The Highlands Nature Sanctuary is the nonprofit Arc of Appalachia’s oldest and largest preserve. The heart of the 3000-acre preserve is the breathtakingly beautiful Rocky Fork Gorge, a 100-foot high steep-walled dolomite canyon with breath taking rock formations, ancient white cedars, grottoes, springs, and stone arches. The Highlands Nature Sanctuary is known for its superb hiking trails, overnight nature retreats, wealth of botanical diversity and spectacular spring wildflower displays – some of the most stunning showcases in all of Eastern United States.
Hiking: All trails open from sunrise to sunset
Appalachian Forest Museum: Open March 15 - November 15 daily from 9:30 am - 4:30 pm. Closed for the season November 16 - March 14
See a trail maintenance issue on a trail? Let us know! Text Ethan at (513) 508-8549
- Ashy Sunflower Trail: 1 mile loop, mostly level. This trail runs through a planted prairie that is stunningly beautiful in early to mid August when the rare, but showy ashy sunflowers bloom. Dog friendly - must be on a 6 foot, or shorter, leash.
- Barrett's Rim Trail: 2.5 mile loop. A mostly level trail with one short decent and ascent. The trail follows the Rocky Fork Creek along the base of a vertical rock wall, the area often referred to as the "Jewel of the Rocky Fork Gorge''.
- Barrier Ridge Trail: 3.0 mile loop. A long gradual climb to the top of Barrier Ridge with a faster descent. This is a remote, deeply forested trail. We recommend carrying a map and your cell phone since sometimes the route is difficult to find in autumn when the leaves have just fallen. The trail begins in the lower museum parking lot south of the museum at the park's vehicle exit on Cave Road. Look for a set of stone stairs on the right hand side of the lower parking lot, roughly halfway down.
- Buttonbush Trail: A 0.55 mile easy loop trail originating off of the Ridgeview Farm Restoration Trail winding around an expansive Open Meadow, with a spur to a dense stand of buttonbush and other wet-feet-loving plant species.
- Cedar Run Trail: 2.5 mile loop begins by following an old farm lane into an open meadow and then enters the woods on its way to Cedar Run Gorge. Trail provides beautiful views of rock walls and fern-covered boulders along spring-fed Cedar Run. A spur leads to a small waterfall nearly hidden by a fallen rock.
- Connector Trail: 0.6 mile easy trail that connects the Sanctuary West Trailhead to the Maude's Cedar Narrows Trailhead. Trail originates off of the Eagle's Aerie Trail and runs into McCoppin Mill Road.
- Eagle's Aerie Trail: The Eagle's Aerie Trail is a 0.5 mile easy forested loop trail that comes off of the God's Country Trail.
- Etawah Woods Trail: 1.3 mile loop trail near Bainbridge, Ohio. Generally considered an easy route, it takes an average of 27 min to complete. This trail is great for hiking, running, and walking, and it's unlikely you'll encounter many other people while exploring. You'll need to leave pups at home — dogs aren't allowed on this trail.
- God's Country Trail: 1.9 mile loop trail near Hillsboro, Ohio. Generally considered an easy route, it takes an average of 40 min to complete. This trail is great for birding and hiking, and it's unlikely you'll encounter many other people while exploring. The trail is open year-round and is beautiful to visit anytime. Dogs are welcome, but must be on a leash.
- Kamelands Trail: 2 mile loop, mostly level/ This trail leads through rolling meadows to the wooded corridor bordering the high bluffs of Rocky Fork Creek across from the Forest Museum. This trail boasts immense ancient oaks, interesting rock formations, and an optional spur trail down to the canyon floor.
- Listening Trail: 0.5 Mile trail following the bluffs of the Rocky Fork with a spur down to the creek. Gorgeous views of the Rocky Fork Creek and handsome rock formations.
- Maude's Cedar Narrows Trail: 1.5 mile loop with a 50 foot rise and fall in elevation. Maude's comes off the right loop of Prothonotary Trail and returns directly to the trailhead parking lot. The trail follows the foot of the bluffs overlooking the Rocky Fork Creek, then up Franklin Branch tributary to admire the marvelous spring wildflower displays and rock formations. Great grassland birding on the return route.
- Prothonotary Trail: 0.5 mile loop with a descent into the canyon floor and back up along the rim. Gorgeous views of the Rocky Fork Creek, rich spring wildflowers, and interesting rock formations.
- Ridgeview Farm Restoration Trail: 1.5 mile loop trail features educational signs interpreting the biodiversity-boosting practices that are taking place on this old farmland. The trail winds through gently rolling open fields and into a swamp forest that shelters skunk cabbage and marsh marigolds. Along the trail is an Educational Chestnut Orchard featuring three species of chestnuts and blight resistant F-3 hybrids. Listen for orchard orioles and the rare Hanslow's sparrow, Ridgeview's signature birds. This preserve exists to demonstrate that restoring biodiversity is possible on an abandoned farm.
- Roundtop Loop Trail: 1.75 mile loop. Roundtop winds through a rich sugar maple forest and through chestnut oak shale barrens. The trail makes a gradual climb to the ridgetop and back down.
- Valley of the Ancients Trail: 0.4 mile loop trail near Cynthiana, Ohio. Generally considered an easy route, it takes an average of 12 min to complete. This is a popular trail for hiking, running, and walking, but you can still enjoy some solitude during quieter times of day. The best times to visit this trail are March through November. You'll need to leave pups at home — dogs aren't allowed on this trail.
- Which Wet Willow Trail: A 0.76 mile trail moderately easy loop trail originating off of the Buttonbush Swamp Trail near Black Willow Run that takes visitors into a gently rolling open meadow with scattered patches of native willows, dogwood, and other early succession trees.
- Barrett’s Farm Lodge and Sue Kellogg Educational Center: Barrett’s Lodge is a historic turn-of-the-century home that has been converted to an overnight nature retreat center for groups. Note: This lodge is not appropriate for younger children due to museum-quality interior. Please consider booking Ravenwood or Beechcliff if there are children under 14 in your party. Barrett’s Lodge is an excellent space for groups, retreats, and workshops located 1.5 hours from Cincinnati and Columbus in southern Ohio. The facility is located on Cave Road, approximately 1.6 miles away from the Appalachian Forest Museum and within a close drive of most of our hiking trails.
- Beechcliff Retreat Center: Beechcliff is a historic turn-of-the-century hunting lodge that has been converted to an overnight nature retreat center for groups. Built in 1912, it served three generations of the Waddell family before being generously donated to the Sanctuary. Barrett’s Lodge has two porches, 6 bedrooms, kitchen, dining room, and a medium-sized living room. 4 bathrooms, 2 of which have private access from the rooms. 2 night minimum stay.
- Cave House: Because Cave House is part of the Museum complex, guests share the large parking lot with preserve visitors by day, but enjoy a completely private space by night when the entire complex is secured behind locked gates, to which renters are provided the passcode. By day, visitors may make limited use of the Museum’s wi-fi for phone and computer access. Inquire at the Museum desk. Cave House, with its three bedrooms, is an excellent space for small groups and families. This lodge has a large kitchen and two walls of windows that give guests an unparalleled panorama of scenic Cave Road, the Appalachian Forest Museum, and the heart of the Rocky Fork Gorge.
- Chanterelle Cottage at Whispering Springs: Whispering Springs is a beautiful tract of land located on Cave Road featuring three lodging facilities and a pond rimmed with chorusing tree frogs. This property is a great place for educational retreats, romantic getaways or a family weekend. The Chanterelle Cottage is a charming, cozy second floor loft located next to the Dome House. Features two bedrooms, one bath and a full kitchen with a private deck. This cottage is perfect for a couples retreat or a small family. The master bedroom is connected to a smaller room with a shared entryway.
- EarthStar Suite at Whispering Springs: Whispering Springs is a beautiful tract of land located on Cave Road featuring three lodging facilities and a pond rimmed with chorusing tree frogs. This property is a great place for educational retreats, romantic getaways or a family weekend (Chanterelle Cottage is family friendly). The Earthstar Lodge is located in a state-of-the-art monolithic dome house with an artisan interior crafted out of native hardwoods. Its gently curving exterior melts into the landscape like the hobbit house of Tolkien fame. Earthstar is the bigger side of the dome located next to Toadstool Suite and Chanterelle Cottage. It features one bedroom and bath with an open full kitchen and spacious living area.
- Eyrie Suite at the Hermitage Cabin: The Hermitage is a cabin built onto the precipice of the 100-foot deep Rocky Fork Gorge in a deeply wooded setting. Hermitage offers two private suites for nature retreats of one or two people each – the Zen and the Eyrie – each suite with its own private deck and entrance. Hermitage sits well off the road and is isolated from the views of any other nearby residences. The interior of both suites is highly aesthetic and artistic in design, while the view outside the bedroom windows of both suites is truly spectacular. In the Eyrie Suite, massive round logs compose the bedroom furniture, handcrafted of native white cedar by a cottage industry in Wisconsin. Snowshoes, antique fur buggy robe, and an old school desk bring to this room the mystique of the North Woods. Breathtaking views of the deep gorge below can be seen through several viewing windows, including large ones directly opposite the queen-sized bed.
- Leatherwood Cabin: Leatherwood Cabin is a charming retreat located in the heart of the Highlands Nature Sanctuary. The cabin is perched on a forty foot bluff overlooking the Rocky Fork Creek, and is just a half mile walk from our main visitor center, the Appalachian Forest Museum. Leatherwood is perfect for small retreats of up to 4 guests. Visitors can relax on the spacious deck that surrounds the cabin and listen to the soft sound of rushing water and gentle breezes, while enjoying the pastoral view of the Rocky Fork directly below the deck. A short walk or drive down the scenic country road brings visitors past Beechcliff Lodge to the Appalachian Forest Museum and nature trails to the Rocky Fork Gorge. Leatherwood is closer to the road than our other lodges, and sits within a small rural community of other rentals, summer homes and residences.
- Ravenwood Retreat Center: Ravenwood is a beautiful light-filled group lodge on the western edge of the 2,500 acre Highlands Nature Sanctuary. It is an excellent space for groups, retreats, and workshops located 1.5 hours from Cincinnati and Columbus in southern Ohio. Ravenwood is an ideal educational facility for groups pursuing curriculums of nature literacy, deep ecology, natural history, wellness, yoga, meditation, or body-connection. The facility comfortably serves a group of ten. The Listening Trail is one of the highlights of the Ravenwood facility. The trail, beginning right outside Ravenwood’s back door, descends into a deep valley cut by the Rocky Fork Creek, amidst a beautiful landscape of moss-covered boulders, rock walls, small grottos, and rushing water.
- Spring House at Whispering Springs: Whispering Springs is a beautiful tract of land located on Cave Road featuring four lodging facilities and a pond rimmed with chorusing tree frogs. This property is a great place for educational retreats, romantic getaways or a family weekend. The Spring House Lodge is a charming, cozy lodge located next in the heart of the Highlands Nature Sanctuary. Features two bedrooms, two baths and a full kitchen with a private deck. This lodge is perfect for a couples retreat or a small family.
- Toadstool Suite at Whispering Springs: The Toadstool suite is located in a state-of-the-art monolithic dome house with an artisan interior crafted out of native hardwoods. Its gently curving exterior melts into the landscape like the hobbit house of Tolkien fame. The lodge is situated off the road, allowing guests a private and quiet stay. Toadstool is the smaller side of the dome located next to Earthstar Suite and Chanterelle Cottage. It features one bedroom and bath with a full kitchen.
- Wood Thrush Cove at Hocking Hills: Wood Thrush Cove is a fully remodeled log cabin nestled in a forested hollow that is comfortably furnished to accommodate up to two adult couples. Wood Thrush Cove has two upstairs bedrooms: one with a king-size bed and one with a queen-size bed, each one with a private bathroom and shower. Its kitchen is fully equipped with a full-size refrigerator, stove, microwave, and full-service kitchenware. It has a dining room and two large gathering places. It has a full-length front porch bordering the cabin, and a covered back porch with deck chairs for outdoor gatherings and meals. A third full bathroom is on the first wall. The floors are wood and carpet. A resident caretaker cabin is also on the property in the role of host. She is happy to welcome and orient you, but will otherwise protect your privacy to the utmost.
- Zen River Suite at the Hermitage Cabin: The Hermitage is a cabin built onto the precipice of the 100-foot deep Rocky Fork Gorge in a deeply wooded setting. Hermitage offers two private suites for nature retreats of one or two people each – the Zen and the Eyrie – each suite with its own private deck and entrance. Hermitage sits well off the road and is isolated from the views of any other nearby residences. The interior of both suites is highly aesthetic and artistic in design, while the view outside the bedroom windows of both suites is truly spectacular. The Zen River Room is the larger of the two suites at the Hermitage. The Zen River’s bed is close to the floor and surrounded by floor to ceiling windows looking out into the gorge. The decor espouses elegant Zen-inspired simplicity. Hermitage is our most remote suite, yet they are located in the heart of the Highlands Nature Sanctuary, close to most of the trailheads and within walking distance of the Appalachian Forest Museum.
You’ll find everything you’re looking for right here in Highland County, Ohio.