Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Conkles Hollow State Nature Preserve (Blog Hike #600; Ohio Hike #100)

Trails: Rim and Gorge Trails
Hike Location: Conkles Hollow State Nature Preserve
Geographic Location: southwest of Logan, OH
Length: 3 miles
Difficulty: 5/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: July 2016
Overview: A scenic hike around and through attractive Conkles Hollow.

Directions to the trailhead: From the intersection of SR 664 and US 33 on the west side of Logan, take SR 664 south 12.1 miles (passing Old Man’s Cave en route) to SR 374.  Turn right on SR 374.  Drive SR 374 north 1 mile to Big Pine Road and turn right on Big Pine Rd.  The preserve entrance is 0.2 miles ahead on the left.  Park either in the cul de sac at the entrance road’s end or in the paved parking area near some picnic tables at the top of the hill.

The hike: My first visit to the Hocking Hills, which many experts regard as Ohio’s best hiking destination, lasted for two days in May 1998 many years before I started even the earliest version of this blog.  That visit was a whirlwind tour of the region’s most famous sites, and it included quick stops at Rockbridge State Nature Preserve, Cantwell Cliffs, Rock House, Conkles Hollow, Old Man’s Cave, Cedar Falls, and Ash Cave.  After seeing all of the region’s scenic destinations in summary fashion, I decided that Conkles Hollow was my favorite.  Although I have made three hiking trips to the Hocking Hills since then, Conkles Hollow has remained my favorite place to hike in the area.  Thus, when I found myself in central Ohio needing to pick a destination for my 600th blog hike and 100th Ohio hike, the decision to come back to Conkles Hollow and officially add it to my blog was an easy one.
            Although the area did not become a state nature preserve until 1977, the land was purchased by the State of Ohio in 1925.  Due to the rugged terrain, this land was never farmed and rarely logged, so tall trees and old growth forest take center stage here along with the 200-foot sandstone cliffs that line the hollow.  The hollow’s name comes not from a former land owner but from an inscription on the hollow’s west rock wall that read “W.J. Conkle 1797.”  The inscription is no longer visible, but the name has stuck.
            The preserve offers two trails, a 2 mile Rim Trail that traces the hollow’s rim and the 0.5 mile one-way Gorge Trail, which takes you along the stream through the middle of the hollow.  On my first visit in 1998, I hiked only the shorter and easier Gorge Trail, but to get a full sense of the hollow’s special scenery you really need to hike both trails.  Such is the route described here.
Bridge entering Conkles Hollow
            The hike starts by crossing a long wood/iron bridge over Pine Creek.  Pine Creek does not pass through Conkles Hollow, but the small creek that does go through the hollow empties into the much larger Pine Creek at the hollow’s mouth.  Next you pass a trailhead area with information boards and kiosks on the right.  At 300 feet, the Rim and Gorge Trails part ways at a signed intersection.  Turn right to begin a counterclockwise journey around the Rim Trail.
            The Rim Trail climbs to the east rim first on constructed wooden steps, then on moderate grade dirt trail, and finally over some rock outcrops.  Some wires strung between metal posts keep you on the trail.  Although the trails at Conkles Hollow are not blazed or otherwise marked, they are well-trodden and easy to follow.  A final sharp left turn brings you to the rim, which this trail will follow for the next 1.4 miles.
Approaching the rim
            The east section of the Rim Trail alternates between sunny rock outcrops and shady forest, and very quickly the views for which this trail is famous start to emerge.  No fences or guardrails protect the cliff edge, so you have to be careful where you step.  While there are no particularly precarious spots, the edge stays close enough often enough to keep it mindful, especially if you are scared of heights like I am.  Overall, the hiking on the rim is a little rough due to rocks and roots but fairly level.
Rim view, looking down Conkles Hollow

Rim view, looking up Conkles Hollow
            At 0.7 miles, you reach an especially scenic overlook that stands over a narrow part of the hollow with a vertical sandstone cliff on the opposite side.  As you continue north along the east rim, a bridle trail called the Orange Trail can be seen in adjacent Hocking State Forest uphill and to the right.  Because the preserve only comprises 87 acres, the Rim Trail stays near the preserve’s boundary for its entire distance, so items outside the preserve such as this bridle trail will be encountered frequently along the rim.
Observation platform at hollow's head
            Just shy of 1 mile, you reach a wooden platform that overlooks the head of the hollow.  The trees are too numerous here to allow any broad views like the ones you passed earlier, but some benches make nice places to rest near the midpoint of the Rim Trail.  After a brief descent on wooden steps, the trail crosses the main stream through Conkles Hollow on a wooden footbridge located just above where the creek falls into the hollow.  Some short sandstone ledges just upstream from the bridge foreshadow the interesting rocky scenery you will see later in the gorge.
Crossing creek above Conkles Hollow
            After crossing the creek, the trail curves sharply left to begin heading down the west rim.  While the state forest bridle trail bordered the preserve on the east, moderately trafficked SR 374 borders the preserve on the west, so intermittent vehicle noise will be heard on the west rim.  Also, the west rim is mostly forested with no open rock outcrops, so there are few expansive views like those found on the east rim.  In between passing cars I heard several woodpeckers while hiking through the nice pine forest on the west rim.
             The trail traces around several semicircular alcoves carved into the west rim of Conkles Hollow.  Peering down into these alcoves reveals that Conkles Hollow actually has three levels: the rim level on which you stand, the creek level where you will be in a few minutes, and a third middle level that is inaccessible by trail.  The lack of broad views on the west rim allows you to focus on the hollow’s intricate shapes and walls.
Alcove along west rim
            After a particularly close encounter with the state highway, the trail begins its descent from the rim.  The descent is steep and rocky at first, but later several sections of wooden steps ease the grade.  2 miles into the hike, the Rim Trail ends at its intersection with the Gorge Trail.  The parking lot and hollow’s mouth sit only a few hundred feet to the right, but this hike turns left to begin the Gorge Trail as it heads up the center of the hollow.
Concrete portion of Gorge Trail
            Unlike the pine trees that dominated on the rim, the forest in the hollow includes some sycamore and even some birch trees, which usually live in much colder climates.  The easy Gorge Trail is nearly flat, and the first part of this trail is paved with concrete, thus making it accessible for wheelchair-bound visitors.  About half way up the Gorge Trail, a nice recess cave called Diagonal Cave can be seen uphill to the right.
Diagonal Cave
            The hollow’s sheer sandstone walls close in on both sides as you get deeper into the hollow.  Just before 0.4 miles into the hollow, the wheelchair-accessible trail ends where the treadway turns to dirt.  Some large slump blocks, chunks of sandstone fallen from the surrounding cliffs, sit beside the trail.
Head of Conkles Hollow
            After a brief climb up and over a small side ridge, you cross the creek on stepping stones just before reaching the head of the hollow.  The creek makes a dramatic entrance into the hollow: a 15 foot ledge-type waterfall with a shallow plunge pool.  The waterfall was nice on my May 1998 visit but dry on my July 2016 visit.  This area also has nice acoustic qualities that make the waterfall sound bigger than it is.  The Gorge Trail ends at the hollow’s head, so after enjoying the waterfall area your only choice is to retrace your steps back out the hollow to the parking lot to complete the hike.

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