When you ask most backpackers how they enjoy their hobby in southwestern Ohio, the answer probably begins with the words, “First I drive X hours….” There are a couple options without leaving this part of the state however. Twin Valley Backpack Trail near Dayton connects Germantown MetroPark and Twin Creek Metropark along with a loop in each park to create the trail. The connection does include about 1 ½ miles of walking along public streets along with the same distance on a “recreational” trail.
Another option that few people think about is the Caesar Creek Perimeter Trail. This 13 mile loop can be started as a day hike at several locations including the US Corps of Engineers Visitor Center near the lake’s Dam. Because camping is permitted on the trail, it seemed like another opportunity for me to hike with a full backpack without being stared at like you can be while “backpacking” up to Kroger’s.
Starting from the Visitor Center, the trail heads mostly north and east through a mature forest. The ups and downs can get fairly steep, but don’t last very long. While the trail doesn’t cling to the lake shore, there is an occasional nice view of the lake. At about five miles in, there’s even a short side trail to a picnic table set along the bank. Throughout the hike, I kept hoping to meet other hikers coming the other way, but since it was a weekday, no such luck. It wasn’t so much that I was lonely, I was just wanting someone else to clear the trail for me. I ended up spending the entire day breaking spider webs with my arms and face.
At mile six, the trail breaks into the open, skirting close to the Furnas Shores boat ramp on the way to Route 73; another mile further along. Once there, it’s time for a little road walking, though there is a wide berm to keep you out of the traffic. Immediately, a bridge crosses Caesar Creek Lake with extensive views of the 3,000 acre impoundment. Once across the bridge though, the “trail” stays out in the open along Rt 73 for another half mile or so. With the sun out and temperatures in the high 80s, I immediately missed the shade of the forest.
Eventually, the time comes to turn off Rt 73 towards the Fifty Springs Picnic Area. Behind the first shelter, the trail drops back into the woods. This is also one of three locations where backpackers can legally camp. The spot consists of a flat area mowed into the edge of the woods, but there is a restroom nearby. Camping is by permit only, available on line; no fee mentioned.
At this point, the trail is heading back towards the Visitor Center, but on the opposite side of the lake. Though the trail seems less used and more overgrown on this side of the lake, it actually contained some of the more interesting features of the hike. It soon drops down to Jonah’s Run, a pretty little creek featuring a small waterfall right near the crossing bridge.
Shortly after, the trail passes through the Pioneer Village, an interesting collection of homes and outbuildings from the early settlement of the area. The Village occasionally hosts special events with an ($5) entry fee, but those can be avoided with advance planning.
Another creek crossing is via a rather snazzy new swinging bridge. After some hiking through open woods, the path crosses the emergency spillway that was dug out as part of construction of the lake. The work exposed bedrock which was laid down hundreds of millions of years ago when this area was a shallow sea. The rocks contain numerous fossils from the Ordovician Period. In fact, the largest Trilobite fossil ever found in the western hemisphere came from right there.
A very highly maintained stretch of trail winds along the lake to the Flat Fork Picnic Area, but then it is back out onto the road; specifically Clarksville Road. The road crosses the dam then leads, a bit farther down the way, to the Visitor Center where this stroll began. On a warm, sunny day carrying a 25 pound pack, the 13 mile march took an even five hours of walking.