot.
How To Get There
Parking Lot Location: 39.395555881703444, -82.54632683558197
Reaching Ash Cave is actually quite straightforward.
There’s easy parking at the trailhead or in the large lot across the street. There, you’ll find clean pit bathrooms and a picnic shelter with tables, perfect for a quick rest or bite before hitting the trail.
Once you’re ready, You can simply make your way down the trail that leads to Ash Cave. It’s a one-way system, so you won’t have to worry about getting lost. The trail heads through a gorge lined with hemlocks and cliff walls, a sight to behold in itself. Part of the path is an asphalt trail, making it suitable for wheelchairs up to a point. However, be aware that there are some steps further ahead.
Halfway along the trail, you’ll reach Ash Cave and the waterfall (depending on what time of the year you’re visiting). Take a moment to soak in the beauty before continuing your journey. From the cave and waterfall, you can continue up a series of steps to the rim trail.
At the rim trail junction, you’re presented with two options. Turning right will lead you back to the parking lot. However, if you’re up for a longer adventure, turning left will take you on a 2.3 miles journey to Cedar Falls.
Pro Tip: You can also reach Ash Cave through the trail system that runs through Hocking Hills State Park. We reached it by doing a 10 mile out and back trail that started in the main parking area in the State Park (here’s a link to the exact trail we did).
The Best Hikes If You Want To See Ash Cave
If you want to do a bit more than the short walk from the main parking lot, there are a couple hikes we recommend. These will give you more of an opportunity to experience the stunning geography and landscape of Hocking Hills State Park while you work your way over to Ash Cave.
Our favorite option is to do the “Old Man’s Cave and Ash Cave via Buckeye Trail” hike. This starts you at the State Park Visitor Center and gives you the opportunity to see Old Man’s Cave and some beautiful scenery on your way to Ash Cave. This was the hike that we did the last time we were in Hocking Hills, and it’s definitely worth the effort. You can see a significant portion of the natural attractions in a single hike.
This hike has it all. You’ll walk through tunnels and deep gorges, along the river, and even see some waterfalls before you reach Ash Cave! We did this on a weekend during the off-season and only bumped into a few people. Our guess is if you did it during the warmer months it still wouldn’t be too busy once you got a couple miles away from Old Man’s cave (the crowds on any trail always drop off the further away you get from the main parking lot).
Pro Tip: It’s worth noting that this hike is 10 miles long, so you’ll probably want to set aside 2-4 hours depending on how fast you’ll be moving. If you like to take it slow or take lots of pictures, there will be plenty of distractions to slow you down!
The other hike you could do is to start at the Cedar Falls parking lot and work your way directly over to Ash Cave. This is about half the distance as the hike we did above, so it’s more approachable if you don’t want to spend a few hours on the trail.
The trade-off of doing this shorter hike is that you’ll miss a few of the main sights that are on the longer one. However, you’ll still see a lot more than simply parking at the Ash Trail Parking Lot! If you want to check out the Ash Cave Fire Tower this would be a nice option for you, since you’ll walk right past it on your way to Ash Cave.
Our Experience At Ash Cave
Our time at Ash Cave was a blast! Since we went there during the off-season there was only one person taking some pictures when we arrived, and she left shortly after. This gave us about 30 minutes where we had the place to ourselves!
We took plenty of pictures and videos, and sat down for some granola bars to make sure we had fuel for the hike back. Since there was no one else there we could explore and appreciate the sights and sounds without any disturbance, which really enhanced the overall experience.
This is obviously not something to realistically expect if you visit during peak season (especially on a weekend). However, if you want to minimize crowds so you can clearly hear the sounds of the water falling and take pictures without strangers in your shot, go early and on a weekday. We’ve read that plenty of people have been able to get some uninterrupted time in the cave even during the summer by doing this.
Trust us, it’s worth it!
The cave is massive, and pictures don’t really do it justice. You need to see it in person to appreciate the scale! We kept saying that we couldn’t believe something like this was in Ohio. We’ve driven through the state a bunch over the years, and there’s really no other place like it.
Pro Tip: There’s a spot we found in the western area of the cave where the sound waves from the waterfall bounce perfectly back at you. When you stand in front of this spot it sounds like the waterfall is actually pouring out of the rock face directly in front of you (when it’s actually far off to the side). It also amplifies the sound quite a bit!
Ideal Spots For Pictures
The beauty and size of Ash Cave makes it one of the most iconic spots in Hocking Hills, so you’ll probably want to get some pictures. The three areas that lend themselves to the best pictures and videos are at the top of the staircase heading down into the cave, the area behind the waterfall, and the flat dirt spot in the western part of the cave.
All of these places allow you to get a different angle and perspective which will lead to some great pictures. Plus, at least one of them will have nice lighting when you’re there (no matter where the sun is at the time of your visit).
You have to visit Ash Cave if you’re making a trip to Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio. Its grandeur and beauty will take your breath away. And now you know what to do to make your time there memorable!
If you have any stories or pictures from your time there, feel free to send them our way. We love seeing what our readers are up to.