Cantwell Cliffs

Address: Ohio SR 374, Rockbridge, Ohio 43149

GPS Coordinates: 39.539822, -82.575880

The Cantwell Cliffs area helps define the rugged natural beauty of the Hocking Hills State Park.

Directions: From Logan, Ohio – Take SR 33 West to CR 33A Exit and turn left at the stop sign onto SR 180. Continue SR 180 for 6 miles to SR 374. Turn Right on SR 374. Go 1.5 miles and turn right into the parking lot of Cantwell Cliffs.

Ohio Department of Natural Resources provided map showing terrain and hiking information for Cantwell Cliffs Park.
Cantwell Cliffs Trail Map
A topographical view of the Cantwell Cliffs Park area.
Cantwell Topographic Area

Cantwell Cliffs embraces the erosional efforts primarily from the Buck’s Run drainage that begins above the cliffs that overlook this magnificent gorge and ravine. The cliffs are near 150 feet tall and form the three sides of the gorge. Buck Run drops as a waterfall from the cliff with a rock shelter formed as a backdrop to this cascade. The sandstone here is so soft that just several hundred years ago this area looked totally different.

A wide angle view of the Buck Run Falls at Cantwell Cliffs  with the re-entrant cave eroded from behind and numerous slump rock that have fallen over the years.
Buck Run Cantwell Falls

The parking area is smaller and now has new restrooms for visitors. A small log cabin for naturalist talks and a pavilion, rather dated, for picnics and relaxation.

Leaving the parking lot, the path leads down a series of stairs until you reach the top of the rock cliff with a set of steep, well used rock steps leading down into the gorge through what is know as the “Fat Woman’s Squeeze”, a quite narrow passageway. Numerous massive blocks of Black Hand sandstone have become detached, along joint fracture planes, from the main body of sandstone and have moved a short distance downhill. “The Squeeze”, was created in this manner.

A view from the top looking down the narrow worn rock stairs and protruding tree roots. Half way down the passageway is so narrow it's called the "Fat Woman Squeeze".
The Squeeze

Unique to this area, the geology of the middle sandstone zone is only slightly cross-bedded allowing for a more rapid rate of erosion than in other areas of the park and characteristic rock fusions are found on the water fall’s cliff face. These are formed by concentrations of iron oxide binding the sandstone and giving it the reddish to reddish-brown appearance.

During the Spring profusions of wild flowers bloom throughout the gorge. Trillium, Jack in the Pulpits, Columbine, Foam flowers, and so many more shower the forest floor and rock crevices with beauty.

A macro closeup of a freshly bloomed Jack in the Pulpit flower glistening with early morning dew drops.
Young Jack

A great view of the area can be had at Lookout Point on the Eastern Rim Trail. This Cantwell Cliffs Loop trail is 1.8 miles and is rated as a moderate hike. Caution is advised, as always, along cliff top trails. In addition to the wild flowers you can see the towering hemlock, beech and many varieties of deciduous hard woods.

Cantwell Cliffs was named after one of the earliest settler families to reside in the Hocking Hills area. Joseph Cantwell, originally from Virginia, was the head of this family who rose to prominence in the region. Joseph married Maria Iles who had the nearby village, Ilesborough, named for her family. Joseph’s younger brother, Josiah, died at the Cantwell Cliffs in 1844 at the age of 86. Many of the Cantwell family are buried nearby in the McBroom cemetery.

One of the more remote areas of the Hocking Hills State Park, Cantwell Cliffs, is likely the least visited area and so allows its visitors more seclusion than that of the other park areas.

A set of wooden stairs leading the hiker to a rock crevasse passageway.
Fracture Stairs

Beginning in 1935 the Works Progress Administration employed numbers of mostly young men to develop the trails, stairs and bridges in the park. In addition, the Federal Arts Program and Writers Program began work on a series of guidebooks outlining the history and points of interest locally. Collectively published in 1940, this was the Ohio Guide Collection and contained close to 5000 photographs of Ohio including many from the Cantwell Cliffs region.

Rock stairs leading down and into the Cantwell Cliffs Gorge. These were constructed in the 1930' by the Civilian Conservation Corps and have proven the test of time and millions of hikers.

WPA -CCC Stairs

History of the Park:

More than 330 million years ago, the Hocking Hills State Park area was relatively level and was covered by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. For millions of years, the ocean’s currents deposited immense amounts of sand and gravel. After millions of years, the ocean receded, and the sandy layers bonded with silica to form the Black Hand Sandstone that underlies the area. It formed like a sandwich, with a hard top and bottom and a soft middle layer. When the Appalachian Mountains were thrust upwards the topology was developed within this area and evolved what is now the terrain of the Hocking Hills State Park.

The Hocking Hills State Park area was hemmed in by the ancient north-flowing Teays River to the west, and the then north-flowing Hocking River to the east. The landscape remained fairly static for millions of years. Any changes were minuscule, and were slow to develop.

When the miles thick Wisconsin Glacier began melting roughly 10,000 years ago, the landscape underwent dramatic changes. The glacier had stopped in northern Hocking County, so the Hocking Hills area suffered indescribable flooding during the ice melt. The ancient Teays River was buried under tons of glacial silt, and the direction of the Hocking River was reversed.

When the glacial torrents found cracks in the hard capstone, the water poured through to flush out the soft middle layer. This left long tunnels where the gorges are today. Eventually, the weight of the tops caused many of them to come crashing down. The “slump rocks” in the gorges today are what’s left of the hard top layer. In just a few centuries, the rushing waters of the glacier carved the soft middle layer of sandstone into the myriad dimples and wrinkles that decorate the cliffs and grottoes today.

A photo of a passageway through two rocks that is not very wide leading to a sunlit rock face beyond
Crevasse Hike
A separate water falls from the main Buck Run waterfalls most popular at Cantwell Cliffs
Sequential Falls

Early settlers in nearby Muskingum County found an ancient black human hand print on a cliff that is part of this same sandstone formation. That is the same “Black Hand Sandstone” that is seen in the Hocking Hills State Park.[6]

Happy Trails!

Dusty & Val

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