Have you noticed that everyone is going to Hocking Hills lately? We needed to know more and asked our friend (and avid traveler) Jessica Pawl to give us the scoop. If you’re looking for travel inspo with littles be sure to follow @departingdtw on Instagram. 

A four-hour drive from Detroit, southeast Ohio’s Hocking Hills State Park is a geological gem that many Michiganders are just discovering. Just an hour outside of Columbus, but seemingly remote, the area is chock-full of impressive hiking trails, waterfalls and unique vacation rentals.

Here, our top tips on how to plan your family-friendly visit:

Where to Stay: There aren’t many hotels within the Hocking Hills region, apart from the Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls, but you’ll find hundreds of vacation rental options via Airbnb and VRBO, many of which feature unique appeal (think treehouse-style homes, shipping container tiny homes and even properties boasting their own private caverns). No matter the lodging option, however, one commonality exists – book early! The most popular rentals reserve as early as a year in advance.(Pro tip: The park is currently building the all-new Hocking Hills State Park Lodge and reservations are open for stays beginning in Fall 2022.)

What to Do: Pack some snacks or a picnic lunch (there aren’t many restaurants or grab-and-go cafes in this area), and plan to spend your day trail hopping and soaking up the sights. Trailheads are scattered throughout the park and surrounding areas, so you’ll likely be driving to a few if you’ve devoted the day to exploring. If you’re traveling with an infant or traveler, be sure to bring a wearable carrier to keep kiddos from any steep drops or ledges; and prepare older children in advance on general hiking safety. A great starting point is the Hocking Hills State Park Visitor’s Center, near the entry to the Old Man’s Cave Trail.

What to See: The most popular – and most stunning – hike in Hocking Hills is the fabled Old Man’s Cave Trail, which winds through a half-mile gorge and provides peeks of waterfalls, rock formations, scenic bridges and even a tiny tunnel. Both Ash Cave, a gigantic, horseshoe shaped recess cave, and Cedar Falls are moderate, short hikes with particularly pretty payoffs. For those a bit more adventurous, the Rock House trails allows you to climb inside the park’s only actual cave, nearly hidden inside a sandstone cliff. Check out the park’s Trail Map or download an app like All Trails for access to hike details and maps, even when you’re in cell-phone dead zones, which are aplenty in this area.

Road Trip Tips: Four hours may not seem like a long trek, but with tots in tow, a fun pit stop or two can make all the difference. On our trips to and from the area, we’ve really enjoyed swinging into one of these places to stretch our legs and create some bonus memories:

  • Sterling State Park: Before you’ve even left Michigan, you’ll find over one mile of sandy Lake Erie beach and a playground to burn some energy on.
  • Toledo Zoo: Compact enough to spend only a couple of hours, but with enough animals and exhibits to fill an entire afternoon, if you’d prefer.
  • Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens: In Columbus, stroll the gorgeous atriums, grab a bite at the cafe and play, climb and splash in the Children’s Garden (see ticket prices here)