Visiting Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve

One of my all-time favorite Central Ohio hiking spots is also one that I first visited only last summer!  Discovering the Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve was a wonderful find!  What we had originally thought was going to be a 1/2 day outing on a Sunday morning turned into two 1/2 day outings over a couple of weekends--and plans to return as there were still trails left to explore!  I wanted to share some of the highlights of our trip to Blackhand Gorge, a little about the history and some tips to keep in mind if you would like to plan a visit too!

We are sharing this post as part of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge!  

B is for Blackhand Gorge Nature Preserve in Newark, Ohio.

Sandstone Ledges and foliage at Blackhand Gorge in Heath, Ohio
Sandstone cliffs and ledges dot the views as you venture along the Blackhand Gorge Path


The History of Blackhand Gorge

The gorge was created as the Licking River eroded the porous sandstone.  The river now runs through the gorge with hundred-foot high cliffs on either side.  The Blackhand Gorge, at least according to legend, was named after a Native American petroglyph in the shape of a black hand that had been on one of the cliff walls before it was blasted away during canal construction.  

The meaning of the black hand petroglyph is also the subject of legend.  Some say it was a signal to other Native American tribes passing through the gorge that they should move through in peace. Others say that it appeared as the result of an ill-fated love triangle that caused one native brave to raise his hand in violence against another--losing his own hand to mark the cliff as a reminder that the gorge was sacred land expected to free of violence.

The gorge served both the Ohio and Erie Canal as well as the Central Railroad.

Visiting the Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve

Historic Cabin Greets Visitors to Blackhand Gorge

Historic cabin in a field at Blackhand Gorge
Historic cabin at Blackhand Gorge in Newark, Ohio


This cabin stands near the parking lot and the entrance to the paved trail that guides visitors.  I didn't see any details about the cabin at the park and have not found the significance--aside from the fact that it may simply be a replica of those during the mid-1800's in Ohio.

The Paved Bike Path

A paved trail at the Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve
The paved bike path trail at Blackhand Gorge offers visitors easy access.

We began the visit simply walking down the paved bike path.  The path offers, I believe, a little over a 4 mile hike.  We quickly realized that many side trails and scenic spots existed as offshoots of the paved path.  

Pinnable Image for an article about Blackhand Gorge in Newark, Ohio



Sites and Scenes Along (and Off) the Main Paved Path

Expect to venture off that neat paved path--especially if hiking with kids!  Taking the extra time to explore those little side trails and climbs turned out to be some of the best sites of the trip!  

Blackhand Gorge along the Licking River
View of Blackhand Gorge Sandstone from across the river

Sandstone cliffs with tree roots and foliage at Blackhand Gorge
Blackhand Gorge Visitors Find Natural Beauty along the Paved Trail

Water view at Blackhand Gorge
A view of the water from a Blackhand Gorge trail

Sandstone Cliffs at Blackhand Gorge
So many photo opportunities at Blackhand Gorge!

Rock walls at Blackhand Gorge
Blackhand Gorge was beautiful at every stopping point along the trail!

Learn about the Ohio and Erie Canal--and the Locks


A sign pointin the way to the path that leads to Ohio and Erie Canal lock 16
You will find this path away from the main parking area

You can check out the remnants of an old lock back one of the trails!


An old canal lock along Blackhand Gorge and the Licking River
Ohio and Erie Canal Lock 16

The Train Tunnel is a Must-See

Abondoned train tunnel cut through the sandstone at Blackhand Gorge
An old abandoned railroad tunnel was a Blackhand Gorge trip highlight

You will need to walk away from the main parking area to find the trails toward the lock and the tunnel.  But--it is well worth it!  The tunnel is amazing--and well worth the trip.  We visited the tunnel on a second day and each of us thought it was the best part of the day's trip!

top of the abandoned train tunnel at Blackhand Gorge
A view of the ceiling of the old train tunnel at Blackhand Gorge

 I even found myself taking pictures of the "ceiling of the tunnel as the tool marks and chiseled sandstone were so interesting to see!

One Last Shot of the Licking River

View of the Licking River from the road near Blackhand Gorge visitor parking lot


If you Visit Blackhand Gorge Nature Preserve


Plan a full day trip--or two half day trips.  The little side trails and offshoots take some time and add some miles o your adventure.  Be sure to leave more time than you think you need.  You will be glad you did!

Allow time to explore both sides of the trail--but do it systematically!  The bike path doesn't loop back to the parking area--so you essentially walk one way and turn around to walk the same trail back.  We explored all of the off shoot trails along the right side of the trail as we walked away from the trail's beginning--and saved the offshoots along the left of the trail for exploration on the return walk.  This made sure that the family (especially the kids) had new things to look at on the long walk back to stay entertained when they were beginning to tire!

Visit the restroom before hitting the trail.  I did not notice another option for a potty break along the main trail!  This is an important detail to not if you have little ones--so be sure to plan accordingly and make a stop before hitting the trail!

Pack a picnic lunch.  We had SO wished that we had planned ahead and packed a lunch.  There are some easily accessible spots along the river that would have been perfect for a picnic!  

Take along water and snacks.  You won't find vendors on-site and, when we visited, I don't really recall a working water fountain due to COVID restrictions.  We fill a couple of lightweight backpacks with water bottles and snacks--as well as a small first aid kit, hand sanitizer, sunscreen, etc.

Plan for an early-day visit.  There were lighter crowds in the early parts of the days that we visited.  Less people meant that we are able to spend more time taking photos and exploring on the little trails off the main trails.  Some of those trails are pretty small and compact.  It made it nice to have some space without feeling rushed!

Dining in the Area.  You can check out our reviews of  Red Oak Pub, Bummie's Pub and Grub and the Big Apple Cafe in Newark at our sister site. We visited these spots during our visits.  All were great for family friendly pub or cafe style food.  

The Blackhand Gorge was a beautiful trip that I would very much recommend!

Details about the Site Featured Here:

Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve

2200 Gratiot Road SE

Newark, OH 43056


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  1. Such a beautiful place. Wow, what a nice hike.

  2. That definitely looks like a place I'd love to hike. It's gorgeous.

    Visiting from A to Z... AJ Blythe

  3. Thanks for sharing such beautiful pictures from your day trip. I would surely love to go on trek here someday.

  4. Your photos are gorgeous. If I lived nearby, I would be planning a hike soon!

  5. Really great pictures. Thanks so much for sharing.

    It's hard to believe the blogging challenge is almost over. Then the after survey, reflections, and the road trip sign-up.
    Plus, I'm taking part in the Bout of Books read-a-thon in May. So much excitement!
    J Lenni Dorner~ Co-host of the #AtoZchallenge, OperationAwesome6 Debut Author Interviewer, Reference& Speculative Fiction Author


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