I first went to Christmas Rocks last February. This is one of Ohio’s Nature Preserve that was recently opened the the public.
I returned that on Tuesday, with the temperature hovering at around 40°.
Last time I was there, I mapped it out (though I have to say I was tremendously helped by the map on the entryway board). Oddly enough, Christmas Rocks themselves are not in the preserve (or if they are, they are right on the edge of the property), and none of the trails get anywhere near them.
Christmas Rocks is rather typical of the edge of Hocking Hills. The rock formations are starting to get rather few and far between (as opposed to in the heart of Hocking Hills, where they appear one right after another). But that makes each one special in its own way.
A word about the temperature. 40° is a perfectly comfortable temperature for barefoot hiking, at least after you’ve been doing it for a while. At no time did my feet get the least bit cold. I wish I could say the same thing about my arms—I had a single layer shirt on and a sleeveless hoodie. The first 15 minutes or so my arms did not appreciate that, at least until the hiking warmed up my core temperature to the point that it really pushed warm blood out there.
The entrance to Christmas Rocks is along a gravel access road. There is no parking right at the entrance so you have to park at the Mink Hollow covered bridge and then walk about half a mile along the road. This road is not friendly to bare feet, being composed of crushed limestone. Crushed limestone always ends up with points all over it. Stream gravel, which has been rounded by the water, is always much more comfortable.
It wasn’t that bad, since I was able to walk just off the side of the road. The only trouble with that was “spray”, where vehicles had pushed some of the gravel into the gravel where I couldn’t see it and so I occasionally got surprised by what I was stepping on.
As you approach the entrance you first pass a farmhouse and outbuildings, then shortly after that, a Kiwanis building.
Hey, if I owned a inholding like this, I’d sure keep it if I could.
The main rock formation at Christmas Rocks is Jacob’s Ladder. This was interesting enough to the early settlers of Ohio that there are two different roads to near it with that name.
It is a typical Hocking Hills Blackhand sandstone outcropping.
Its base sits about 200 feet above Arney Run, the creek below. The rocks themselves are about 70 feet tall.
The trail leads right to their base, leading to a nice photo opportunity.
Typical of Hocking Hills, there are spots where the rocks have separated that might provide a fun route up to the top.
However, as a Nature Preserve, we have to stay on the trails. So, no scaling. Instead, I just followed the trail that ran around the side of the rocks. Here you can see that same gap from the top looking down.
(You can also see that I did not go up that way by the undisturbed nature of the leaves. Note: if you do prefer more rock-scrambling, the place to do that is the Hocking State Forest, where you are allowed to go off-trail. The Hocking State Forest even has a rappelling area.)
The view from the top is always pretty spectacular.
This view is to the southwest, right into the setting sun. (Click for larger version.)
There is another set of exposed rocks on the high point on the other side of Arney Run (at least if my topo map is to be believed). But again, that area is off-trail and unvisitable. But I can take a picture across the valley, looking southeast.
This is a composite picture of 3 pictures stitched together. At the foot is part of Jacob’s Ladder, in the middle is the low point where Arney Run flows, and the other side is in the distance.
There was one other part of the hike that was a bit of a challenge to bare feet: green briars. Even taking the picture of me at the base of Jacob’s Ladder took some care.
I had to set the timer on my camera and then make my way to where I wanted to stand. As you can see, I didn’t always get to that point before the camera went off. (Note: I am not stepping on those green briars; they are between me and the camera.)
It is doable though, to walk even through fairly dense thickets. You just have to take it slowly, feel what you are about to step on, and unstep as necessary.
The real trouble is when you start to get in a rush. I have to admit that I did manage to step on one of those thorns about three times (impatient!). But my soles were thick enough that, while I felt them, they never went deep enough to draw blood. Most came right back out as I lifted my foot, but the one that didn’t came out easily with a flick of my fingernail.
Christmas Rocks: a nice place for a short hike.