Ash Cave is certainly one of the most breathtaking natural wonders of the Hocking Hills region, and one of the easier hikes. It is one of the 7 major hiking trails in Hocking Hills State Park, located in Southeastern Ohio about an hour SE of Columbus on Route 33 in Hocking County.
Tucked away in the southernmost stretch of Hocking, Ash Cave is the biggest recess cave east of the Mississippi River with a horseshoe-shaped rim that spans 700 feet across. The cave measures 100 feet from the rear cave wall to the front rim that towers 90 feet overhead.
A small tributary of the East Fork of Queer Creek, which created Ash Cave over many centuries, still cascades over the rim into a small pool below. This seasonal waterfall flows the strongest in the early spring when the snow is melting, but can also be seen in the autumn and winter months, sometimes forming a massive ice mountain on the cave floor during the coldest months.
The approach to Ash Cave follows a wheelchair-friendly asphalt path from the parking lot to the main cave through a narrow cliff-wall gorge lined with sizable beech and hemlock trees. The valley floor offers brilliant displays of wildflowers in all seasons including large flowered trillium, Dutchman’s breeches, trout lily, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, and jewelweed.
From the primary cave, hikers may continue up a series of wooden steps to the rim trail that winds back to the parking or turn back and follow the path the way you came. The rim trail also connects to a 2.3 mile hike to Cedar Falls, marked with signs. Well-behaved pets are permitted on a leash and hikers are advised to stay on the marked trails. Wading or swimming is not allowed in the waterfalls or creeks. Restrooms and picnic facilities are offered adjacent to the parking lot.
Hike Ash Cave
The Hocking Hills State Park system includes Ash Cave, Old Man's Cave, Rock House, Conkle's Hollow, Cedar Falls, Cantwell Cliffs, and Whispering Cave Trail. Each offers something truly unique and wonderful, with over 25 miles of one-way looped trail systems that are open to the public year-round from dawn to dusk. From forested trails to massive natural rock formations, the Hocking Hills region is a breathtaking gem hidden in the upper Appalachian Basin for all to visit and enjoy.
Download a Trail Map for Ash Cave and enjoy this relaxing walk in nature.
Ash Cave was formed like the others in this region. It is located in a gorge of Black Hand Sandstone, which is a very porous rock and extremely susceptible to erosion. Thousands of years of erosion from glacial melt and the water flow of Queer Creek carved and shaped the sandstone rock into the majestic natural wonder we enjoy today.
Ash Cave gets its name from the enormous piles of ashes found under the shelter by early settlers in the 1800s. Several thousand bushels of ash were removed from the cave, the largest pile recorded as being 100 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 3 feet deep.
The actual source of the ashes is unknown but is widely believed to have resulted from Indian campfires built up over hundreds of years. Archaeological evidence supports this theory. A test excavation of the ashes in 1877 revealed sticks, arrows, stalks of coarse grasses, animal bones in great variety, bits of pottery, flints and corn cobs.
Ash Cave and the greater Hocking Hills region was conveniently located along the main Indian trail which followed the Queer Creek and Salt Creek valleys. This trail connected the Shawnee villages and the Kanawha River region of West Virginia with their villages along the Scioto River at Chillicothe. The trail was later used after the start of the frontier wars to march prisoners captured along the Ohio River to the Indian towns on the upper Scioto River. The old Indian trail is now State Route 56.
The Miami and Shawnee tribes especially used Ash Cave, perhaps as a place of rest while traveling between villages in modern-day West Virginia and central Ohio, or as an important tribal meeting place, with acoustics and a central pulpit suitable for important speeches and decision making. The recess shelter also served as a workshop where Indian maidens ground corn and prepared meals, and where braves fashioned arrow and spear points and skinned and dressed game.
More recent uses of Ash Cave were for camp and township meetings. Pulpit Rock, the large slump block at the cave’s entrance served early settlers as the pulpit for Sunday worship service until a local church could be built. The cave lends itself well to large gatherings due to its enormous size and incredible acoustic qualities. In fact, two spots under the recess have the qualities of a “whispering gallery.”
In 1924, the State of Ohio purchased 146 acres of land in the Hocking Hills. This purchase formally established Hocking Hills State Park. The State of Ohio eventually purchased additional land, including Ash Cave. First owned and operated by the Ohio Department of Forestry, in 1949 the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Ohio Division of Parks assumed control of Hocking Hills State Park.
Ash Cave is a staple in our local community, with visitors and locals gathering for events here year-round. These include the Sweethearts Hike and Christmas in Ash Cave, to name just two. The annual Sweethearts Hike is the perfect way to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Every February, couples take a guided stroll to the cave and enjoy several short stops along the way. A campfire, free cookies, and hot chocolate await your arrival. Christmas in Ash Cave kicks off with a lantern walk to the cave. Once there, guests can sip refreshments by an open fire, decorate a Christmas tree, and take photos with Santa. Ash Cave sometimes serves as a spot for drum circles and the Logan High School band has put on concerts in the cave, taking advantage of the excellent acoustics for an enchanting evening of music.
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