Ask a couple of people which of the Hocking Hills region’s natural rock formations is the most spectacular and chances are you will get a couple of different answers. Old Man’s Cave, which was the first piece of land purchased as part of Hocking Hills State Park, is the most popular. Ash Cave, Ohio’s largest recess cave, is also on the top of many lists. But if you are someone who would rather explore the road less traveled, you might prefer the smaller, less well-known (but no less awesome) Rockbridge.
Rockbridge is the largest of Ohio’s twelve natural rock bridges. It spans more than 100 feet, reaching a maximum width of about 20 feet and arching over a ravine. A seasonal waterfall cascades down into a plunge pool from a height of 50 feet.
As with Ohio’s other natural rock formations, the rock bridge began to take shape hundreds of millions of years ago, when the state lay under a warm, shallow ocean. Rivers and currents deposited sand onto the ocean floor, and these deposits were compressed over time into the Blackhand sandstone that is the signature of the Hocking Hills area. Shifting tectonic plates and the draining of the water gave shape to the landscape, and rivers, weathering, and erosion over millions of years carved the many rock formations found throughout the region. Rockbridge was once a cave, but part of the roof fell in, leaving only the narrow arch that exists today.
The Nature Preserve
Rockbridge is not a park, but a 182-acre state nature preserve. There are no picnic facilities or even restrooms, just a small parking area and two hiking loops. Because of the low-key nature of the site, this section of Hocking Hills State Park is visited less often than some of the larger areas and it remains a place where you can feel like the only person in the world.
The Hiking Loops
The preserve contains two hiking loops: a 1.75-mile trail that winds around the rock bridge and a 1-mile trail that passes some smaller rock formations. The trails begin a short distance from the parking area and can be easy to miss, so look for the signs.
Although the trails are not long, they are steep and may be muddy after rain, so pace yourself and consider taking a walking stick. Also, since the narrow trails occasionally wind along the edge of some fairly steep drop-offs, make sure children and less confident hikers are attended at all times. There are a few benches placed along the path in case you need a rest. In addition to viewing the bridge from both above and below, keep your eyes open for deer and other wildlife as well as some unique flora, including the wildflowers that blanket the area every spring.
Planning a Visit
The nature preserve is located a couple of miles southeast of the village of Rockbridge, off of Dalton Road. It is open daily from dawn until dusk. Because this is a protected area, no pets are allowed (violators of this law may face stiff fines). For more information on how to access the preserve and the trails, visit the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website.
Rockbridge may not be the largest or most visited attraction in Hocking Hills, but it is certainly one of the most beautiful. So pack some snacks, book your hocking hills cabin, and prepare to be amazed.