On Jan. 15, thousands trekked from Old Man's Cave to Ash Cave during the Annual Winter Hike, a tradition for 46 years. Other times, even when park officers aren't offering return shuttle service, visitors continue to wear bare the six-mile stretch.

On Jan. 15, thousands trekked from Old Man's Cave to Ash Cave during the Annual Winter Hike, a tradition for 46 years. Other times, even when park officers aren't offering return shuttle service, visitors continue to wear bare the six-mile stretch.

Now, don't get me wrong: This trail's popular for a reason. Yet many walk it once a year and ignore everything else in the Hocking Hills.

Like golden flecks in a wide mountain stream, smaller preserves and more secretive spots dot the state's most infamous outdoor region - this land of hemlock shade, cliff-side danger and the gorgeous passage of time.

Your afternoon of seeing anew starts at Rockbridge State Nature Preserve.

About a mile down a trail along homespun fencerows, you'll encounter the longest of Ohio's 12 natural bridges. The striking, 95-foot stone walkway spans an eroded cavern and towers above waterfalls frozen in crystal stillness.

Erosion's determined effects are even more amplified at Cantwell Cliffs, the most remote of the six main areas of Hocking Hills State Park. It's a local favorite, but it gets little traffic because it's a solid 15 miles north of Old Man's Cave.

Wandering out from the parking lot, the left branch of the Rim Trail descends immediately into Fat Woman's Squeeze, a narrow set of stairs carved into the namesake cliffs. Most will pass through comfortably enough and continue into a looming, airy expanse that will stop you dead in your steps.

Here is the most beautiful spot in the Hocking Hills: a curved recess cave with 150 feet between the rim and plunge pool, and walls tinted with pastel hues of pink, peach and green. You'll crane your neck to watch drips above, scramble over boulders, break off icicles and run fingers over the gritty stone.

Other cliff faces, slump rocks, caves and waterfalls line the rest of the trail and the strenuous 1.75-mile Lower Loop Trail, which runs through the gorge.

On your way back to Columbus, leave time to visit Shallenberger State Nature Preserve. With leafy cover down during winter months, you'll enjoy a long, quiet view from the rocky outpost known as Allen Knob.

For more places to hike, bike, camp and explore in the Hocking Hills, click to the Ohio Adventure Map at columbusalive.com/venture.