Rock House – The Only True Cave In Hocking Hills State Park

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I’m excited to tell you about Rock House, the only true cave, and one of the 6 major hiking trails, located in Ohio’s scenic Hocking Hills State Park. Similar to many other natural formations in the park carved from Blackhand sandstone, Rock House boasts a rich history and offers an amazing experience for all who visit.

The vast chamber of Rock House stretches 200 feet long, up to 30 feet wide in some spots, has 7 gothic-like windows & doorways, and a ceiling height reaching up to 25 feet in certain places. Inside the ancient cave, visitors find what seems like rooms of varying sizes, crafted from natures own hand.

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Rock House Through the Years – A Brief History

Archaeological evidence shows Native Americans, particularly the Shawnee, took shelter in the cave, constructing small ovens in the rock walls to cook meals, and carving man-made troughs in the floor to collect water. Though no definitive records exist, there is evidence of enigmatic petroglyphs etched in stone walls, and remnants of soot from ancient fires staining the ceiling.

Local lore suggests that during the 1800s, robbers and bandits used Rock House as a hideaway which led to it’s nickname as the ‘Robbers Roost.’ One hermit even became known as the ‘Petticoat Bandit.’ During the Prohibition Era, the secluded nature of Rock House made it an ideal hideout for bootleggers as well. They produced and stored illicit liquor in the hidden chambers of the cave, away from the preying eyes of law enforcement.

Rock House in Hocking Hills State Park

In 1835, F.F. Rempel, a businessman from Logan, Ohio, built a 16-room hotel a short distance from the Rock House cave. Located where the current picnic shelter is at the north end of the main parking lot, the hotel included a ballroom, stables, and even a post office.

As the years rolled on, Rock House saw a transformation from rogue rendezvous point to a valued piece of Ohio’s natural heritage. It remained a popular tourist attraction for nearly a century before the State of Ohio established the Hocking Hills State Park in 1924.

Visitors are equally intrigued by the hand-cut stairs from the 1930s that lead up to the cave’s entrance. Once inside, the sunlight piercing through the seven gothic windows casts dramatic shadows across the cavern, setting Rock House apart visually and historically from other caves within Hocking Hills.

Planning Your Visit to Rock House

You need to consider when to visit Rock House to have the best experience. Spring and fall offer cooler temperatures, vibrant foliage, and the potential for cascading waterfalls. Summer presents a lush, green landscape, while Winter can be eerily striking with ice formations, though trails may be slippery.

It’s important to be aware of the physical requirements before heading out. The Rock House trail is a roughly half-mile trek that includes steep inclines and uneven surfaces, so a moderate fitness level is advised. I recommend a good quality set of trekking poles to help you navigate the uneven and challenging terrain, and staying hydrated using an Electrolyte supplement like LMNT is of utmost important when out on the trails.

There are two large parking lots at Rock House providing plenty of parking for this popular destination. Restrooms are situated by each parking lot, and you’ll find plenty of picnic tables where you can take a break or enjoy a meal.

And finally, bring a flashlight! Even in the middle of a bright summer day, there will be dark areas within cave. This can make navigating the uneven cave floor a bit tricky! Most phones these days have a built-in flashlight, so you’re probably already prepared. But if you’d like a bit more illumination than a typical phone can provide, I recommend you come prepared with a bright handheld flashlight.

Traversing the Trails at Rock House

Depending on which parking lot you choose, the initial trek from the trailhead to the Rock House cave is just over 0.2 miles. There are two trails that lead to the cave:

  • Rock House Rim Trail: Approximately 0.2 miles, and goes from parking lot #1 to the rock steps leading down to the Rock House cave.
  • Rock House Gorge Trail: Approximately 0.2 miles from parking lot #2 to the rock steps leading to the cave. Then another 0.4 miles to loop around to the Rim Trail trailhead at parking lot #1 — after a stop at the cave of course! If you parked in parking lot #2, then you’ll have another ~0.2 miles to get back to your vehicle.

From parking lot #1, the first parking lot as you enter the park area off OH-374, the trailhead for Rock House Rim Trail (red trail) is to the right of the log shelter house at the north end of the parking lot. There is also a trail at the south end of parking lot #1 that leads over to parking lot #2 and the other trailhead.

From parking lot #2, the trailhead for Rock House Gorge Trail (yellow trail) is at the north-east corner of the parking lot, near the latrine building. Look for the informational kiosk.

Rock House in Hocking Hills State Park

The initial hike from either trailhead to the rock steps leading down to the cave is a fairly flat and relatively easy trek. But once you start the decent on the rock steps, and continue your journey to the cave, you will encounter uneven and challenging terrain. Depending on weather conditions, the trails could be muddy and the rock surfaces can get very slippery.

Be sure to grab a trail map in the information section below before heading out!

Rock House in Hocking Hills State Park

There’s a distinct feature at Rock House that never fails to amaze visitors: the ‘windows’ of the cave — natural openings that provide stunning views of the forest outside. While traversing the rocky terrain inside, keep an eye out for these windows. They’re perfect for capturing photographs that blend the cave’s interior with the lush exterior landscape.

When it comes to photography, patience pays off. The lighting within Rock House can be tricky, but when it strikes the sandstone just right, the colors can be incredible. Use a camera capable of handling low light and take your time to get the perfect shot.

Your wellbeing should be a top priority. Rock House has an uneven floor and can be wet and slippery in places. Wearing sturdy, non-slip footwear is a must. A bright handheld flashlight will also serve you well as you navigate through some of the more dimly lit areas of the cave. My favorite pocket-sized flashlights are ThruNite, available on Amazon.

The end of the Rock House trail is not the end of the journey. The surrounding Hocking Hills State Park has more natural marvels to offer, such as Old Man’s Cave, Cedar Falls, Ash Cave, Cantwell Cliffs, and Whispering Cave. Consider extending your adventure to these spots as well.

Before we wrap up our Rock House adventure, let’s talk briefly about the role we can play in protecting this beautiful sanctuary.

Conservation Efforts and Visitor Responsibility at Rock House

Rock House at Hocking Hills State Park

The preservation of Rock House isn’t just the work of nature conservationists; it’s a collective effort that includes you, the visitor. Every step you take within this natural marvel carries weight. As you walk among the ancient formations, remember that your actions can leave a lasting imprint.

I’d like to highlight some of the initiatives that are crucial in keeping Rock House a pristine natural habitat. These include restricting areas to recover from human impact, regular maintenance by park staff, and educational programs aimed at raising awareness about the cave’s ecological significance.

Here’s how you can actively participate in these conservation efforts:

The impact of thoughtless actions, like leaving trash or defacing rock surfaces, extends beyond the immediate visual offense. It can disrupt the habitat of species that call Rock House home and degrade the experience for future visitors. So, let’s pledge to act as stewards of this geological treasure.

By embracing our responsibility to protect Rock House, we ensure that this fascinating window into history remains intact for generations to come. It’s a small commitment with a monumental reward: the continued enjoyment and discovery of one of nature’s masterpieces.

Take Nothing But Pictures, Leave Nothing But Footprints, Kill Nothing But Time

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