Conkles Hollow State Nature Preserves picturesque 87 acres is one of the hidden gems within Hocking County, Ohio. Dedicated as a state nature preserve in 1977, it contains the popular Gorge Trail which traverses a half mile through a richly diverse valley that ends in a narrow box canyon surrounded by towering cliffs, cave overhangs, and several waterfalls. The Rim Trail is a challenging 2.5 mile loop which winds along the highest cliffs in the area, past many scenic overlooks to the Upper Falls of Conkles Creek. Situated a short distance from many of the trails within Hocking Hills State Park, this is a popular stop on most trip itineraries to the area.
Gorge Trail | 0.5 Out & Back
Rim Trail | 2.5 Mile Loop
Conkles Hollow State Nature Preserve | Google Maps
With nearly half a dozen state nature preserves peppered throughout Hocking County, Conkles Hollow is one of the most popular and widely visited due to the fact that it requires no permit to enter. Some of the other unique preserves in the area such as Christmas Rocks, Boch Hollow, and Saltpeter Cave require permits which can take days to receive depending on the backlog of requests. Getting here is easy as the entrance to this nature preserve is located along the busy State Highway 374, which connects a lot of the other hiking trails within Hocking Hills State Park. The vast lot can accommodate a large crowd and has picnic shelters and restrooms, making this a spot where any family can easily spend the day exploring the natural beauty of this hidden gem.
Our journey begins as we leave the gravel lot and cross the footbridge spanning Pine Creek. The valley that we are entering is a perfect example of the river birch communities found in most of southeastern Ohio. Large spanning canopies of sycamore and ironwood trees dominate the sunnier, wetland entrance to the park. Right away, the trail splits into two very distinct versions of Conkles Hollow. While the Rim Trail is more challenging and offers far stretching vistas of the areas scenic hills, the Gorge Trail is by far a visitor favorite and the one we are here to explore. This area is prone to frequent flooding, giving the state park reason to pave most of the 0.5 mile trail in order to keep it accessible year round.
Walking past the stairs leading up to the West and East Rims, we enter the cool and deeply shaded valley of Conkles Creek. We are entering what is considered one of the deepest gorges in the state of Ohio. According to local lore, the area was named Conkles Hollow after the discovery of an inscription with the name “W.J. Conkles 1797” was discovered engraved on the west rim of this canyon. The dense canopy of hemlock and yellow birch that dominate this area is so thick in places that little to no sunlight reaches the valley floor. During early spring, before the canopy begins to leaf out, enough sunlight penetrates the woodland floor to put on a magical wildflower display. Purple creeping phlox, magenta wild Columbine, and white baneberry light up this hike with their colorful blooms every April through May.
Despite being in the middle of an intense heat wave in early July, the noticeably cooler temp in the gorge sustains a lush understory of ferns stretching out as far as the eye can see. Some of the ferns growing in the lower banks of Conkles Creek are as tall and wide as a small child. Its like a scene out of Jurassic Park, except without the terrifying dinosaurs. By this point you might be thinking that this landscape sounds out of place for being in the Midwest, and you’re right. A lot of the plant species here, most commonly found in the Pacific Northwest and Canada, are remnants of a previous glacial forest that existed here during the last Ice Age. A few other nearby examples of this type of disjunct landscape can be found in Indianas’ Turkey Run State Park and Hemlock Cliffs.
In every direction one looks are small ravines leading to cave recess underneath the towering cliffs of the west and east rim of Conkles Hollow. One of the most widely visited at one point was Diagnol Cave. This deep cliff overhang was closed to the public several years back in order to rehabilitate the damaged ecosystem of rare and unusual plants that once thrived here, before heavy traffic began eroding away the caves natural habitat. Though some people may be tempted to hop the fence and see the cave, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources takes off-trail exploration pretty seriously and is known for handing out hefty fines to trespassers. A mere 50 feet ahead pin the trail is a rock shelter that’s open to exploration.
The Horse Head Grotto is a shallow cave overhang near the entrance into the box canyon that leads to the Lower Falls of Conkles Creek. When viewing the cave from the trail, some people claim that the image of a “horses head” appears to be engraved on the back wall of the rock shelter. There are several accounts of paranormal activity surrounding this shallow cave and hikers have even reported seeing shadows and hearing whispered voices emanating from inside the space. Walking past the grotto, we can see an even larger rock shelter up ahead. Unfortunately this one is closed off, but you can still get a good view of it from the
From here, we cross a small footbridge and exit the dense forest into the narrow opening of a 200 foot deep canyon. Veering my gaze to the left, I can spot several large cave openings in the cliffs of the west rim just out of reach from hikers. Climbing and rappelling is allowed in Conkles Hollow in certain areas by permit only. At this point, the paved trail ends and we are back on dirt. Maneuvering our way under an endless array of rock shelters and overhangs, we come to a bend in the trail directly across from an enormous cave with a small waterfall trickling over the entrance. The space is so large one could probably spend several hours just exploring that area alone.
Af the canyon begins to narrow, moss covered boulders and downed tree trunks begin to litter the area creating obstacles that need to be climbed over and under. The sight reminds me of an legend surrounding the history of Conkles Hollow. The Hocking Hills region has a long history of settlement from the prehistoric peoples that once wandered through these canyons to the various Native American tribes that once hunted and gathered this land. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and the Treaty of Greeneville in 1795 allowed pioneers to settle the area that was mostly inhabited by Shawnee, Delaware, and Wyandot.
Legend has it that during this time period, a small band of Indians robbed a flotilla of settlers along the Ohio River of a large amount of money. The Indians traveled to Conkles Hollow in order to evade the pursuing soldiers that were hot on their tail. A small recess was located on the west gorge wall and was only reachable by climbing one of the two towering hemlock trees growing at the base of the cliff. First they cut down one of the trees to serve as a ladder in order to reach the cave. They hid the money and carved a directional arrow petroglyph on the opposite side of the gorge which pointed to the hiding spot.
Some accounts claimed that several of the Indians that escaped later returned to find the other hemlock tree fallen during a bad storm, forever trapping the stolen money up on the cliff without a way to retrieve it. Other accounts claim that soldiers eventually caught up with the band of Indians and executed them by hanging for their crime. This last version coincides with some of the paranormal sightings that hikers have witnessed throughout the years. The arrow carving has most likely eroded away in the last 200 years, but visitors familiar with the legend are known to hike along the west rim wall looking for a faded arrow petroglyph that might point the way to the lost treasure.
After crossing the shallow waters of Conkles Creek, the trail enters a large oasis surrounded by towering cliffs at the very end of the Gorge Trail. Directly ahead of us is the Lower Falls of Conkles Creek splashing down through a slit in the cliff into a large natural pool. During periods of heavy rain, a second waterfall forms within feet of the Lower Falls creating a Double Waterfall. In those instances this entire area becomes inundated and one has to maneuver over a maze of sand banks, boulders, and downed trees in order to reach the falls. Its an absolutely beautiful scene and not one I would have imagined at the beginning of this hike.
After a few photo ops, I head back in the direction of the parking lot by retracing the path that brought us in. If you have the extra time, about 2 hours to be exact, I highly recommend doing the Rim Trail Loop after this. It’ll give you an entirely different perspective of the area including vistas not seen anywhere else in Hocking Hills. Up next, I’ll be heading over to explore the largest waterfall by volume in Hocking Hills State Park, Cedar Falls. Stay tuned and until next time, see y’all on the trails!