I needed to get away for a couple of days, hit the open road, and do some exploring. I had originally planned on just jumping in my faithful Subaru Forester, Bubba Gump, and driving aimlessly; but I opted for a more purposeful trip.
My thought was that if I found some suitable trails 4 to 5 hours south of me, that I could extend out my backpacking season while avoiding colder weather. I have driven 6 hours north to Munising; why not drive 5 hours south?
I did some research, got a couple of suggestions from fellow Solarites, threw some stuff into Bubba and was ready for another Daventure.
True to my nature, I took an unusual route down to southern Ohio. Those of you who have read other Daventures may know that I have a love of small towns, especially when they have a walkable downtown or “main street”. I often drive out of the way in hopes of finding these amazing villages and hamlets. After a winding route, I hit the Ohio River at a little burg called Manchester. I then drove east along the Ohio River Scenic Byway. If you want me to drive a road, put “scenic byway” in its name, as I am a sucker for such things.
Unfortunately, I did not find the Ohio River Scenic Byway (or at least this section of it) very scenic. The Ohio River is impressive; it is a large, wide river. However, the towns along its banks here appeared to be struggling. I continued along the byway, until I reached to town of Portsmouth.
The Portsmouth area, about 20,000 strong, is not what I really consider a small town. It did have a walkable downtown though and I was eager to be out of the car. Portsmouth downtown is a combination of new buildings, renovated old buildings and empty buildings desperate to be restored back to greatness.
Shawnee State University is right next to downtown. It has a beautiful campus.
I walked down to the edge of the Ohio River, right next to the campus. The view of the hills of nearby Kentucky was nice, but the river itself was a dark shade of brown.
After grabbing gas and food, I headed to my first park and trail. I had booked a room at the Shawnee State Park Lodge.
I really did not know what to expect with the lodge. I was surprised to find it during my research. Apparently there are several of these lodges throughout Ohio. The Shawnee lodge was offering 20% off for winter rates.
The Shawnee Lodge is impressive, even from the first view.
They have options for rooms and small cabins. The cabins are in walking distance of the main lodge. They have a good-sized restaurant and bar, swimming pools (indoor and out) and a game room. What really struck me as great are all of the little nooks and corners set up for groups to hang out in. I kept imaging coming off the trails with a group and rewarding ourselves with a night at the lodge. We would have a great dinner and then hang out by a fire pit outside or in one of the cozy nooks inside to relate tales of our adventure.
Just down the road from the lodge is the trail head for the first trail on this report (yes, I am FINALLY going to talk about trails).
The Shawnee Back Pack Trail is a 36 mile loop. It could be broken down into a West loop (26.6 miles) and an East loop (19.6 miles), but that would require what looks like a 5 mile road walk. At this point, I am uncertain if that is hiking on the road or on a trail close to it. I really like the idea of doing the entire trail as either a 3 night or 4 night excursion. (And then a reward night at the Lodge)
The trailhead is clearly marked and there is a large area for parking. Notice the hills. This is the foothills of the Appalachia. I would expect there to be some challenging climbs and descents on this trail.
This trail is part of the Buckeye/North County trail.
It is marked here with orange blazes (I loves me some orange). I am eager to hike this one!
The next morning I was up before the dawn to check out with the ever-friendly staff at the lodge. I got a couple of stamps towards a free night’s stay on a booklet (that hopefully I have not already lost) and started my 2 hour plus drive to the Burr Oak Lodge.
The Burr Oak Lodge is not quite as large or impressive as the Shawnee lodge, but it is still very nice and has several of the same amenities like pool and dining area.
The Lodge overlooks Burr Oak Lake, which is a long stretch of lake. Burr Oak Lake is the focus of the second backpacking trail that I scouted.
The Burr Oak Trail is approximately 23 miles. The report I read (BackpackOhio.com), claimed that it was easy. The surrounding area is quite hilly, but the trail appears to follow the lake, so it may avoid most of those hills. I think this would probably be a two night trail.
I checked out a couple of locations for parking. The lot close to the lodge only had room for 6 vehicles. I did not see a lot at the main campground. Tom Jenkins Dam had a very large parking area and could be an option if overnight parking is permitted.
I took a drive over to dock 3 to see the walk in campsites and also the group campground that was mentioned in the article from BackpackOhio.com. The walk-in campsites were not impressive. They have picnic tables and fire rings, but are basically in the parking lot next to the boat launch.
The group camp is a large open field where, according to the article, backpackers can set up.
The main campground did not have a good backwoods feel either. The portion I saw was slabs of concrete for RVs. The whole park was not open, so there may be some walk-in sites that I did not get to.
The Wild Cat Hallow Trail is just north of Burr Oak Lake. I actually stopped at this trail head while scouting the second trail. This one was more challenging to get to. There are several miles of narrow, hilly, curvy dirt roads to get back to the trail head. In inclement weather, that could be an issue.
The trail is a 14.7 mile loop. There does not appear to be any designated camp sites. The report I read also claimed to have no water sources on the trail.
The trailhead itself was nice, with room for a dozen cars or maybe more, if you do not mind parking each other in.
There is actually a well maintained outhouse and trail sign there.
This sounds interesting as an overnight trip. It is approximately 5 hours from Livonia. The lack of water on trail means carrying more weight. I imagine that this would have a more backwoods feel than the nearby Burr Oak Trail.
The last trail I stopped by was the Logan Trail in Tar Hallow State Park. This is the closest trail to Livonia at about 4.5 hours. It is a 17.7 mile loop that is designed to be hiked in two days (1 night). On the report I read (BackpackOhio.com) it is listed as difficult. I can understand that, as it is located in some tall hills.
The parking area here is massive, room for maybe 60 cars. I would guess that it is also used by day hikers, and there were some walk-in sites nearby.
This course is a figure eight and is designed that backpackers should stay in the middle crossing (L on their map).
The backpack area (located right next to the fire tower) has a nice outhouse area.
The campsites themselves are further down that trail. They are numbered, which leads me to believe that they need to be reserved. The one I walked to was small, but it was secluded and had a picnic table and fire pit.
This trail seems promising to me. I would agree that it could be difficult with the hills and 9 mile days, depending on your level of fitness. I also did not see water near the backpacking camp, so that would be a concern. I think it would have a good balance of safe vs backcountry. There are some small roads that wind through the park where a ranger could get back to help someone in need, but it also seemed quiet and tranquil. Then again, there was almost no one in the park in February (although it was a gorgeous Sunday). I am not sure how crowded this gets in prime time.
There you go. Another long-winded, meandering Daventure, with (hopefully) a little bit of useful information and way too many pictures of my face.
I am eager to get out on the trails and hope to put some groups together to tackle some (or maybe all) of these trails. Interested in joining us? Come and talk to me at one of the meetings. I will be the guy from the pictures.
Thanks for reading!