In a scenic wonderland filled with dozens of majestic waterfalls, Cedar Falls stands out as not just the most unique, but the largest by volume in all of Hocking Hills State Park. Located within the picturesque canyon of Queer Creek, the falls were once home to a grist mill built by early settlers in the 1800’s. This primitive and remote area is known for its numerous grottos and wet weather waterfalls, one of which named Ice Falls can only be seen during the coldest part of the year. Situated as the halfway point between Old Mans Cave and Ash Cave along the 6 mile long Buckeye Trail, the falls can also be reached via a moderate 1 mile loop from its own trailhead on State Road 374.
Bottom Cedar Falls Trail | 1 Mile Loop
Old Mans Cave-Cedar Falls-Ash Cave | 6 Miles
Cedar Falls Location | Google Maps
For those less adventurous visitors that want to spend an afternoon visiting the falls without taking a 3 hour hike along the 6 mile Buckeye Trail, there is some good news. There are two very short and distinct trailheads for Cedar Falls, both located along State Road 374 within Hocking Hills State Park. If you’re in a rush, the north trailhead to Cedar Falls is located right above the falls and literally takes a mere 10 minutes to reach. The one downside is that you miss out on seeing many of the towering cliffs and grottos that makes this picturesque canyon so unique.
To fully experience the beauty of this place, I recommend beginning your journey from the main trailhead on the south end of the falls. While the main trail to Cedar Falls was originally only 0.5 miles long, the park has recently redirected all of their hiking trails into One Way Loops. This has added an extra 0.5 miles to the trail to create a 1 mile loop from start to finish with a few options for visitors wishing to explore the area a little more in depth.
Our journey begins as we descend nearly 200 feet along a steep hillside from the trailhead parking lot to the banks of Queer Creek. This river valley is a side shoot, spurring off the much larger canyon that connects most of the main attractions of Hocking Hills State Park. Once you reach the bottom of the hill, you’ll want to make a sharp right turn at the “T” intersection to head to Cedar Falls. If you were to go straight, you would be heading on a long journey along the Grandma Gatewood Trail (Blue Blazes) to Whispering Cave. This is a small fragment of the much larger Buckeye Trail.
Walking along the banks of Queer Creek to the foot bridge one can spot, if not hear the trickling sound of a light waterfall just on the other side of the creek. That is the site of Ice Falls, which is a waterfall only visible during the depths of winter. Barely seen during the rest of the year, the mix of high precipitation and freezing temperatures between the months of December through February creates a frozen stream of water stretching the entire height of the canyon in that very spot. While there are taller waterfalls in the Hocking Hills Region such as this one, Cedar Falls is notably the most consistent in flow and volume. Crossing the bridge, we walk upon the first of a series of rock shelters and grottos carved high up onto the cliffs.
This area was heavily visited by the Native tribes of Shawnee, Delaware, and Wyandot that lived in the Hocking region since prehistoric times. Early visitors to Cedar Falls, mistakenly named after the hemlock trees pioneers thought were cedar trees, took note of the black hand prints present all along the cliff walls leading to the falls along Queer Creek. Due to runoff working its way down from the upper ridges, the last stretch of this trail is really muddy. Within a few moments we spot the green crossing bridge marking the lower rapids of the falls.
Todays sweltering heat has brought with it a large crowd to Cedar Falls, with some of the 200 odd visitors venturing into the pool below the falls for a swim. The mass of people crowded tight, reminded me of being at a rock show. Cascading 50 feet down from the upper ridges of Queer Creek, Cedar Falls has an interesting shape to it. As it crest over the cliff, it enters a narrow chute that fans out over a protruding boulder, forcing the water to rush around either side of it, before being fed through another narrow opening at the bottom of the cliff. Below the falls is a 10 foot high rock shelter spanning the entire length of the cliff, allowing you to walk behind this waterfall.
All along the face of the falls are large cave recesses, also known as grottos. The area above Cedar Falls which you can visit by climbing a series of staircases was once the site of a grist mill built by early pioneers in the 1800’s. The mill harnessed power from the consistent flow of Queer Creek to grind corn and wheat. Designed by artist and architect Akio Hizume, the 100 steps leading down to the falls named Democracy Steps, are mathematically and dimensional meant to evoke a peaceful and relaxing rhythm in those walking down to Cedar Falls. Once up near the north end trailhead, a gravel path leads up to the suspension bridge over Cedar Falls, marking the start of the 2.2 mile Gorge Trail to Old Mans Cave.
Heading back to Cedar Falls after checking out the overlook, we climb back down Democracy Steps and turn LEFT away from the falls and foot bridge, onto the remainder of the falls trail looping back to our starting point. Although not purposely built as a work of art, this last stretch of the trail is beautiful not just in design, but in the beauty of the landscape surrounding it. This path meanders through a deep ravine with a waterfall at its entrance, which flows directly into Queer Creek near the bottom of the falls. A quick scramble over some protruding boulders lands us at the opening of a small cave passageway that resembles Arch Rock in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Climbing up through this gets us up to a creek bed at the top of the waterfall, surrounded by sheer cliffs, an expansive rock shelter, and massive boulders. There are small dirt paths leading to overlooks of the waterfall as well as some following the bluffs a bit further into the ravine. Spanning the creek is a wood boardwalk leading hikers out of this area onto the last 0.25 miles of the Cedar Falls Trail.
Its a peaceful walk back to the parking lot from here with a nice view of the canyon we just hiked through below. I always enjoy getting different perspectives of the same area to give me a full depth of scope on the places I visit. From here, I’ll be driving a short distance south to check out Ash Cave. This is not just one of the most popular places to visit in Hocking Hills State Park, but it is also considered Ohio’s largest cave recess. You won’t want to miss this own your trip so stay tuned and until next time, see y’all on the trails!