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Hocking Hills State Park, OH

Old Man's Cave Lower Falls. Photo by Attila Horvath.

Hocking Hills State Park, home to the famous Old Man’s Cave, is truly a four-season destination, but the 2.5 million annual visitors mostly come in a summer crush. Take a trip to the Hocking Hills after the next snowfall and enjoy the outstanding hiking and photography. If you’re willing to walk more than a few hundred yards, you’ll practically have the place to yourself.

“The highlights are the short destination hikes – Old Man’s Cave, Ash Cave,” says Dylan Crawford, owner of Earth Water Rock Outdoor Adventures. “Consider hiking between the ‘parking lot’ destinations to get away from crowds at any time of year.”

“Hocking is great to visit in the off season,” Dylan adds, “Beautiful ice formations, but watch your step!”

The must-do hike in Hocking Hills State Park is Old Man’s Cave to Ash Cave, with a stop at Cedar Falls in the middle. It’s five miles one way, 10 out and back. Or try the almost five miles round trip between Old Man’s Cave and Cedar Falls, by way of the Grandma Gatewood Trail (Buckeye Trail), returning on the Rim Trail. Bring your camera – even the most woefully camera-illiterate photographer can score with shots of the Upper Falls, Lower Falls, Cedar Falls and Ash Cave – the state’s largest recess cave, complete with a nearly 100-foot-tall waterfall and surrounded by ancient hemlock trees.

But if crowds are your thing, even occasionally, check out the 45th annual Hocking Hills Winter Hike, the third January of each year (Jan. 16 in 2010). You and a few thousand of your friends can enjoy a shuttle to return you to Old Man’s Cave from Ash Cave, along with hot drinks and bean soup.

Hocking Hills State Park anchors the greater Hocking Hills region, where the popularity of the summer season is understandable: you can also bike, canoe, rock climb and rappel, zipline and otherwise spend your entire summer vacation there without ever hitting the same activity twice.

Where it’s at: About an hour from Columbus; from U.S. 33 in Logan, OH turn south on OH-664 and travel 11 miles to the visitors center

Contact: Hocking Hills State Park or (740) 385-6842

Digs: Hocking Hills State Park Campground ($21/night non-electric, $25/night electric); Hocking Hills Resort (cabins $95-$235/night, two night minimum on weekends), or 800-222-4655

Grub: The Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls, or 800-653-2557

Gear and outfitting: Earth Water Rock Outdoor Adventures Ltd., or (740) 664-5220