Hocking Hills has long been one of my favorite Ohio Destinations. When I saw the announcements that the John Glenn Astronomy Park was finally open, I knew we needed to go.
Located just west of Old Man’s Cave, the John Glenn Astronomy Park is located in the heart of Hocking Hills. This new park offers a large plaza and a building with a sliding roof that contains a large telescope. Check their website before you plan a trip to learn program times & topics (currently scheduled through the first weekend of August). The park is open 24 hours for you do to your own stargazing or bring a telescope. See the FAQs part of the site for information on using the park at night.
VERY IMPORTANT: Do not set your GPS to the address listed on the site or what comes back in a Google search. It will take you to the end of the cabin area and not to the actual park. Use this location instead.
John Glenn Astronomy park is located just a little west of Old Man’s Cave. From Columbus, take US-33 South to the Rt 664 (Logan/Breman) exit. Stay on the twisty route 664 until you go past the Old Man’s Cave entrance. John Glenn is on the left after you see the sign for the cabins.
I saw on the website that we should arrive early. The parking lot is small and when it is full they will close the gate. We got there at 7:00 p.m. and were the 2nd or 3rd group of people there. This worked fine. The bulk of the crowd started showing up around 8.
We packed a dinner and ate on a bench in the large plaza. The large field and the area around the plaza is still working on growing grass, so it is currently covered in straw. Once the grass grows in, this would be a lovely place for a picnic. There are no picnic tables or grills available at this park.
After dinner, we wandered around the plaza and walked down to the playground area for a moment. The playground is older and, I suspect, was built for the cabins. My kids are are really too old for playgrounds anyway, so we wandered back up to the plaza and just hung out while we waited for the program.
Around 9:00 p.m., an astronomy professor from Ohio University gave a brief overview of what planets were in the sky that night (Jupiter, Venus, Mars, and Saturn) and explained some of the details of the plaza. Then it was a bit of a free for all for telescope viewing. There were 4 or 5 telescopes of various sizes setup and focused on different things. The OU Students were helping explain what you were seeing and getting everything lined up. Another professor was in the large field explaining constellations and various features of the night sky. The roof of the building was opened and the large telescope was available for viewing more deep space objects.
Largely our time was spent standing in lines in the dark. The views through the telescopes was worth the wait, however. We were able to see Saturn with its rings and two of the moons, Jupiter with 4 of its moons, and Venus. While we were in line, we were able to see several satellites move through the sky. We saw more stars than my kids ever have before! Both of my teenagers were even willing to say it was pretty cool! (1 point for mom!) We waited in line for a bit to see through the large telescope but decided the line wasn’t moving at all, it was getting late, and our dog was home and likely ready to go outside. So we bailed out.
Based on our experience and watching some of the other families around, we have these tips:
- Plan to get there by 8:00 for the 9:00 programs to ensure you can get in the parking lot and figure out where you are going before it gets dark. Plan to stay there until 11:00 or later if you can. In the summer it takes a while for it to get really dark.
- I noticed that the little kids that were there were not really into it and were more of a struggle for their parents than a joy. The kids under about 6 really just didn’t quite get what was going on and the lines were long enough for them to lose any patience they had. It was late and kind of boring for them. Know your kids for this one; if they don’t have the patience to stand in line to see a tiny bright dot in the telescope this might be a better date night than family outing for you.
- Bring bug spray. The good kind.
- Bring a chair or blanket if you plan to stargaze for a while. There is only a small amount of seating available and it’s not very comfortable.
- Be respectful of the other people looking at the stars. A flashlight in your pocket for an emergency is a good idea. But don’t use it unless you need to. Once you turn it on you blind the people around you and ruin their ability to see for a little bit. Same for your cellphone screen. Leave it in your pocket (or the car) and be present with your family & friends for a bit.
- Leashed pets are allowed during the daylight hours. After dark, they pose a safety problem since people can’t see them in the dark, especially when looking upward. See the FAQ page for more info on bringing pets.
This free park and program was definitely worth the drive down. There is plenty to do in Hocking Hills and the John Glenn Astronomy Park makes a great addition to a weekend or day trip to the area. We will likely go back in the fall or early winter to enjoy the views a bit earlier in the night and probably pair it with a camping or cabin stay.