Tag Archives: Ohio State Parks

Trail Report: East Fork Backpack Trail

I had been looking for a couple decent days in December to get out for “one more” backpacking trip. It was a combination of needing to test/review some new equipment and just wanting to get out again before winter really set in. The forecast wasn’t looking good, with the “pick day” of the week set to have a high temperature of 40 with overnight lows expected in the high 20’s. Not great, but the best of the foreseeable future, so I decided to head out on a relatively local overnight; the Backpack Trail at 4,900 acre East Fork State Park. The 15 mile lollipop loop has a couple official camping areas on it, including one at the most distant spot. That’s the one I was heading for.

You need a permit to spend the night on the trail so I stopped by the park office at around 1 pm. There are two official camp areas and I chose the more distant of them. The paperwork was painless and the permit was free. I also learned that I had the only permit given out for the evening. Apparently, everyone was smarter than me. There was no problem finding a spot at the trailhead parking lot and got rolling by 1:30.

I spent the afternoon hiking 8 miles out on the trail. With partly cloudy weather the temperature peaked around 40. With that I was comfortable wearing only hiking pants, a nylon t-shirt and a lightweight fleece pullover. The path was well constructed and well marked. A couple creek crossings involved rock hopping, but most gullies were bridged. For the first several miles, the trail was either flat or rolling, going to great lengths to avoid steep drops and climbs by skirting several of the creeks feeding Harsha Lake. (The lake was formed as a flood control measure on the East Fork of the Little Miami River.) Throughout the stretch there were some nice views of the 2,600 acre reservoir.
At a bit over 6 miles, I hit the loop part of the trail and grading changed significantly. The flat portions were still flat, but I climbed and dropped steep 100 foot elevation changes three times in the last mile and a half. The sun was setting by the time I arrived at Camp 2. There were plenty of choices to set up my tent and a few small buildings as well. One was a three sided shelter reminiscent of those on the AT. It seemed in decent condition. Two smaller sleeping shelters appeared to be significantly rougher and the two hole latrine was woefully short on doors. As the light was fading, I kept the inspection short and hustled to set up camp.
My tent was quickly up and I dove into it to pull on a Brynje shirt and long underwear that I was testing. Some hasty scrounging resulted in enough wood for a small fire just as the weak December sun dropped below the horizon.

I was pleasantly impressed with the instant warmth the “Thermos” provided. Rather than digging through the pack for more clothes through the evening, I was able to enjoy eating my Subway dinner and possibly (hypothetically speaking) drained a small flask in comfort. The full review of the base layer is over at TheTrek.co.

Through the night the wind rose and sleet would occasionally rain down. I was staying comfortable in the tent I was testing until I heard a loud pop underneath me. My immediate thought was, “Crap, my air mattress just blew out. I’m going to freeze my ass off.” However, a quick inspection showed that the mattress was still holding air, I had just lost some of the internal baffles. The mattress was now shaped a little less like a mattress and little more like a giant football. It took a little work to stay up on the cushion and off the frozen ground, but with careful positioning, it worked out fine.

Nights are long in Ohio in December and when I started breaking down camp at 7 am, it was still dark. It was also windy and I was getting hit by a light shower of ice pellets. With enough clothes, I was able to stay warm, other than my hands. My lightweight nylon gloves were no match for the cold. My fingers were frosty enough that breaking down camp became difficult and by the time I was ready to hike out there was no need for a headlamp. However, I was still early enough that I saw several turkeys just leaving their overnight roosts.

Continuing around the loop, it appeared most people went back out the way I had come in. The trail wasn’t quite as obvious and with everything covered in fallen leaves, I had to backtrack a time or two. It wasn’t long though, until I was back on the “stick” of the lollipop.

Despite the temperature in the 20’s and a biting wind, I generated enough heat by walking to stay comfortable. Unfortunately, conditions began to deteriorate and I was soon walking through a localized snow squall. The flakes stuck to my fleece, and while I was still relatively warm, I was soon going to be damp. Time to add the rain jacket. If nothing else, the slight snow cover made the walk out feel much less repetitive than it otherwise would have been. Several sightings of deer through the flakes also added to the interest.

Light snow cover highlights the trail

I continued hiking and the weather eventually improved a bit. At around 11 am I got back to my car where my thermometer read 24 degrees. It wasn’t an expedition up Everest, but a good trip nonetheless. The East Fork Backpack Trail turned out to be a good option for quick overnight. New backpackers or those starting later in the day might also make use of Camp Area 1. It’s less than four miles in and is located before the steeper climbs. There are also a couple “unofficial campsites along the way. I asked one of the Rangers about them. Obviously they aren’t recommended, but if you run out of daylight or endurance and need to use one, he seemed fine with it.

Day one route to Camp 2

Ohio to Erie Trail: Biking Across Ohio, Part 3

Looking for the beginning of this adventure? Try here.

After a hearty breakfast at Bob Evans, I pedaled north on the Westerville Bike and Walk Route in the morning sun. It was day four of my ride. Soon I passed one of several bike maintenance stations on the trail. This one had a pump, tools, water and even a wash area. Very nice and thoughtful. Bouncing between trail and short sections of road there were some nice views of Hoover Reservoir. In Galena, the route went strictly on road to Sunbury and beyond for over twelve miles, my longest road stretch to that point. With no steep hills and little traffic, the road was actually a nice change of pace until I picked up the Heart of Ohio Trail, or HOOT.

I had been looking forward to stopping at Pizzaburg in Centerburg for lunch, but had ridden too fast for my own good. It was still before 11 AM and they had yet to open. I made do with some roller food at a nearby gas station and pressed on. Although the trail was paved between towns, many of the cross streets were not. I was definitely in the country.

Mt Vernon was a fairly major town with restaurants, businesses and interesting parks along the trail. I wished I had held out a little longer for lunch. Right downtown, the route jogs onto the Kokosing Gap Trail (KGT). Keep your eyes open for the turn. Following the scenic Kokosing River, the KGT travels through forests between towns that sit about five miles apart. At the Gambier trailhead, an entire train was on display. At Danville, I caught second lunch/early dinner and picked up drinks for my planned camping a few miles up the Mohican Valley Trail.

The Knox County Park District allows bike travelers to camp near the parking lot at the Bridge of Dreams, an impressive covered bridge over the Mohican River. Camping is “primitive.” Basically, it’s a flat spot by the river close to a portalet and a parking lot. The reason they provide it is because there aren’t other overnight options in the area. The reason I was planning to stay there was because it would be after 58 miles and my planning showed they were right; no other options nearby. Upon my arrival though, it was still before 3 pm, the area was obviously buggy and three guys were hanging out that looked like extras from an episode of Breaking Bad. I certainly didn’t feel unsafe, but wasn’t about to spend hours sitting there wondering how safe I’d feel if I still had company after sundown. I pressed on.

I soon hit the brand new Holmes County Trail. I wasn’t even sure it was open yet due to signs of ongoing construction, but saw that the asphalt had been marked by horses and buggys. If it was ready enough for the local Amish to use, I figured it was ready for me. The trail itself was one of the hillier bike trails I’ve been on, but I’m sure it saved me from even bigger climbs on the road. Other than one construction worker, I went the entire eight miles without seeing another person. From Glenmont to Killbuck there were eight more miles, this time on rolling roads. On that stretch, I was not passed by a single car. I was certainly not going fast, there was just no traffic. After several more miles on trail, I reached my new planned stop for the night, the Millersburg Comfort Inn. There were a few rooms left and a bit of daylight as well. I’d traveled 80 miles, by far my longest day ever on a bike.

This definitely threw my planning out of whack. My planned stop for the next night was only 36 miles away and I was having trouble finding either camping or a motel near the trail a full day’s ride north. Luckily, the “Holy Rollers” were also staying at the Comfort Inn and suggested I try for a room at the Akron Marriott, right by the trail. It looked to be around 65 miles. After 80, that didn’t seem too bad and I made a reservation. That evening, the last remnants of Irma finally caught up to me and it rained through the night.

In the morning, it was still raining. After breakfast, I walked outside to survey the situation first hand and met one of the preachers doing the same thing. He told me that he was praying that the rain would stop and about ten minutes later, it did just that. Hmmm, perhaps I should stick near that group for the rest of the ride?

When I got ready to leave, the group was waiting for one member to visit a nearby clinic for a bad back that hadn’t responded as well as the weather did. I took off on my own. The Holmes County Trail had been nice and wide as it was designed to handle the width of two horse drawn buggies. On the down side, the rain had spread some of the gifts left on the trail by the aforementioned horses. There was a bit of weaving as I pedaled.

Much of Amish country is picturesque and at one point I stopped to take a shot of a small herd of cows along the trail. A word of caution: bike shoes have little traction on a wet, grass covered slope. Me and the bike ended up in a heap by the pasture fence. Interestingly, the cows all walked over for a better look at my mishap. I couldn’t tell if they were concerned or just wanted a front row view of the morning’s comedy.

I was unhurt (other than my pride) but my attempt to stay upright resulted in me yanking the seat cover partway off its frame. I couldn’t repair it, but adjusted the seat position to be as comfortable as possible. My continued pedaling was a bit tentative there wasn’t much holding the cover on the seat and any further issues would result in serious discomfort.

After ten miles of flat, empty trail I made it to Fredericksburg and the longest road stretch of the entire route. The seventeen miles of rural road had some significant hills, but again, little traffic. About halfway through that stretch I met a biker heading the other way who asked if we were on the Towpath Trail. I had the unhappy task of telling him that not only were we not on that trail, we were no where near it. Sharing my map with him, I figured he had made a wrong turn over 15 miles back. It was even worse as it appeared that he wasn’t on a recreational ride. I was guessing his overloaded bike was his only transportation. He declined to turn around so I showed him a highway option that might shorten his reroute. On the plus side, the day remained cloudy and cool, pleasant for pedaling.

Eventually I made it to the town of Dalton, where I had lunch at Wendy’s and caught the start of the Sippo Valley Trail. The packed gravel path wound through field and forest for around ten miles before reaching the major city of Massillon and Towpath Trail. From there, I rode along the Tuscarawas River on a trail that varied between gravel and asphalt. My tires worked pretty well on either, but the damaged seat was still “a pain in the ass.” Luckily, on the north side of town is a major trailhead where Ernie’s Bike Shop sits. I showed one of the staff my seat and he popped it right off the bike to attempt to repair it. After that failed, I chose a similar seat off the wall and they had it on my bike in a couple minutes, quickly putting me back on my way.

Leaving the Massillon area, the trail continued following both the river and remnants of the Ohio and Erie Canal. In the next town, Canal Fulton, the canal has been refurbished with a working lock, canalway center and canal boat rides. Most important for me was the handy, right on the trail, location of the Cherry Street Creamery. There I got some of the best ice cream ever and a sugar boost to power me ever farther north.

Closing in on Akron, it was obvious that the area was becoming more urban and industrial. However, the remnant of the canal kept the natural atmosphere. Turtles and heron were a common sight and a deer even popped out of a small woodlot. Eventually the trail turned to boardwalk and the adjacent waterway opened up into Summit Lake with several spots for a rest break and to enjoy the view.

Despite entering an industrial area, the trail itself remained impressive with high end fencing and lighting. Once in Akron, there was mileage on city streets, but still a separate, well marked lane. As I rolled down a large hill on the north side of town, a sidetrail took me almost to the door of my day’s destination, the Akron Courtyard by Marriott.

Another former lock was on display near the start of my last day’s ride. In addition, the trail (and the old canal) began to follow the Cuyahoga River Valley. Just a few miles north of Akron, the Towpath Trail also reached Cuyahoga Valley National Park. For the most part, the trail remained in the park for the next 20 miles. As with all National Parks, the trail and surrounding land was beautifully laid out and maintained. Since 1880, there has been a railroad through the valley. Since 1972, the Cuyahoga Scenic Railroad has offered a relaxing way to see the park. They even offer Bike Aboard, hauling you and your bike along the route. https://www.cvsr.com/

The path pleasantly meandered through the park, passing several of the old locks. One long boardwalk crossed a stretch of wetland. A break in the park was the town of Pennisula. A train depot, National Park Store and a couple restaurants are all right near the trail and just right for me to pick up a mid-morning snack.

A few miles further was the Canal Exploration Center with some great displays on the canal and its history. I couldn’t linger too long though, as I had arranged for a ride to meet me at Lake Erie at noon.

Once out of the park, the surroundings quickly became more urban, but the ride was still pleasant. Over a couple major road intersections there were truly impressive bike/pedestrian bridges. Eventually the trail reverted back to an industrial road for a short spell before some trail alongside a steel mill and the Steel Heritage Center.

By now I had less than 5 miles to go and had several glimpses of downtown Cleveland. I had to really keep my eyes on my immediate surroundings though as most of the rest of the way was on city streets, some of them fairly busy. At last I made it to 65th St which was my last stretch of road and heading straight for Lake Erie. A short winding path took me under busy Rt 20 and directly into Edgewater Park. I was at the shore in no time and done. It was a beautiful day. Boats were out on the lake and the nearby beach had a few folks on it. I had ridden 40 miles and beat my noon deadline by 15 minutes. Working on my surviving snacks and drink, I just enjoyed the surroundings and the day.

A little after noon, I noticed my truck drive by the park up on Rt 20. A quick call confirmed Michelle had missed that entrance to the park, but was at the next entrance. So, I slid my helmet back on one last time and rode ½ mile to the park’s overlook, which was a great spot. You could see the park’s shoreline, downtown Cleveland and complete the scene with a large Cleveland sculpture.

All that was left to do was ride back to Cincinnati. However, a late lunch buffet in Amish Country would be a required stop. It’s a pleasant drive back across Ohio, but I-71 reveals little of the beauty and adventure awaiting those that delve deeper into the state on two wheels on the Ohio to Erie Trail.

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.