Buckeye State Backpacking
By Chris Shaffer
We have all seen the bumper sticker proudly stating that the vehicle’s owner is “Stuck in Ohio.” While many people can identify with that statement, those of who are proud to be from the Buckeye State realize that we are anything but stuck. Hikers in our fair state actually have a pretty easy time finding a local patch of forest to get out and experience a few miles of relative wilderness. While you can frequently combine these shorter trails to get longer and more rugged hikes in, sometimes we get out overnight to more completely recharge our internal batteries. In these cases, many of us load our backpacks and prepare to travel a day or more away to find a remote mountain trail for our nature therapy. Unfortunately, taking several extra days to get to a backpacking trail is not always an option. Luckily, if you live in Ohio, you are rarely more than a couple of hours away from at least a short backpacking trip.
Considering the fact that I spend most of my time in Ohio’s only National Park, we’ll start there. While there are no designated backpacking trails in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, there is a campsite at the Stanford House in the heart of the CVNP. The site is only open during the summer and I would recommend making reservations in advance. To make your reservation and learn more about where to camp, park and hike in the valley, visit the website www.nps.gov/cuva/planyourvisit/camping.htm.
Using the campsite as your overnight destination, there are dozens of little backpacking trips that can be put together from the hiking trails in the area. You really can’t go wrong with hiking in this area. If you choose to stay on the east side of the river, you’ll find the Stanford Trail located near the back side of the campground. Follow this trail about 1.5 miles to join with the Brandywine Gorge Trail and get a view of the 65-foot Brandywine Falls. Of course, since the campground is at the base of the trail, you can do that as a day hike, or part of your backpack hike. The flexibility and easy access to “bail out” points are some of the best reasons to try backpacking in your backyard national park before attempting anything that gets completely out of your comfort zone.
Many of the trails you travel through the CVNP will either parallel or share routes with the Buckeye Trail. This 1444-mile trail provides day hikes and overnight backpacking trips in every corner of the Buckeye State. Check out their website www.buckeyetrail.org to order maps and find a section near you. Next to the CVNP, some of the more popular sections of the Buckeye Trail meander through the beautiful Hocking Hills, Wayne National Forest and Burr Oak State Park. Burr Oak is also part of another great Ohio trail, the Wildcat Hollow Backpack Trail. The parking area and trailhead is just north of Burr Oak Lake near the Buckeye Trail so you can combine and hike all of them for a grand adventure, or just pick and choose for a more manageable loop trip.
Living in northeast Ohio and working close to the CVNP means that I am also very close to the Ohio Turnpike. If I really need a quick escape into a more rural area, I just jump on I-80 and head east towards the Alleghany National Forest. Along with The Gerard Hiking Trail in Oil Creek State Park, the many trails of Alleghany National Forest are my favorite hikes under a 3-hour drive from the Akron area. If I had to choose a favorite, it would be the Hickory Creek Trail. This 12-mile trail is the only designated trail in the wilderness area, but you can add mileage by hiking parts of the North Country Scenic Trail near the Hearts Content Recreation Area, or by following the Scenic Trails blue blazes over to the Minister Creek hiking trail and overlook. Of course the maps and trail descriptions for this area are easily found on the National Forest’s website www.fs.usda.gov/main/allegheny/home. While at the Forest’s website, be sure to check out the Rimrock and Tracy Ridge Trails along the Alleghany Reservoir.
Assuming you have a little more time to drive, southern Ohio offers a series of hikes that will make you forget all about being “Stuck in Ohio.” At a little over 4 hours from Akron, Shawnee State Forest or “the little Smokies of Ohio” has over fifty miles of hiking trails with half a dozen designated campsites dispersed through the trail system. Lots of options, rugged terrain and limited access to water during the off season make Shawnee an excellent destination for solitude or shakedown hikes while preparing for bigger trails. See the link http://forestry.ohiodnr.gov/portals/forestry/pdfs/SF/shawnee_backpack.pdf for more information.
Another personal favorite is the Zaleski State Forest Backpacking Trail. This trail is a great one to break new hikers in on due the fact that this trail is basically shaped like two loops with a connector in the middle and a little lollypop-shaped spur off the northern loop. That means that you can hike the whole thing at once or if things aren’t going as well planned, you have an easy out to salvage the spirits of your fellow hikers. Their website is http://forestry.ohiodnr.gov/portals/forestry/pdfs/sf/zaleski_backpack.pdf.
These, of course, aren’t the only trails in or near northeast Ohio, just a sampling of my favorites. For more trails, be sure to check in with your local outfitter to find out what their favorites are.
Buckeye State Backpacking