Today, spring in the Hocking Hills region explodes in buds and blossoms, summer stretches green like spandex as far as the landscape will carry it, and autumn dips its brush in a paint can of a thousand hues. But in winter, harsh temperatures force a shotgun wedding between ice and stone, and their offspring possess a beauty few see with the naked eye unless they take a walk in the cold.
“The ice formations there are like stalactites made of crystal. It’s like chandeliers all around you, because everywhere you turn there’s a curtain of ice,” said Charissa Ebersole of Toledo, who hiked the trails while on a winter visit to Cedar Falls with her husband, Barry. “I didn’t know there was such a place in Ohio.”
There is, in the rugged hills about an hour southeast of Columbus, and everywhere water traces a path toward the creek bottoms, you find ice. It squeezes between layers of rock, dangles over mossy precipices, and forms massive pillars.
“This place really does become a real winter wonderland, with all of the seeping and dripping water forming ice columns,” said Pat Quackenbush, naturalist at Hocking Hills State Park.
“From year to year, or month to month, it can be totally different. The freezing and thawing change things a lot, each time we go through that cycle. There is a truly unique beauty in all of the masses of ice, and the snow hanging off the hemlocks.”
The area is open year-round, and well-marked trails lead to Ash Cave, Old Man’s Cave, Cedar Falls, and many others of the most scenic locations. The annual Winter Hike scheduled for Jan. 19 has drawn thousands in the past, but at many other times in the colder months, you can have a trail to yourself.
“I love the quiet, the solitude,” Mrs. Ebersole said. “The trails reminded me of something you’d see in England.”
Ellen Grinsfelder operates the Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls and finds the transformation winter performs on the region to be breathtaking, no matter how many times she has witnessed it.
“Our guests ask me which season is my favorite, and I tell them it’s winter,” Mrs. Grinsfelder said. “You can see pretty trees in a lot of places, but not surrounding ice falls like there are here. When the sun creeps through the trees and reflects off the ice, it’s just mesmerizing. This place turns into a magical fairyland.”
Mr. Quackenbush encourages Ohioans and visitors from across the country to walk the trails of Hocking Hills in winter, or miss out on a unique exhibit of nature’s ability to craft beauty from stone and cold on a canvas of hemlocks and ice.
“If you’ve only seen this place in one season of the year,” he said, “then you’ve only seen a quarter of what it has to offer, no matter how far you walk.”
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6068.