Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park is one of Ohio’s best-kept secrets. While the secret is out on Hocking Hills, at least amongst Midwesterners, Nelson-Kennedy Ledges still manages to remain camouflaged from tourists.
Just 30 miles from Cuyahoga Valley National Park, this hidden gem in Ohio has stunning waterfalls, mossy cliffs, damp caves, narrow ledges, and jumbled rock formations that are worthy of gracing the pages of a magical storybook. You won’t believe you’re still in Ohio as you hike the trails and wander through the charming landscape of Nelson-Kennedy Ledges.
What I love about this place is that each time we visit Nelson-Kennedy Ledges, we always have the entire park to ourselves. Having lived just a few hours from this Ohio state park for several years (from ages 4 through 28), I’ve experienced every part of Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park, and I can’t wait to share everything with you!
If this is your first time visiting Nelson-Kennedy Ledges, or if you’re looking to discover hidden gems in Ohio, this is the guide for you! In this guide, I’ll be sharing everything you need to know to visit Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park, including how to get there, hiking trail details, where to stay, and what to do while you’re in the area.
Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park: A First Timer’s Guide
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Directions to Nelson-Kennedy Ledges
Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park is located in northeast Ohio, about 45 miles east of Cleveland. This would be an absolute perfect day trip from Cleveland!
Things to Know Before Visiting Nelson-Kennedy Ledges
Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park is open from dawn until dusk. It is a day-use park only. No overnight parking or camping.
There is no entrance fee. In fact, all Ohio state parks are always free to enter!
Leashed pets are allowed on all hiking trails. Learn about how to safely hike with your dog here. 🐶
The trailheads are across the street from the parking area. You’ll need to park your vehicle in the lot and then walk across the road to get to the hiking trails.
There are portable toilets and picnic tables located beside the parking lot.
If you bring your kids, don’t let them get too close to the edges. When you’re walking on the trails above the gorge, the drop-offs are quite steep.
This park can be conquered in just a few hours (or less). If you’re looking to continue your adventure, head on over to Nelson Ledges Quarry Park, which is about a half-mile down the road. Here you’ll find swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, cliff jumping, camping, biking, fishing, and hiking opportunities.
Hiking Trails in Nelson-Kennedy Ledges
Four short hiking trails in Nelson-Kennedy Ledges will take you on a magical journey along the rim of the moss-covered ledges and deep into the damp, waterfall-and-cave-filled gorge.
Navigating the paths can sometimes be difficult, so don’t worry if you don’t follow each trail exactly. Sometimes I wasn’t quite sure what trail I was on or what formation I was looking at! Create your own adventure by wandering through the cliffs, gorges, waterfalls, caves, ledges, and mossy rock formations.
It’s a small park, so chances are you probably won’t get too terribly lost, but just in case, carry a paper map with you (or take a photo of the map at the parking lot) and download an offline map like AllTrails or Gaia.
FOUR THINGS TO NOTE ABOUT THE HIKING TRAILS:
- There are two trailheads in the park. One is located directly across the street from the picnic area and the other one is located directly across the street from the parking lot.
- There are some trail length discrepancies. You’ll find that there are some discrepancies in the lengths of the trails. The park website and the park map say two different trail lengths, so take the trail lengths with a grain of salt.
- The trails all connect. All of these trails connect so you can hike each trail separately or treat them as one giant hike. The trails in Nelson-Kennedy Ledges are some of the very best hiking trails in the Midwest!
- Follow the blazes. There are painted trail blazes on trees and rocks to help you stay on the right path. Paint fades, so keep that in mind as you wander through the park.
- Length: 1 mile
- Difficulty: Easy
- Features: Minnehaha Falls, Cliffs, Ledges
From the parking lot, you’ll walk straight across the road and follow the white blazes on the trees and rocks. (Note that this is the trailhead on the left).
Pass the junctions for the yellow and red trails and keep going straight until the trail turns into a loop.
Here you’ll walk across the top of the ledges and pass by a 15-foot waterfall, Minnehaha Falls, that drops into a gorge.
- Length: 0.75 miles
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Features: Cascade Falls, Gold Hunter’s Cave, Old Maid’s Kitchen, Dwarf’s Pass, Ledges, Cliffs
This trail begins from the right trailhead (directly across from the picnic area). Follow the yellow blazes on the trees and rocks.
You’ll be taken on an adventure through the ledges and through Dwarf’s Pass. Dwarf’s Pass is a boardwalk that requires you to get on your hands and knees to pass through.
You’ll also pass by the Gold Hunter’s Cave and Old Maid’s Kitchen features.
The highlight of this trail? The largest and most impressive waterfall in the park: Cascade Falls!
- Length: 0.75 miles
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Features: Devil’s Icebox, Devil’s Hole, Cliffs, Ledges
Start at the trailhead on the left (directly across from the parking lot). Immediately veer left and follow the blue blazes on the trees and rocks.
This trail takes you to Devil’s Icebox, which is a cold cave that is a godsend on a hot day. But if you’re hiking this in the winter, it’s about to get a lot chillier inside.
This trail is perfect for those who don’t like tight spaces because, unlike the Red Trail, you won’t have to maneuver through narrow crevices and passageways.
- Length: 0.5 miles
- Difficulty: Strenuous
- Features: Devil’s Icebox, The Squeeze, Fat Man’s Peril, Cliffs, Ledges
This trail starts from the trailhead on the left (directly across from the parking lot). You’ll start out on the white trail for just a little bit and when you reach the yellow/red junction, you’ll turn left and follow the red blazes on the trees and rocks.
This trail is for those who aren’t claustrophobic because you’re going to be doing a lot of squeezing through tight spaces!
You’ll navigate through Fat Man’s Peril and The Squeeze, which are narrow passageways between the ledges. You’ll also enter Devil’s Icebox, the damp, cold cave.
This is definitely the adventurous route in Nelson-Kennedy Ledges!
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Where to Stay Near Nelson-Kennedy Ledges
- Nelson Ledges Quarry Park – budget (camping)
- Super 8 – mid-range (motel)
- Holiday Inn Express & Suites Kent – luxury (hotel)
What to Bring to Nelson-Kennedy Ledges
Always carry the 10 essentials whenever you go hiking!
- Day Pack. You’ll need a pack to carry all of your hiking essentials. I’d recommend a quality Osprey backpack.
- Hiking Boots/Shoes. You’ll want to wear a pair of durable hiking boots or shoes. I personally adore Keen and Danner for their style and quality.
- Water Bottle. This one from CamelBak is my go-to.
- Snacks and/or Lunch. There are picnic tables by the parking lot, so you can enjoy lunch before or after your hike. Read my Trail Food guide for tons of fun trail meal, snack, and drink ideas!
- GPS. Carry at least two forms of navigation. Bring a paper map, compass, and/or a pre-downloaded electronic map. Gaia GPS is my favorite app for downloading maps offline and staying on the trail.
- Bug Spray for Summer Hikes. The bugs can get pretty bad in the summer, so spritz yourself with bug spray.
- Cold Weather Gear for Winter Hikes. Like a neck gaiter, hat, and wool gloves. It can get especially cold in the caves and between the damp ledges!
Things to Do Near Nelson-Kennedy Ledges
Cuyahoga Valley National Park – 40 Minutes Away
The best things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park are to see Brandywine Falls, hike to Blue Hen Falls, explore the Ledges area, bike the Towpath Trail, and take the train ride through the valley.
Nelson Ledges Quarry Park – 2 Minutes Away
This adventure park is perfect for all ages! While you’re here, you can jump off cliffs, go snorkeling or scuba diving, swim, hike, bike, fish, camp, and much more!
→ READ NEXT: Ohio Road Trip: 8 Stops For Outdoor Adventure 🚗
Nelson-Kennedy Ledges FAQs
Are Nelson-Kennedy Ledges and Nelson Ledges the Same Place?
Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park is an Ohio State Park and day-use area where you can hike and picnic.
Nelson Ledges Quarry Park is a privately owned quarry park where you can swim, camp, snorkel, scuba dive, hike, bike, and cliff jump.
The two recreation sites are about a half-mile from each other.
Is There an Entrance Fee for Nelson-Kennedy Ledges?
No! All state parks in Ohio are free to enter.
If you venture over to Nelson Ledges Quarry Park, you’ll have to pay for a day pass. Camping fees are separate.
Can I Camp at Nelson-Kennedy Ledges?
No, Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park is a day-use area only. You can hike and picnic here.
If you want somewhere to camp, Nelson Ledges Quarry Park (which is a half-mile down the road) has camping options for RVs and tents.
Discover Your Next Adventure
Where to next? I’ve got some suggestions!
- Cuyahoga Valley National Park
- Hocking Hills State Park
- Red River Gorge
- Indiana Dunes National Park
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
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