Winter Hike - 48 Years and still going strong
January 19, 2013 -4305 hikers! official tally--
Continuous Starts from 9 AM to 11 AM
6 miles of rugged hiking in the coldest days of January
Start times: Between 9 am and 11 am
There are times that Hocking Hills State Park is transformed. It comes in waves. Like when Autumn takes our breath away with a bold blanket of rich oranges, piercing reds and deep greens sweeping over the rugged hillsides, covering the last shreds of a summer that had waned to a bland olive green. Or when roadways, mucky and dull brown from a long wet winter, are touched by the gentle warmth of spring and left with a bounty of purple, yellow and pink spring flowers blooming on a grassy green hillside. Transformation. It seems to latch on to the park as a visual display of colors and wonder, like the gentle roll of seasons fastens itself on to the course of a year.
To the eye, Hocking Hills State Park is full of these transformations. They are the revolutions of nature spawned seasonally and kicked up to level. And they seem to be richer and more brilliant than in our own back yards because of the already out-of-the-ordinary features found at the park. We celebrate these changes. Toting cameras, kids and binoculars, we hop into our cars and drive out to Old Man's Cave and Ash Cave and Cedar Falls. We take in the transformations as if it has been months, years or decades since we have seen them before. And that is what brings us to Winter Hike-the transformation of winter and the observance of this change. It gives us the ability to celebrate snow and frozen waterfalls, sleet and seeing your breath puff from your lips in a nearly invisible cloud of white. But most of all, it is seeing the park in a whole new light and one of frozen beauty-transformed during another season.
Starting Times: Hikers must be at the starting point between 9 am and 11 am which will be near the Visitor Center Parking Lot at Old Man's Cave on State Route 664.
Starting Point: Visitor Center Parking Lot at Old Man's Cave on State Route 664.
Assembled hikers will depart continuously between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Park officials will provide return transportation from Ash Cave to Old Man's Cave following the event.
Cost: The Event is FREE! Donations are encouraged for refreshments. Winter hike souvenir patches and hiking staff emblems will be available for purchase. If you are staying near the park, there are plenty of pre-hike events on Friday night including games, refreshments and naturalist programs. We highly suggest attending these! Check www.heartofhocking.com for more details.
What to Wear: Bundle up. Stay Warm. Wear hat, coat, gloves, long underwear and good hiking boots if it is cool. Invest in a pair of ice cleats. (And don't buy a pair of boots the day before the hike. Wear them in a while or you'll have more blisters than you can count!) The weather can't be planned but hikers can get a good idea what to bring by watching the weather closely the day before the hike.
And just in case, it is always good to bring a few extras. Here is what we suggest:
1) snow cleats-worn over the bottom of the shoes to keep from sliding.
2) several pairs of gloves in case your own get wet.
3) layer clothing, especially socks, and bring a change of clothes in case it sleets or rains. Honestly, don't dress like you are going to a party. Dress warmly! No on cares what you look like on the hike. Don't forget a hat, good boots and scarf!
4) 5-6 hand warmers-the kind you can easily stuff into your shoes or gloves. You can purchase these at most retail stores for less than a buck.
5) snacks to eat while walking.
6) plenty of water or sport drinks.
7) If you bring the kids, have them wear a good parka and/or snow suit and snow boots. Make sure all socks and gloves are tucked into their suits and be prepared to carry them! The trail is long.
47 years ago, the first hikers came to Hocking Hills State Park to feast their eyes on Winter's touch on Old Man's Cave lead by Norv Hall, Park Naturalist. There were about 60 hikers at the first Winter Hiker. The record year was 2010 with over 5400 visitors. Lines formed with nearly an hour and a half wait to get though Old Man's Cave. Folks have overcome blizzards, sleet storms and bitter cold to come to the hike and the only time it was every officially cancelled was the Blizzard of 1978. Believe it or not, there were still 70 gutsy hikers that showed up that year. 1977 offered bitter temperatures of nearly 19 degrees below zero. Year after year since that first hike 41 years ago, hardy hikers have shunned frozen toes and three layers of clothing seeming to add four extra pounds to take the hike from Old Man's Cave to Cedar Falls and then Ash Cave.Maybe it is not always a celebration of seasonal change or even surplus of puffy snow flakes covering the forest in a blanket of white bringing visitors to Winter Hike. Some years, mud has been ankle-deep and the trees a dull gray against an overcast sky. There has been sleety rain, treacherous ice and temperatures edging close to 10 degrees below 0. Some years, it is so cold, the waterfalls freeze from top to bottom. Hikers have slipped and slid along the trails and at some points, crawled to get up icy steps. Other years, coats were shed and replaced by gear more likely worn in spring. Staff and officers from nearly all of Ohio's State Parks are located throughout the 6 miles of trails to help guide your way and keep you safe. Please feel free to ask them questions and thank them for coming to the park to assist hikers in having a great day.
No one can ever fully describe the beauty of Hocking Hills and its wild scenery. You simply have to see if for yourself. However, the trails in winter are rugged and not for the out-of-shape. It is an awesome but long hike. Those with "bad knees" and other health issues that may put them at risk should probably plan on only taking part of the trail-either take Old Man's Cave to Cedar Falls or Cedar Falls to Ash Cave and have a friend pick you up and/or drop you off at these points. Or just come to Ash Cave and walk the short trail to the waterfall just to be a part of the crowd. Old Man's Cave has steps that can be icy some years, bridges, tunnels and slender (sometimes muddy and slippery after 5000 or so hikers have traipsed across them in only a few hours) trails. There are also hills to trod over and rugged paths. And did we mention that it's cold?
Kid Friendly: This is a five-six mile hike, up and down hills with plenty of roots, rocks and bitter cold. It is breathtaking, relaxing, fun and nonstop. However, if your kids are the kind you have to lug around in a shopping cart when you are only five minutes into shopping at the nearest grocery store, this might not be the hike for them. Besides, most cell phones don't work at the bottom of Old Man's Cave and it would be tough to call someone to pick them up. This is also not for those who have had knee surgery or any kind of medical condition. Although the hike is not monitored, you must clear the six miles before the buses leave. If you are in poor health or do not exercise strenuously a few times a week, this hike is not for you!
Pet Friendly - There are more than a few people who bring their dogs with them on this hike. Plenty of warning though, there are lots of people walking in a long line. If your dog doesn't like people and is not used to the cold, keep them home. For those who have difficulty walking - Not recommended. Although the staff at the park clear the trails to their best ability, there are still logs to climb over and plenty of rocks, roots and hills that seem a mile high. This is certainly not recommended for dogs.
Old Man's Cave - Hocking Hills State Park GPS Tracking: 39.434668,-82.541571
Winter Hike 2013 Images
Official Tally from Winter Hike 2013 -4305 hikers showed up even through a rough ice storm the night before