Tag Archives: Burr Oak State Park

Trail Report: Wildcat Hollow Trail

Most backpacking in Ohio is fairly regimented. The trails are well marked, which is a good thing. Camp areas are typically laid out with a restroom or privy, set spots to camp and potable water nearby. Again, nice to have. However, there’s a more natural option; a trail where there is no restriction on where to camp, no restrooms and no potable water. For some, this type of backpacking seems better; less domesticated and more wild. In Ohio, a trail that fits that description is Wildcat Hollow.

Located in Wayne National Forest, the trail is near the town of Glouster and Burr Oak State Park. Its 15 mile length wanders through rolling hills and stream bottoms. A privy is located at the trailhead parking lot, but that is the extent of the amenities. If you want any other creature comforts, you need to bring them with you.

Here’s your water

I’ve backpacked several of Ohio’s loop offerings in the past with an old work colleague, Bill. Looking for a different challenge, we decided to give Wildcat Hollow a try. Looking at an early November weekend, the weather looked promising; no rain, not too cold, so we headed out on Friday.

Not wanting to shock the system too much, we eased into the experience with a big lunch at nearby Burr Oak Lodge. The food is great and, not that I would care, they have an extensive selection of beer on hand.

At the trailhead at 2:30, there were several other cars in the lot. The day was cloudy and cool, nearly perfect for hiking. We both shouldered relatively heavy packs containing 3+ liters of water and headed out. Almost immediately we came to a creek crossing. Recent rains had expanded the width of water a bit, but after a short search, a spot was found to cross while keeping my trail runners somewhat dry.

After a quarter mile the trail forks and we decided to walk the loop clockwise. In retrospect, the other direction might have been better. There were several creek crossings over the next mile or so that would have been easier (and dryer) had the streams been given another day to recover from the recent rains. The other direction on the loop quickly climbs out of that valley.

Regardless of the calendar, there was still some fall color

Despite slightly damp feet, the hike was pleasant. The trail was well designed and maintained and there was still some significant fall color to enjoy. Several nice campsites have been established by previous campers early on the trail and a couple of those were occupied. We met no other hikers actually on the trail however.

The trail includes a short road walk (1/4 mile) past an old abandoned one room schoolhouse before returning to the woods and major pine plantings. Other signs of past disturbance included multiple small oil wells along the path.

Night comes pretty early in November and a bit over 5 miles in, we spotted an established campsite near a small creek that would work for the evening. By 6 pm, the tents were up and my freeze dried entrée was history. I suppose the creek water could have been filtered, but we had packed in enough to avoid that decision. Plenty of downed wood was in the area so we had ample heat as the temperature dropped through the 40s.

Morning arrived clear and cool, perfect for hiking. The trail continued in the same manner with rolling hills and an occasional creek crossing. Apparently, in the summer months the creeks tend to be dry so don’t count on them for water. In addition, ongoing signs of previous mining and oil extraction would make me think twice about drinking even filtered water from the streams. The best bet is to bring all your own water and just enjoy the scenery. There are no major overlooks, but pleasant just the same. We only met two other folks that were hiking the entire route. They were two friends that met up every five years to hike the trail.

By afternoon, it had warmed up enough for cold blooded hikers

The day rolled by with more of the same, though fewer creek crossings. There were a number of great campsites and all of them more than a mile from the parking lot were empty. The sites among the pines looked especially inviting. Eventually, we dropped off a long ridge to the end of the loop and out to the parking lot. The original plan was to make the short walk over to Burr Oak State Park’s backpack trail and hike a few miles to one of the official park campsites. While a lake view, water hydrant and restroom were appealing. Its location right next to a parking lot was not.

Since I had stashed additional water in the truck, a change of plan was easy and obvious. We refilled our depleted water bottles (possibly also grabbing a few beers) and headed back into the wild, Wildcat Hollow, to camp among some towering pines.

Some items are worth the extra weight

Cultivation of a New Backpacker

This article first appeared on The Trek

I’ve spent much of my backpacking time hiking alone. As most of my friends are near my age (pushing 60) and working, there’s not been much interest in walking in the woods for days with me. So, when my current girlfriend (and former wife) Michelle expressed an interest, I was all in.

Equipment was simple. I’m one of those guys that’s often upgrading my gear, but never selling the old stuff. (I have spork service for eight.) The only purchase needed was a pack that fit her, which made birthday shopping pretty easy. (We went with Osprey Exos 48.) Besides, if she hated the experience, there’s always Ebay. The tough part would be to pick and plan a first trip. I was looking to provide more than a short hike in/hike out trip, but nothing too brutal either.

There are several loops within a few hours of Cincinnati that can be done with a single night of camping. I chose a 21-23 mile loop around Burr Oak Lake for a few reasons.

1. The distance would be a challenge for her as a new backpacker, but doable in two days.
2. The distance was short enough that I could bring extra items like a pillow and camp chair to improve conditions.
3. The route had some elevation changes, but no climbs over 400 feet.
4. The entire route is almost completely within Burr Oak State Park; scenic and well maintained.
5. There are several possible bail out points if things went badly.
6. There is a campground at the halfway point with flush toilets. Cathole training can wait until another trip.

I was planning on waiting until fall for the trip, but a break appeared in the weather forecast that I couldn’t pass up. I was looking at the upcoming Sunday and Monday both with highs around 80, lows in the 50’s with low humidity and no chance of rain. July in southern Ohio almost never looks that good. Michelle was able to get off work at the last minute and we were a go.

With plenty of food and more than enough clothes my pack weighed 18 pounds, Michelle’s was 14 (plus water). Several water hydrants are near the trail so one liter each starting out would be plenty.

The trip itself

We started out clockwise from the backpack trail head around 2 pm figuring on a two mph pace to get us to camp by early evening. The weather was breezy, warm and the low humidity made for pleasant hiking. The trail quickly established itself along the shoreline with small grades and constant views of 660 acre Burr Oak Lake. Occasional summer wildflowers added some color to the healthy forest. There were plenty of people around as we passed near the park’s lodge and Dock #2, but met no one else actually on the trail. Dock #2 contains not only a boat ramp and dock, but also campsites, water and pit toilets.

At six miles we walked across the lake’s dam and stopped at a well placed picnic table for a snack and to reload the water. We were right on schedule with no issues with either equipment or personnel. Walking down the opposite side of the lake, we could see where we had passed earlier. Luckily, the trail remained relatively flat. A couple deer sightings broke up the next few miles as afternoon turned to evening.

After passing our third dock of the day, the trail turned into a road walk. Although it was short and flat, there’s nothing like road walking to make a day seem tough. By then though, the end was in sight; at the top of the steepest grade of the day. I spent the next ten minutes silently cursing my choice of hikes, but suddenly we were in the campground. At just under 11 miles, we were done for the day. There were plenty of open sites and I picked the first flat spot we saw, right across from a shower building. As a bonus, there was a pop machine to provide cold sugar, caffeine and mixer. Things were looking up. I broke out a couple camp chairs and a new Thermacell Backpacker Mosquito Repellent device and we had one of my more comfortable backpacking camps.

After a couple freeze dried dinners and some doctored Pepsi, it was time to turn in. It was still a bit light out, but between the full moon and lights all over the shower building, complete darkness wasn’t coming anyway.
We shared a Big Agnes Copper Spur, the two person version. It was plenty roomy for the two of us, but had me reevaluating sharing it with my brother on a future excursion. That may become a two tent trip.

The bottom of Michelle’s feet were bothering her a bit in the morning. As she slipped her shoes on without needing to untie them, I took a guess as to why. After I had her use some friction block and snug up the shoes, we started out. The morning was cloudy and muggier than the forecast had called for. We soon dropped into a deep valley when I heard some noise and stopped. “Is that rain?” Michelle asked. Thank you Accuweather! (I often wonder if the reason many people refuse to believe the long term predictions for Climate Change is because short term weather forecasts are so often spectacularly wrong; but that’s a discussion for another time.)

As warm as it was, the rain actually felt pretty good. The lightning was a little disconcerting, but the rain felt good. Spotting a deer with a new fawn was a highlight of the morning. Breaking through thousands of spiderwebs was not. It was obvious nobody else was on the trail. The topography got more interesting/rugged with several 200 foot climbs and drops. We walked near multiple small caves within the valleys until hitting a flat stretch near the upper reaches of the lake.

The rain turned on and off several times through the morning making the trail wet, but not overly slippery. At the very end of the lake there is a creek crossing that can often just be jumped across. Not this day however. As we stood there gauging the depth, a large carp swam up through our crossing. Since her shoes and 2nd pair of socks were already fairly wet, Michelle kept hers on to wade across; possibly a mistake.

Once back heading south, the trail was flat and easy for a couple miles. Herons were thick out in the shallows and toads and other critters were frequent along the trail. We took a snack break at a spot overlooking the scene. The heavy foliage of one of the park’s namesake oaks kept us dry through another shower. Michelle’s feet were starting to suffer though. I broke out the moleskin to cover the start of a couple blisters, had her reapply the friction block and handed over my still dry spare socks. The minor first aid was an immediate relief. I was hoping that it would also hold off any further damage for the rest of the hike.

A couple more relatively flat miles brought us to Dock #3 with water, restrooms and campsites. It worked out to be right at noon and in between showers. Taking advantage of the timing, we had lunch at a picnic table watching several dozen Canada Geese nearby. It was also decision time. We could continue to follow the shoreline for another 4+ miles to the car. However, another trail promised a more direct, and hilly, route that looked to be just under 2 miles. Michelle’s feet were holding up, but for how long? A thunderclap sealed the decision; away from the lake we would go.

Despite the added climbs and drops, the miles were covered quickly and by 1:30 we exited the woods right by the car. Michelle had successfully completed her first backpacking trip hiking an impressive 21 miles over two (short) days. It was straight to the park’s lodge for a burger and a beer to celebrate.

If I had it to do over again, I’d possibly pick a shorter hike. Michelle did walk a little slow for the next couple days. Running water and a pop machine at camp made for a nice transition into backpacking though. Regardless, she told me she enjoyed it and I’ve yet to see the backpack appear on eBay. Perhaps there will be a new backpacking partner in my future.

Trail Details

Burr Oak State Park Backpacking Trail

The backpacking trail encircles 660-plus acre Burr Oak Lake in Southeastern Ohio.

From Athens, Ohio, take State Route 13 North to east on State Route 78, to park entrance on the left. Park at Backpack Trailhead.

The 21-23 mile loop includes three fee-based camp areas. A longer trip is possible by taking the Wildcat Hollow Backpack Trail from the northern reaches of the loop into Wayne National Forest. Free camping is allowed in the National Forest.

The trail is well maintained and very well marked, though some sections may be impassable during very wet periods. Burr Oak Lake is a flood control reservoir with the water level controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers. Most of the trail is flat to rolling with a few steeper grades generally 200 vertical feet or less. Additional information is available at the park’s website.

Trail Report: Burr Oak State Park Backpack Trail

“Look at all the !$%#*& cars!” I exclaimed as we arrived at Zaleski State Forest Backpack Trail. Despite the great weather forecast, neither Bill nor I thought there would be such a crowd. It was, after all, November 7 and nearly all the leaves were off the trees. Whether we foresaw it or not though, the parking lot was full, the lot across the street was full and several vehicles were in the grass near the lot. It was obvious that any decent campsite would be taken and any dead wood nearby already scavenged and burned.

OK, the first choice for a (relatively) easy overnight backpacking trip was out. What’s the fallback plan? “How about Burr Oak?” Bill stated. “It’s not too far from here.” That sounded like a plan to me, so I pointed the truck north towards Nelsonville, Glouster and eventually Burr Oak State Park.

Entering the park from State Route 78 we parked at the Ranger Station. Though the station was closed, maps were available and the trail was just a few steps away. Since it is a 23 mile loop and one camping option appeared to be about ten miles if we started south, that’s the direction we took.

Most of the trail is well designed with gentle grades
Most of the trail is well designed with gentle grades

Almost immediately, the Park’s lodge is visible. As we were getting a late start, the option of staying with civilization for lunch was discussed. I had the choice of a couple Cliff Bars and Gatorade, or a burger and a beer at the lodge. Hmmm. What to do?

Once we finished off the drafts it was time to start hiking. After a couple initial hills, the trail generally held a fairly constant elevation; benched into the hillside overlooking the lake. In addition, the trail was well constructed and the nearly constant lake views were impressive.

After about 2 ½ miles we reached the first official camping area, alongside Dock #2. There are a couple newer latrines and several campsites located alongside a gravel spur. As there is a road to the area, don’t expect a wilderness experience. Fees are $17 off season and $19 in the warmer months. While you might end up next to another tent, or possibly a large RV, all the sites were empty on this day.

After a short stretch that might become swampy in wetter weather, the trail resumed its pattern of being reasonably level with nice lake views. After three more miles the trail leaves State Park Property onto US Army Corps of Engineers Property. As the lake is a flood control reservoir, The Corps manages the level of the lake. On the Corps property, we crossed the emergency spillway, passed through a grove of evergreens and walked the length of the dam. In this area are great views, a modern restroom and a very scenic picnic spot.

Lake view near the dam
Lake view near the dam

For the next several miles, the map shows the trail staying very close to the lakeshore. However, as Robert Ruchhoft states in his book, Backpack Loops and Long Day Trail Hikes in Southern Ohio, “Unfortunately the vagueness and inaccuracies on this ..(map)..are frequent enough to lead to some colossal misinterpretations.” When the trail leaves the lake, don’t panic. It is the map that’s wrong.

Eventually the trail returns to the lake near Dock #4. There is a short section of road walking after that, then an extremely steep climb up to the Park’s main campground. Like many state park campgrounds, here you will find plenty of water faucets, heated restroom and shower buildings and a small store (closed). The pop machine was working though. Only a few of the 100 or so sites were occupied so we picked one of the flatter ones with an hour of daylight left. There was a drop slot for the $19 camping fee. Between scavenging the nearby woods and the generosity of a fellow camper, we had an ample supply of firewood for the evening.

The sky stayed clear and the temperature dropped down to below freezing overnight. I awoke to a cold fog coming off the lake. My tent fly was covered with water and ice, but I stayed dry and warm in my 23 degree down bag. Bill’s single wall tent did what single walls do best in those circumstances, concentrate the moisture to the point that he was practically rained on. His 15 degree bag did keep him warm despite the localized rain shower though.

After breakfast and mopping up the tents it was back to the trail. We dropped down near the lake for less than a mile, had a pretty significant climb then stayed on the ridge for several miles, traveling by some interesting small caves and steep valleys. After a very steep drop down we walked into one of the more bizarre trail intersections I have ever seen. The yellow blazed trail split into two directions, both of which were very well marked with yellow blazes.

Despite there being eight blazes visible from this one spot, we were not going the right way
Despite there being eight blazes visible from this one spot, this was not the right way

Trying to fit the map to what was on site, we picked the direction that appeared to stay near the lake. After a quarter mile it was obvious that this trail was taking us in the wrong direction. Perhaps it was a long bridle trail that bypassed the steep drop. I could never figure it out. Taking the other option from the intersection, which per the map should be a bridle trail, ended up being the right move. Eventually this trail took us out near County Rd 58 where we crossed the upper reaches of Burr Oak Lake and started down the other side.

If you have an interest in extending this hike, it is a short walk on the road to the trailhead of Wildcat Hollow Backpack Trail. This 13 mile loop travels through Wayne National Forest. There are several established campsites, but no facilities on that stretch.

Back in the State Park, The trail generally remains close to the shallow, upper reaches of the lake, though there is a short road walk.

Trees along the upper reaches
Trees along the upper reaches

After 3 miles without much grade change we reached Dock #3 and another camp area. The spots are right by the lake, sport a pit toilet and again, are accessible through a public road. The lake view is nice, but the campsites are adjacent to asphalt and exposed. One site had been taken by someone obviously car camping.

Immediately after leaving the campsites, the trail heads straight up the steep hill behind them. This is one of the sections that Ruchhoft was surely thinking about when he said the trail, “…must have been engineered by someone who hated hikers.”

At the top of the hill there is another decision. You can continue with lake overlooks or take the Buckeye Loop which leaves the lake for a more direct path towards the starting point. As it appears to be part of the official backpack loop, provides a change of scenery, and is the shorter option, Buckeye Loop got both votes.

Buckeye Loop
Buckeye Loop

After some forest hiking through some beautiful, and steep, valleys, we were back to the truck by midafternoon. That just left us with the opportunity to head back to the lodge for their Sunday buffet. Stick with the burger. You won’t be disappointed.

Oh, and by the way, we did not see another backpacker on the entire hike. They must have all been at Zaleski.