Hiking in Ohio: Rockbridge State Nature Preserve

Winter. Pandemic. Lethargy. Without the pressing deadlines and necessary travel for the Moon Ohio guidebook (now in editing phase!) pushing me out of the house, I found it difficult to motivate myself to write about traveling because, well, I wasn’t doing a lot of interesting traveling. To better motivate myself to both travel and write, and because there is no shortage of hiking trails in Ohio, I am starting a new series of posts called Hiking in Ohio which, like it sounds, will cover some of the state’s best hiking spots. We’ll dip in and out of this series as other trips occur, but I’m excited to share what my wonderful state has to offer in the natural world. These will not be the backpacking, weekend-long types of trails. Since most of these hikes will be with my two-year-old son, these will be day trips that almost anyone can enjoy. So on to the first hike!

As it so happened, my birthday weekend in the middle of March enjoyed some decently warm, sunny days–not exactly a trend for March birthdays. My family and I packed a picnic and headed to Rockbridge State Nature Preserve on the western edge of the Hocking Hills region. While not a part of Hocking Hills State Park, Rockbridge shares the region’s characteristics: hilliness, rock formations, woods, and waterfalls. Other than get outside on a nice day, we had another goal: to see how our two-year-old could handle a real trail.

The main attraction of this small nature preserve is, like its name suggests, a natural rock bridge with a trickling waterfall next to it. It’s only a 1.75-mile loop to and from the formation, with another adjoining loop through the woods for additional hiking. For those coming from the west, the good news is that Rockbridge State Nature Preserve is a solid 20 minutes closer to you than Old Man’s Cave, a much more heavily visited site in Hocking Hills. It’s close off US-33 down the narrow but well-marked Dalton Rd. The parking lot is just a small gravel lot off the road that dead ends into At Boulders Edge Cabin and Tipi Retreat. You shouldn’t miss the sign though.

Trailhead for Rockbridge State Nature Preserve off Dalton Rd.
Trailhead for Rockbridge State Nature Preserve off Dalton Rd.

From the trailhead, the path switches between gravel, dirt, and boardwalk between hilly pastures into the woods. Not far in, the trail forks. Since it’s a loop to the rock bridge, it doesn’t matter which way you go, though I think there may be slightly less up and down if you go to the right. If you wish to extend your hike and go on the adjoining Rock Shelter Loop, that trail is to the right. In either direction from the fork, a moderate amount of up and down elevation change, none of it too steep, brings you to a burbling stream. Follow the stream to the rock bridge itself, excitingly revealed as you approach it from the top and the stream descends down a series of trickling waterfalls next to the bridge.

And then you go back to your car the way you came! There’s not a lot to see on the hike other than the rock bridge, which doesn’t take more than a few minutes to appreciate, but it was an excellent hike for someone getting their little hiking feet into shape. To our relief, our son enjoyed the adventure of a hike through the woods and a little climbing. Not once did he ask to be carried (until we were in sight of the car). Though the trail was far from crowded, many of the people I did see also had small children in tow. The mud was minimal (though I could see potential for more in rainier circumstances), the climbs weren’t overly steep or dangerous, and the length, as I mentioned, is less than two miles. The only spot where we kept a firm hold on our son was at the rock bridge itself, which has some steep and rocky drop offs. All told, we finished in a little over an hour and a half going at a toddler’s pace.

Waterfall and rockbridge at Rockbridge State Nature Preserve.
A small waterfall trickles next to the rock bridge for a tranquil scene.

The only downside? There are absolutely no facilities in this nature preserve–not even a picnic table. The good news is there is a rest stop just west of Dalton Rd. off of US-33 not two minutes from the parking lot with restrooms and plenty of picnic tables. I recommend utilizing this before or after your hike.

Though not the longest or even most astounding hike in the area, Rockbridge State Nature Preserve is a good idea for those short on time, for those with little kids, or those looking for an alternative (or addition) to a Hocking Hills adventure.