Who the man was remains a mystery. We know only that more than 200 years ago he carved a message into an exposed section of sandstone about 55 miles southeast of Columbus: “W.J. Conkle 1797.”
His ancient graffiti eroded years ago, but the rocky gorge where he left his mark became Conkle’s Hollow State Nature Preserve, one of the six feature areas in Hocking Hills State Park.
To experience Conkle’s is to wander through primordial beauty, then to stand atop gorges approaching 200 feet. It’s an ideal day trip, and most hikers will have no problem tackling the easy, half-mile Gorge Trail and the fairly difficult, four-mile Rim Trail.
Pack a lunch and head first into the gorge, which is lined with outcroppings of Blackhand sandstone that are shaded by hemlocks and lathered by a lush blanket of ferns. The scene appears otherworldly, almost prehistoric, with its rugged beauty and stillness.
The Gorge Trail ends at a waterfall surrounded by boulders that serve as ideal picnic tables. Rain and a bit of melted snow should keep the waterfall flowing for most of late winter and early spring.
Once filled and refreshed, walk back to the trailhead and take the western side of the Rim Trail. Hiking it clockwise means a quicker (though more strenuous) ascent during which you pound out nearly all elevation change in the first quarter-mile or so.
Once at the summit, you’ll enjoy a flat, breezy walk along the stone rim that surrounds three sides of the gorge. This is definitely a place where trail warnings mean business: The rooty, uneven path comes within inches of staggering drops, so be on guard.
Yet don’t forget to look up and savor the sights. Eagle-like views look down over hidden caves tucked into the gorge and out to tree-lined hills extending across the region. Be sure to leave time to rest on a pair of overlooks on the trail’s eastern half.
From there, you’ll feel as though you’re sitting on top of the state.