Exploring Hell’s Hollow Falls at McConnells Mill State Park

The author at Hell's Hollow Falls.
The author at Hell's Hollow Falls.

How “Hellish” is Hell’s Hollow Falls?

By virtue of its name, you would think visiting Hell’s Hollow Falls would be an arduous task. Perhaps a long, difficult hike over rough terrain, with danger at every turn.

However, it is quite the opposite. A mere half-mile hike over relatively flat terrain on a well-maintained trail brings you to the base of an elegant 18-foot high waterfall.

It’s the perfect kind of hike both novice and experienced hikers will enjoy.


How Did Hell’s Hollow Falls Get Its Name?

To understand how Hell’s Hollow Falls got its name, it is important to understand the history and geology of the area.

The Greater Slippery Rock Creek Gorge, of which Hell’s Hollow is a part, is an area rich in limestone. In the 1850’s a lime kiln was built next to the falls, for the purpose of extracting lime from limestone. Among other things, lime was/is used as a component in fertilizer, as well as an ingredient in mortar and plaster.


Making Lime at Hell’s Hollow Falls

Limestone was dumped into the lime kiln (a large brick-lined pit dug into the hillside, with openings at top and bottom) and then heated by burning wood/charcoal on top of it. As the “stone” component burned off, the lime was left behind and removed from the opening at the bottom/side of the pit.

Looking into the lime kiln on the side of Hell's Hollow Falls from the bottom opening in the kiln.
Looking into the lime kiln on the side of Hell’s Hollow Falls from the bottom opening in the kiln.

This burning of limestone and fuel gave off a lot of smoke, odor, and a red glow that certainly would have given the hollow a “hellish” appearance and smell, especially at night.

Thus the name “Hell’s Hollow”.


How to Find Hell’s Hollow Falls

Hell’s Hollow Falls is located in the northwestern corner of McConnells Mill State Park, just off of Shaffer Road (see map below).

Map showing the parking area and trail to Hell's Hollow Falls.
Map showing the parking area and trail to Hell’s Hollow Falls.

The parking area for Hell’s Hollow Falls can be found at the following GPS coordinates: 40.931363, -80.239991.

Parking area and trail head for Hell's Hollow Falls hike.
Parking area and trail head for Hell’s Hollow Falls hike.

The parking area is large enough for maybe two dozen vehicles, and there is a porta-potty on the left side of the parking lot. At the front of the parking lot are a few informational signs and a history of the area.

Sign at trail head with history of Hell's Hollow Falls.
Sign at trail head with history of Hell’s Hollow Falls.

Hiking to Hell’s Hollow Falls

Hiking data and map for Hell's Hollow Falls Trail.
Hiking data and map for Hell’s Hollow Falls Trail.

From the data I collected during a recent hike to Hell’s Hollow Falls (image above) you can see that the hike to the falls is a half-mile in length (one way), and changes very little in elevation (51 feet – the majority of that being at the falls itself). It took me just under 9 minutes to get there, and that was stopping to snap a few cell phone shots along the way.

Sign at second bridge along Hell's Hollow Falls Trail.
Sign at second bridge along Hell’s Hollow Falls Trail.

Leaving the parking lot you’ll cross a footbridge over Hell Run and hike approximately 1/10th of a mile before coming to a “Y” intersection and the sign above.

This is really the only place you could possibly screw up this hike – make sure you stay to the right, cross the bridge, and follow the arrow towards the falls.

Stairs leading towards the bottom of Hell's Hollow Falls.
Stairs leading towards the bottom of Hell’s Hollow Falls.

A few minutes further down the trail (approximately 4/10ths of a mile) you’ll encounter these stairs.

Stairs leading down to Hell Run and the bottom of Hell's Hollow Falls.
Stairs leading down to Hell Run and the bottom of Hell’s Hollow Falls.

The stairs wrap around the hill and then make a final descent to the base/side of Hell’s Hollow Falls. The lime kiln will be immediately to your right when standing at he top of this final staircase.


Best Views of Hell’s Hollow Falls

The two tiers of Hell's Hollow Falls.
The two tiers of Hell’s Hollow Falls.

To fully appreciate Hell’s Hollow Falls it is best to rock-hop across the shallow pool at the bottom of the falls and view it from the rocks on the hill directly across from it.

A hiker and his dog at Hell's Hollow Falls, to give you a sense of scale.
A hiker and his dog at Hell’s Hollow Falls, to give you a sense of scale.

On this particular Sunday morning I encountered another hiker and his dog at the falls, so I asked him if I could snap a photo (which I set him a copy of) to give the falls a sense of scale. Between the two tiers, Hell’s Hollow Falls comes in at around 18 feet tall, and easily twice as wide.

Hell's Hollow Falls surrounded by ice and snow on a March morning.
Hell’s Hollow Falls surrounded by ice and snow on a March morning.

On a snowy March morning a few years ago, from nearly the same vantage point, the falls had a different feel to them. Also note that the tree on the far left in the snowy picture has since slid into Hell Run, when compared to the photo with the hiker/dog. Nature never stands still, even if her movements are imperceptible to us.

A view of Hell's Hollow Falls and the stairs leading down to the bottom of them.
A view of Hell’s Hollow Falls and the stairs leading down to the bottom of it.

In the zoomed-out view above you can see the grate covering the bottom opening of the lime kiln at the top of the stairs.

After you’ve satisfied your waterfall craving, simply retrace your steps back to your vehicle.


Final Thoughts

Visiting Hell’s Hollow Falls makes for an excellent waterfall outing for hiking enthusiasts of all ages. It is relatively short, flat hike and features some marvelous scenery on your way to an elegant waterfall and a historic lime kiln.

Trout fishing at Hell's Hollow Falls in Lawrence County.
Trout fishing at Hell’s Hollow Falls in Lawrence County.

I can say without reservation that visiting Hell’s Hollow Falls at least once deserves a spot on your PA Bucket List!


Nearby Attractions

If time permits and you want to visit another exquisite, nearby waterfall then Grindstone Falls is just what you’re looking for.

It’s a mere 10 minute drive from the Hell’s Hollow Falls parking area!

Grindstone Falls at McConnells Mill State Park in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania.
Grindstone Falls at McConnells Mill State Park in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania.

And don’t forget 35-foot Alpha Falls, the tallest waterfall at McConnells Mill State Park.

Rusty Glessner at Alpha Falls at McConnells Mill State Park
The author at Alpha Falls at McConnells Mill State Park

Be sure to check out 6 Must-See Attractions at McConnells Mill State Park for more adventure ideas.

McConnells Mill and Covered Bridge at McConnells Mill State Park.
McConnells Mill and Covered Bridge at McConnells Mill State Park.

Buttermilk Falls is located in neighboring Beaver County, and is one of a handful of Pennsylvania waterfalls that you can stand BEHIND!

The author behind Buttermilk Falls in Beaver County PA.
The author behind Buttermilk Falls in Beaver County PA.

Big Run Falls in nearby New Castle is a 20 foot tall waterfall at the heart of an abandoned amusement park turned nature park.

Big Run Falls in Lawrence County Pennsylvania.
Big Run Falls in Lawrence County.

Moraine State Park is a 16,725-acre recreational area located in neighboring Butler County.

Crescent Bay Overlook on the South Shore of Lake Arthur at Moraine State Park.
Overlooking Lake Arthur at Moraine State Park in Butler County.

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Rusty Glessner is a professional photographer, lifelong Pennsylvanian, and creator of the PA Bucket List travel blog.