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The Hocking Hills region of southeastern Ohio, also referred to as Hocking Hills State Park, is a combination of six separate smaller park areas that include Cedar Falls (pictured), Ash Cave, Old Man's Cave, Conkle's Hollow State Nature Preserve, Rock House and Cantwell Cliffs. Lake Hope, Lake Logan and Rose Lake are also located in this area, which totals roughly 2,000 acres of woodlands, gorges and hollows. It's a nature photographer's paradise because so much material can be found within a 15- to 20-minute drive between most of these locations. What makes this part of Ohio unique—actually considered the beginning of the Appalachian Foothills—are the sandstone gorges. Gushing waterfalls and flush streams pour through carved sandstone amongst towering hemlocks (remnants of the last Ice Age). The Hocking Hills region is located near the towns of Logan and Nelsonville, which are about a one-hour drive southeast from Columbus, Ohio, off Route 33.
All four seasons are very distinct in this part of Ohio, presenting Hocking Hills in a variety of light and conditions throughout the year. Most summers can be dry when it comes to stream and waterfall flow, while most other times of the year the rushing and falling water can be overwhelming. Fall days mean the temperature can vary anywhere from the low 50s to mid-70s. Most winter days are in the 20s and 30s. The return of spring, usually about mid-March, finds days back up in the 50s and 60s. Winter and spring are often quite wet, while summer and early fall can be very dry at times. From December through February, the streams and waterfalls can freeze up, resulting in incredible ice formations and a winter wonderland after a fresh snow, making for incredible landscape photo ops.
Although wildlife is abundant, I tend to focus my camera's attention to either landscapes or macro nature subjects. The flow of water through the carved sandstone offers many opportunities for creative compositions, using both a very limited depth of field or keeping both foreground and background in sharp focus. Regardless, I highly advise a good, pro-quality tripod and ballhead. The best lighting conditions in the gorges are almost always going to be in the morning or at twilight. Longer exposures are a necessity, especially when capturing details and textures in the colorful sandstone and blurring the flow of water to a softness that provides a nice contrast with the surrounding elements in the frame. Handheld diffusers and reflectors are great tools when working in the varying lighting conditions in the gorges and for smaller subjects such as wildflowers. Also, a circular polarizer is very effective in reducing glare off of wet rocks and adding a bit more saturation to both spring and fall color. A 16-35mm and/or 24-70mm are a must for landscapes, especially when including water.
Based on my many years of experience photographing in Hocking Hills, I'd say the best all-around time for landscape, macro and wildlife photography is from early April to late May. The woods and gorges come back to life in the rising mists of cool mornings and the water is almost always flowing at peak conditions. Wildflowers are abundant, which include trillium, bluebells, trout lily, Jack-in-the-pulpits and more, with hillsides full of new, almost luminescent growth from the beech trees highlighted by blooming dogwoods. But the ice formations in winter are amazing, too, and October often provides the best fall color to be found in Ohio.
Contact: Hocking Hills State Park, www.thehockinghills.org.