There are not many trails in Ohio with excellent overlooks for wide views of fall foliage. There are even fewer that aren’t overrun with hikers throughout October. Enter Christmas Rocks State Nature Preserve. Christmas Rocks was accessible only by permit until a few years ago, when the Department of Natural Areas and Preserves opened this location to the public, no permit required.
You might want to show up early (it’s open dawn to dusk) since the parking lot is small. And there are no restroom facilities and no water, so plan accordingly. There is a trailhead kiosk where the parking lot meets the road. Take a right here and walk about 150 feet to the gravel road where you’ll see an orange blaze—this public gravel road is where the hike begins; the trails are unnamed. Stay on the gravel road and continue straight until it turns into a proper trail. At just under a mile, take a left and ascend the steep ridge through an oak forest to the top. Here you will reach Jacob’s Ladder, a sandstone rock outcropping where you’ll get expansive views of the valley below and forested ridges to the horizon. From Jacob’s Ladder, you are looking south, so you should be warm by the time you get here, even on a chilly fall day. Quality photos would dictate a morning or evening arrival to avoid the harsh midday sun.
After snapping your pictures, walk directly away from the overlook to continue on the trail. Descend back to the access trail and another junction. If you’re looking for a shorter hike, take a right and return the way you came for a 2.8-mile lollipop. Or turn left and complete the second loop, blazed blue, before turning back for a 4.3-mile outing.
Be sure to come back in the spring for showy wildflowers like pink lady’s slipper and skunk cabbage—and again in the summer for the water-loving button bush and willow in the lowlands along the approach road.
While You’re There
For added photo opportunities, check out the Mink Hollow Covered Bridge in adjacent Arney Run Park.
Christmas Rocks is about 40 minutes southeast of Columbus. From U.S. 33, take U.S. 22 south to Hopewell Church Road east to Meister Road.
The Village Taproom is a pleasant surprise in the nearby town of Amanda, population 800. It features a nice beer selection, tasty pub food plus vegetarian options, not to mention live music.