Tag Archives: Ohio Camping

The Ohio to Erie Trail: Biking Across Ohio

September was fast approaching. It’s my favorite month of the year for traveling and I was looking forward to backpacking around Lake Tahoe with my brother. Unfortunately, he was not feeling it in the same way and decided the trip wasn’t for him. After getting over the shock how anyone would not want to be in the Sierras in September I began thinking about other options. Without a long lead time, and a shortage of hiking friends, I was looking at a solo trip. After solo hiking several longer trails (Colorado Trail, Long Trail, JMT…) in the last few years I was ready for something different. How about a bike ride? That could be interesting.

Running from the Ohio River at downtown Cincinnati to Lake Erie near downtown Cleveland, the Ohio to Erie Trail runs 326 miles through the heart of Ohio. Most of the route is off road and there appeared to be enough camping or lodging available along the route to make a feasible ride for an older (read slower) cyclist. In addition, the trail runs near my house so logistics were straightforward. Looks like I had my September trip!

My first stop was at the local bike shop to see if my aging “hybrid” bike had what it takes to complete the journey. I was told it would be “like driving a Cadillac,” but apparently not in a good way. Slow, but comfortable was the way the other mechanic described how my trip would go. I was good with that. With significant mileage on packed gravel, my race bike with narrow tires seemed like a poor choice.
Using maps from the Ohio to Erie Trail (OTET) organization and their website, I put together a plan to travel the distance in six days, using a combination of camping and hotels. Averaging around 55 miles per day seemed doable even with the slow Caddy loaded down and powered by a nearly 60 year old engine.

Utilizing a borrowed pair of panniers and my lightweight backpacking equipment I was able to keep the load well under 20 pounds. That included a change of clothes, rain gear, camping gear, a couple spare tubes, a few tools, snacks and water. Looking at the route, it appeared I could get nearly all of my meals as I traveled.
The first stretch, from the Ohio River to my house near Morrow, looked like it had some of the worst on-road riding of the trip. While there had been some additional trail built in the last few years, the official trail still took riders down Rt 50 (Wooster Pike), a busy four lane road, for six miles. As I drove that road down to the start at the river, it became an easy decision for me to stay away from Wooster and take the new, nearby trail.
Parking near the Ohio River in downtown Cincinnati, it was easy to hop on the trail and pedal to the start near Great American Ballpark. It was a beautiful fall day and I got started heading east along the Ohio River a bit after 10 AM. This meant missing, as planned, the morning rush hour on the sections of city streets. Rolling through Sawyer Point Park and Friendship Park, the path was flat and scenic. A 2 ½ mile section on Riverside drive wasn’t bad as a separate bike lane was well marked. Some more park/trail and a shift to behind a septic treatment plant kept most of the route off road until I reached the popular bike trail around Lunken Airport. The wide, smooth path was sandwiched between Wilmer Road and a number of airplane hangers. Once past the airport, the OTET route continued onto Wooster Pike.

After looking at that route earlier that day, I made the decision to go rogue. By turning east onto Rt 125 (Beechmont Ave.) I pedaled less than a mile on a busy road, with a reasonably good shoulder, and crossed the Little Miami River. From there, taking the first exit onto north Rt 32 put me immediately onto a new section of the Little Miami Scenic Trail (LMST). It was a pleasant few miles through neighborhood parks until the official OTET route rejoined me by Avoca Park. Getting to this point took well under an hour. In checking with the OTET organization, neither the City of Cincinnati or Hamilton County will allow them to designate Beechmont as a bike route. The official route (and the one you should follow) will remain Wooster Pike for the time being. Either way, the rest of the day and beyond would be off road on the LMST.
Much of the LMST is constructed on an old railroad line. As such, there are no steep hills along its entire length. While the lack of elevation change can be boring for some, the trail is often within sight of the pretty Little Miami River, which in 1968, became Ohio’s first National Wild and Scenic River. In addition, there are numerous small towns with plenty of great places to stop for a break or to buy a snack or enjoy a meal. Not that I would notice, but there also seemed to be a plethora of bars alongside the path on this, and other, stretches.

As this is my “home” section of trail, I made pretty good time through the morning. Much of the trail is a green tunnel with possible stops after a few miles in Milford, a few more miles at Miamiville, or six more miles at Loveland. The trail is an integral part of Loveland and you pass right by a canoe/kayak livery, bike shop (where I had my ride checked out) and numerous restaurants. I could recommend several of them, but stopped for lunch at Bike Trail Junction, which is literally feet from the trail.
After a relaxing lunch, I stepped out of the place and right onto my bike. Loveland is quite possibly the busiest spot on the entire route, but on a weekday afternoon in September, I saw just a few other bikers as I continued north. The afternoon remained sunny and pleasant with ongoing views of the Little Miami. Several miles up the path is the interesting historical site of the Peters Cartridge Company, a major producer of munitions for the Allied forces in both World Wars. The remaining building is planned to be converted into retail and apartments in the not too distant future.
A short 14 miles after lunch I rolled into Morrow, my endpoint for the day. I traveled 39 miles up the OTET route and had 4 miles of country road yet to travel to get to my house. Without a convenient, comfortable spot to get dinner and my own bed, I would have traveled a few more miles to a riverside campground operated by Morgan’s Canoe Livery. As it was, I was home by midafternoon, plenty of time to get a ride to retrieve my truck that I’d left downtown.

The next stage of the trip is right here.

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.