If you enjoy nature but don’t like throngs of people enjoying it with you, a visit to one of Ohio’s spectacular nature preserves may be an adventure you’ll enjoy. No trails, no handrails, and no bridges means it’s not for everyone, but the extra effort required to explore these unspoiled spaces can be well rewarded – especially for a landscape photographer who loves waterfalls.
Many of Ohio’s Nature Preserves require a free permit from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, but some of them don’t. You can find a list of all the ODNR preserves on their website: http://naturepreserves.ohiodnr.gov/findapreserve
Little Rocky Hollow Nature Preserve, http://naturepreserves.ohiodnr.gov/littlerockyhollow , is one that requires a permit. You download the PDF permit application, fill it out, and email it to OhioStateParks@dnr.state.oh.us
You will need to plan in advance when you want to go and email your application 14 days prior to your visit. ODNR will email you the permit, a parking permit, and a map with directions. When filling out the application you can put in a date range of up to ten days to allow for weather or other unexpected scheduling problems. They will also send you a copy of the rules for visiting. Please read and follow them. These places are preserves and if they’re abused, no one will be allowed to visit. Enough said.
To enter the Little Rocky Nature Preserve you follow a flat, easy 1/4 mile trail across State Forest land from where you park to border of the preserve.Then it’s a steep downhill trail into the hollow. At the bottom you head right and follow the creek upstream. The trail that leads you into the preserve is part of the Buckeye Trail. It crosses the preserve and continues west. The blue tree blazes are that trail. You can follow them up the first side hollow across the creek from where you came down to see the first of many waterfalls (#1 on the map below).
This first falls isn’t huge, but like most of the others in the preserve it has it’s own unique set of features. The most unusual is the view of the water from a rock shelf in the overhang.
After coming back out of this side hollow and following the creek further upstream, you come to a side hollow on the opposite side. A short walk up this side creek brings you to a very high, narrow falls (#2 on the map below). The shot below was taken after a heavy overnight rain. I used my 5×7 large format camera and Ilford FP4 black and white film to capture the water and the intricate texture of the sandstone cliff.
Less than a quarter mile upstream from the tall falls and on the same side of the creek is a very short side hollow with two small but unusual waterfalls (#3 on the map below). I call the lower falls (pictured in the header for this post and below) Plato Falls because of the patterns of light and shadow the sunlight and water project into the little overhang cave behind it.
The upper falls (Socrates Falls?) is a good example of the most common kind of seasonal waterfall in the area. It’s tucked into a small alcove and flows over multiple layers of sandstone. The photo below was captured using a Bronica medium format camera and Ilford Delta100 film.
Returning to the main hollow and heading upstream again, you come to Sad Parakeet Rock. I totally didn’t make up that name for this historic, dare I say, iconic, chunk of sandstone. The resemblance to a sad parakeet (or possibly constipated, it’s hard to tell with stone bird faces) is undeniable. Anyway, cross the creek again and just upstream is a large rock slump. Behind the slump is arguably the most spectacular falls in the preserve and one of the most picturesque I’ve seen in Ohio. No, really!
OK, I was making up the stuff about Sad Parakeet Rock, but the waterfall is amazing! See?
You can hear the water before you come around the corner. As it comes into view you can see waterfall after waterfall pouring over layers of sandstone (#4 on the map below). After a good rain, it was just astonishing. You can’t get too far away from it because of the steep slopes so a wide angle lens is helpful for getting all of the falls in one picture. The panorama above is actually 8 vertical photos taken with the help of a Panosaurus 2.0 tripod head and stitched together in Photoshop. A panoramic head lets you rotate the camera around the nodal point of the lens. This eliminates parallax and gives you a much less distorted panoramic photo.
I also tried getting in close with a really wide Rokinon 12mm lens to take a single vertical shot. I couldn’t include the last little falls on the right, but this composition emphasizes the scale and diagonal travel of the waterfalls.
The hollow is a feast for the senses even without all the waterfalls. Just following the creek up the winding canyon full of hemlocks, moss, and ferns is a wonderful experience. With no other people around there’s no noise other than the wind and the water. During my last visit, sporadic bursts of sunshine made the forest glow. I may start singing a John Denver song any minute.
Continuing upstream the hollow starts to narrow and get more winding and difficult to hike. Persistence will be rewarded with incredible Jurassic scenery and a couple more waterfalls. In the last sizable side hollow before the end of Little Rocky Hollow, you can find another very picturesque waterfall. It looked so perfectly arranged, as if a landscape architect had designed it, that I call it Garden Falls (#5 on the map below)
The hollow continues to narrow until you get to a point where you can’t continue (#6 on the map below). From where you enter the hollow to this point is a little over a mile, but with wandering to explore all the side hollows and following a very crooked creek you’ll end up with much more than a 2 mile round trip. When I visited with Christa and Eric from @myohioadventure and Bryon @big4ord we went a total of about 7 miles over 6 hours.
If you decide to visit, get yourself a permit and bring a change of shoes and socks and enjoy a wonderfully unspoiled haven of Ohio wilderness. Below is a map showing the rough locations of the waterfalls mentioned above. I didn’t get to explore every side hollow so there’s likely even more to see than what I’ve shared. The blue line on the map is the trail that leads into and then out of the hollow. The hike back up from the creek to the parking area is a steep and slippery workout, but a small price to pay for a day in this fantastic preserve.