Caesar Creek State Park: March 15, 2014

So things have been a wee bit crazy  here around the house and I’m a little behind on my posting!  Fear not – I’m about to remedy that situation.

Caesar Creek State Park’s official website

Trail Map

Distance:  We did the southern loop (bordered by SR73 and Clarksville Road on either end), which ended up right about 13 miles.  (BackpackOhio says 11.7 mile loop.  BackpackOhio lies.)

Bathrooms:  Basically, wherever there’s a parking lot along the way.

Brief Description:  Meanders more or less along the lake.  Decent amount of ups and downs, although few long climbs.  A couple of creek crossings, including one that actually involved wading.

Today’s Visit:

  • Weather:  Comfortable – upper 50’s and sunny
  • Footing:  Ankle-deep mud in a lot of places, incredibly sloppy.  In other places, it was totally dry.  But the mud was quite miserable going.
  • Trail:  We started at the Wellman Meadow Picnic Area (I think) and went clockwise around the loop.  The trail is quite well-marked with yellow blazes all the way around.  The Perimeter Trail isn’t officially listed on the map (or the park’s website), but seems to be an accepted route.  After crossing the dam at Clarksville Road, we picked up the Buckeye Trail’s blue blazes as well; it runs along the northwest side of the lake (continuing northwest after the perimeter trail turns to cross at SR73.)

So we decided that we were ready for a more intense challenge today, and headed to Caesar Creek.  However, it took us longer than we expected to get there; we had trouble finding where we were parking; and the trail was more difficult/longer than expected as well – all these things added up to mean that we were tight on time, so this hike turned into a bit of a march, and we barely made it back to our car  before dark.

Overall, though, it was a really nice trail, and one we’d definitely like to try again in the summer when the trail is drier (or when it’s warm enough that you don’t care as much that your feet are sopping).

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Where we started the trail, it wends its way along a creek.  We took the side trail to Horseshoe Falls (which meets back up with the main perimeter trail later).  It stays closer to the creek.

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It was actually a very nice creek, and Horseshoe Falls, while not grand, were still quite pretty.

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Most of this section of trail was incredibly muddy, ankle-or-deeper, and difficult/impossible to skirt around.  Just when we thought the trail conditions couldn’t worsen, we got to this:

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Yep, no bridge, and the trail goes straight across.  If we’d known, we might have tried to cross at an earlier point (the trail swings back around and follows the creek down the other side, back to the lake), but as it was we pretty much had to hop across on slight-submerged rocks.  This may be a dry crossing when the water is lower, and there were the remains of a bridge there, so maybe they’ll replace it sometime??  But we’re always up for adventure, so we scrambled across and continued on our way.  About a hundred yards further on, we came to another creek crossing.  This one, thankfully, had a bridge.

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What a relief!

The rest of the trail runs along the lake.  There are two sections that go along the road, and we did miss our turn on the northwest side of the dam – the trail actually turns off the road beyond the entrance to the visitors’ center; we turned up the drive.  But we were able to find it again easily enough.  (I love lake trails…  all we had to do was keep the lake on our right and we were golden!)

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We even came across a woodland creature – albeit one we decided to keep at a distance!

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All in all, this was actually a very pleasant trail.  It wasn’t super exciting, but it was pretty and just rolling enough to keep us engaged.  This is a trail I would definitely like to try again either without a pack, or at a much slower pace, because I was definitely struggling by mile 10, and ready to give up on life by the time we finally reached the car.  Still, it was a good hike and a trail we look forward to trying again later this summer.

North Bend Rail Trail (WV): March 8, 2014

Woohoo!  My first time writing about an out-of-state experience on this blog!  😀

Last Saturday was perfect weather, and Tom really wanted to leave Ohio.  We hadn’t really planned ahead, though, so we knew we were going to be a bit too short on time to go very far afield, like Dolly Sods.  So I pulled out my trusty atlas (I love that thing) to look at state parks along the border.  North Bend State Park in West Virginia caught my eye, and when I looked it up, I found out that it’s actually part of a rail trail that runs between Parkersburg and Clarksburg, roughly parallel to US 50.  Mostly flat, well-marked, with loads of bridges and tunnels – I knew I’d found our Saturday hike.

North Bend Rail Trail’s official website.

Here’s the map, but we actually used this milepost description and found it super useful.  Be aware, though – while the distances between things on the milepost description seemed accurate, and the distance between mileposts on the trail seemed accurate, the numbers didn’t match.  E.g., we got on at Petroleum and headed west, so theoretically we started at 17.9 and the numbers should have been going down, but we passed marker 18 on our way west.  So.

Distance:  Well, it’s about 70 miles from end to end, with several jumping-off points in the middle, so it’s basically as long as you want it to be.  We did 10.25 miles out-and-back.

Bathrooms:  There are a few along the trail, but you’ll have to check the map.  There were pit toilets at the parking area at Petroleum where we got on, although we weren’t sure what would be available so we stopped at a McDonald’s in Parkersburg on our way out.

Brief Description:  Flat, wide, lightly graveled.  The bridges are decked and everything is well marked and easy to follow.  This would actually be a good trail if you had a mountain bike, or probably even a sturdy road bike with some more aggressive tires.  The section we followed was along a creek and quite picturesque.  There are several tunnels along the length of the trail, as well, so check out the mile markers and choose the section you think looks interesting.

Today’s Visit:

  • Weather:  Perfect – mid-50’s, sunny, calm.
  • Footing:  Mostly dry, but still muddy in spots, and even snow in super shady areas.  The gravel definitely helped keep the mud to a minimum, although it would have been tough going on a bike in some places.
  • Trail:  See the milepost list for specific details on distances in general.  We started in Petroleum and walked west to the tunnel – it’s super long – over 1800 feet! – and then we walked a bit beyond to reach the 5 mile mark so we’d have our  10 miles in by the time we got back to the car.

Thanks to the new bypass around Nelsonville, Lancaster to Parkersburg is only about 2 hours now, US 33 to US 50.  We exited US 50 about 25 miles east of the River, and from there it was about 7 miles to where we parked the car and got on the trail in Petroleum.  Despite being a bit remote, we actually felt pretty comfortable leaving the car.  There were other cars parked there, and several houses around.

Rail trails are great, because they’re hard to miss.

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The weather was truly fantastic, and it was so nice to take a flat hike for once.  We just enjoyed the weather, the scenery, and the company.  A lovely day and a great hike – one we’re definitely going to try again.  There are plenty of other miles along this trail, and we’re excited to explore some of the other tunnels.

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Much of the section we were on followed the valley of Goose Creek.  The trail runs fairly straight, but the creek doesn’t, so there are four bridges pretty close together.

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The bridges are quite sturdy – built right on top of the old railroad trusses.

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The tunnel is a long one, with a turn towards the end, so you can barely see the light from the east side, and not at all when you enter the west side coming back.  Spooky and fantastic!  And cold!  It was easily 20 or so degrees colder than outside.

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Mount Pleasant: March 2, 2014

So, this isn’t really a hike, per se, but still – if you live in Lancaster, Ohio, you’re familiar with our oh-so-famous mountain:  Mount Pleasant, the mountain of Rising Park.

I’ve lived here my whole life, and I’ve climbed Mt. Pleasant hundreds of times, in all kinds of weather, all times of year, all times of day and night.  It’s a steep climb, but there’s something so rewarding about sitting up on the top, looking out over Lancaster.

We hiked up it the day after the big Old Man’s Cave hike.  Per usual for Ohio in March, the weather went from comfortable and warmish on Saturday to cold and a couple inches of snow on Sunday.

Distance:  No clue, honestly.  Maybe a quarter-mile to the top?  All these years of climbing it, and I’ve never bothered to measure!

Bathrooms:  Plenty at the bottom, but possibly only open seasonally??  Wow, I’m realizing I know very little about this park, lol.

Brief Description:  So you can climb Mt. Pleasant, which is pretty straightforward.  There are a couple of unofficial trails all over the mountain, but as long as you stick to what is obviously the main path (and keep going up), you’ll be fine.  At the park, there is also a playground, several picnic shelters, tennis courts, and all the usual park-like stuff.  It’s a city park.

Today’s Visit:

  • Weather:  Low 20’s, snowing quite heavily at times.
  • Footing:  Snowy!
  • Trail:  Steep!

Seriously, look at the pictures from Saturday’s hike at Old Man’s Cave, and then look at these!  Ridiculous!

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This is about half-way up the hill.

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Snowy Lancaster…

 

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Mount Pleasant also looks out over the Fairfield County Fairgrounds.

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Seriously, can you believe all the snow that fell just from the day before!?!?  I love Ohio.

 

Old Man’s Cave/Cedar Falls – 20K Loop: March 1, 2014

So, this week was unusually busy and I’m just now getting around to posting about last week’s hike.  Plus, it nearly killed me, so I wasn’t super excited about reliving the experience!  😀

Every fall, there is a race in the Hocking Hills called the Indian Run.  Run on trails and roads around Old Man’s Cave, it’s definitely a challenge.  The race runs in 5K, 10K, 20K, 40K, and 60K lengths.  For the 5 and 10, you’re dropped off at a certain point and run back to the lodge from there, but there is an actual 20K loop (for the others, you run the same loop again – I can’t imagine!), and it’s a favorite hike when we’re looking for something a bit longer.

If you somehow live in Ohio and have never been to the Hocking Hills, you definitely should.  Here’s the official page for Old Man’s Cave, but there are loads of other parks and trails to explore.

Here’s the official trail map as well, but there are some differences.  The main one is that this race itself has changed a bit – instead of following the side of the lake and up through the campgrounds, you now cross the dam and follow a trail that runs the top of the ridge above the creek before swinging over to the visitors’ center and picking up the original trail up to the lodge.

Distance:  So we did the 20K loop, but there are obviously lots of options for hiking in this area.  The main problem with the 20K is that (as you can see on the map) about half of it is on the road, which is kind of lame.  Tom and I also frequently hike from Old Man’s Cave to Cedar Falls and back, which isn’t as long, but stays off the road.  You can also hike on over to Ash Cave, if you want to add some distance.  (I haven’t measured those hikes, so I’m not sure how long each stage is.)

Bathrooms:  This is a legit state park, so there are plenty of bathrooms at the actual park.  However, if you’re doing the 20K loop you spend a decent amount of time outside the park, so be sure to go before you head out.  About 2 miles along you’ll pass Grandma Faye’s Country Store, and there’s a Port-A-Potty there.  After that, you’re on your own until you get around the pit toilets at Cedar Falls.

Brief Description:  This hike has some very steep climbs.  You’re on SR664 for about three miles – a decent climb up, then rolling, and then a very steep downhill to turn left (the first left, actually, so hard to get lost) to cross a bridge and start up a dirt road.  And when I say up, I mean UP.  It’s a brutal climb that must be very exciting to travel in a car in the winter.  That road dead-ends into a paved county road (turn left).  It’s basically flat through there.  One of the trickiest parts of the loop is finding where to turn off onto the trail (an old logging road).  The 20K trail is marked with posts with orange markings on them:

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Once on the old logging road, you wind through the woods a bit, rolling terrain, quite lovely.  The trickiest part is remembering to turn *left* when you get to the intersection – turning right, which feels natural, actually takes you to Ash Cave.  Turning left will bring you to Cedar Falls.  From there, you can either take the gorge trail or the rim trail back; both are well marked.

Today’s Visit:

  • Weather: Cool, but comfortable – upper 40’s, calm.
  • Footing:  Obviously, the roads were dry.  The rest of the way was moderately but not ridiculously muddy.  Still spots of snow in some places.
  • Trail:  Other than noting that it was three miles from the visitors’ center (we start there rather than the lodge, as marked on the map) to the turn-off onto the dirt road, I didn’t really pay attention to distances, I’m afraid.

For this hike, we were joined by my dad, brother, and sister-in-law.  My brother Timmy and his wife, Erin, will also be coming with us when we go to North Carolina in the beginning of April.  Timmy’s work schedule is crazy, but we’ve been trying to hike together when we can make it work.  Timmy, Tom, and I were fully packed.  Erin, who’s a serious light-weight, had her pack but almost no weight.  Dad, who isn’t trying to get into condition and is probably in the best shape out of all of us anyway, carried no pack at all, and was quite gleeful about.

The pace was significantly faster than Tom and I have been hiking alone, so I struggled a bit.  I’ll freely admit that I’m the weakest link, and the last mile or so was more of a death march for me than anything.  We averaged 25 minute miles, including our rest stops, so our actual hiking pace was pretty darn close to a march.  Not so shabby, considering the hills and weight.

It was a really lovely day, so sunny and nice.  Early March isn’t Ohio’s best time of year, but I still find something beautiful in the barren woods and fields – a sort of blank-canvas feel.

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Because I was spending most of my time panting for breath, I didn’t take a lot of pictures on this hike.  Still, all in all, it was a lovely day and a fun hike with people I love.

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Strouds Run State Park: February 22, 2014

We’ve had a thaw for the last several days, so the snow has pretty much melted and everything is a muddy mess.  Everyone has been soaking up the sunshine and the (slightly) warmer temperatures, since we’re supposed to go back into a hard freeze by the end of this coming week!  Tom and I were pretty excited to hit the trail yesterday, just because the day was so perfect.  We decided to explore a new state park that we had never before visited, and we ended up really enjoying the hike.

Official Website

Trail Map (this is technically the mountain bike trail map, but seems to have all the hiking/bridle trails as well; there’s another trail map on the official website)

Distance:  As you can see from the map, there is a plethora of trails from which to choose, and you can combine them to create a trail of almost any length.  We did a loop around the lake (and a bit), for a total of 7.71 miles.

Bathrooms:  It’s a state park, so there were pit toilets at most of the parking areas.  We started at the Lakeview Trail trailhead, and there we definitely bathrooms there.  We passed the parking lot near the dam, but didn’t walk down to it.  We couldn’t see any bathrooms, but they could be there.

Brief Description:  Our particular route encompassed the Lakeview Trail from the parking lot to the dam, then the Hickory Trail along the other side of the lake.  We crossed the road and took the Thunderbunny Trail (how could we resist a name like that??) and then cut back down to cross CR20 and back to our car.  Lakeview Trail is lovely, but narrow and rugged in spots, with a few (relatively) short but quite steep climbs.  The Hickory Trail is wider and not as difficult or steep.  Thunderbunny does quite a bit of climbing and rides a ridge of sorts.  Everything was impressively well marked – there were trail signs at every intersection, and any place on the map where two trails are close to each other, there’s probably a connector trail to cut over.

The Park:  Like I said, this was our first visit to Strouds Run, so we are no experts.  Still, the park appears to have plenty to offer, including camping, lake access, fishing, etc.  There are loads of hiking, mountain biking, and bridle trails.  It also appears that this park links up to a bike trail that runs into Athens.  Being close to that city, there were plenty of Ohio University students out enjoying the weather as well, and I can picture some of the picnic areas getting a bit rowdy in the warmer weather (even though you’re not technically allowed to have alcohol).  The lake is one of those fun long, skinny lakes with plenty of inlets.  This region lacks the huge rock faces and sandstone of the Hocking Hills, but was still lovely in its own way.

Today’s Visit:

  • Weather: Perfect.  Mid-50’s, sunny, virtually no wind.
  • Footing:  Slightly less than perfect, but better than last week.  Everything was VERY muddy, especially along Lakeview, which made those steep climbs extra challenging.  There was still snow on the ground here and there, especially along Hickory, where the trail gets less sun this time of year.
  • Trail:  Lakeview trailhead to the dam: 3.22 miles.  Dam to CR20 along Hickory:  2.74.  CR20 to lake parking access road via Thunderbunny:  1.13.  Access road to Lakeview trailhead where we parked:  .13.  Total:  7.22 miles.

This was a very pleasant hike.  I don’t know if the trails are getting easier or if we’re getting stronger, but yesterday’s hike felt really great.  The weather definitely helped – hiking in colder weather can be miserable, not because you’re cold, but because you’re overheated and have to constantly fight against getting chilled because of it.  It was so nice to just hike in our short sleeves worry free.  I think this is definitely a hike we’ll revisit in dryer weather.  Also, we finished up on the Thunderbunny Trail (I really just want to keep working that into this conversation), and some of the trails up along the ridges looked really happy as well.  Plenty more to explore at this state park!

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The lake had obviously been frozen quite solidly before the thaw.

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In most places the trail was dry and easy to follow…

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…but in others it was a bit like wading in a creek!

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Much of the hike along the lake was through old-growth pine.  Those are usually my favorite sections of trails – I love a thick carpeting of pine needles underfoot!

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Like I said, most of the trails were very clearly marked.  There were plenty of connector trails, too, making it very easy to create your own loops, ending up with a hike the right length for you.

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Yesterday was also our first time trying out our camp stove and eating a Mountain House meal!!  It was delicious (although freeze-dried ice cream sandwich!?!??!  Seriously bizarre!) and really hit the spot in the middle of our hike.  And, despite the fact that Tom’s watching, the pot did eventually boil!

 

Lake Hope State Park: February 15, 2014

So we are preparing to do a three-day backpack trip in the Smokies in April (SEVEN WEEKS AWAY I AM SO UNPREPARED).  Last week was our first week out lugging our fully-kitted packs.  This week, I felt a little more prepared.  Plus, instead of the rugged and steep trail at Clear Creek Metro Park, we decided to focus on the longer, but not-so-hilly, trail around Lake Hope.

Official Website

Trail Map

Distance: 3.75 miles from the parking lot at Hope Furnace to the shelter house, so about 7.5 miles round-trip, unless you have a friend who can pick you up at the other end.

Bathrooms:  Pit toilets at both ends; there are also regular bathrooms at the lodge (since it’s at the very top of a very large hill, I recommend driving to the lodge, but parking either at the shelter house or at Hope Furnace)

Brief Description:  This is a moderate trail – no huge hills or steep climbs.  It rolls gently along the edge of the lake.  As you can see from the map, Lake Hope is basically horseshoe-shaped, with some long “fingers” jutting off.  Those “fingers” are streams coming down into the lake, so sometimes those areas can get a bit swampy.  There are some little bridges and boardwalks through the worst of it, though.

The Park:  Lake Hope State Park has a lot to offer – camping, cottages, fishing, a beautiful lodge, swimming, and plenty of hiking.  Located in southeastern Ohio, near McArthur, it’s not officially in the Hocking Hills region, but the terrain is very similar – hilly, with lots of rock faces and sandstone.

Frequently, we go to the Lake Hope region to hike sections of the Zaleski Backpack Trail (hopefully more on that in the future), but when we are actually hiking Lake Hope, our favorite trail is the Hope Furnace Trail.

Every sign at the park along the trail states that it is 3 miles from Hope Furnace to the shelter house.  The map says that it’s 3.2 miles, plus .25 miles of the White Oak Trail, and that’s probably more accurate – our GPS usually ends us up about 3.75 miles one-way.

We have hiked this as a loop before, starting at Hope Furnace, going around the lake, through the campgrounds, and then back along the road to the parking area by the Furnace, but I really wouldn’t recommend that.  The section that goes along the road has very minimal berm, and is a fairly busy road.  After trying that once, we have since stuck to just using this trail as an out-and-back  – we enjoy a little break at the shelter house, and then come back along the lake.  It’s lovely scenery both ways.

Today’s Visit:

  • Weather:  In the low 20’s, with a fresh 2-3″ of snow that fell Friday night on top of the 3-4″ of old snow – but sunny!  And relatively little wind.
  • Footing:  A bit slippery, and we were breaking trail the whole way to the shelter house.  But the snow was pretty loose and easy to walk through.
  • Trail: Hope Furnace

Actually, I really like this trail.  Winding along the side of the lake, there’s always some pretty scenery, even in the height of summer when you’re  a bit hemmed in by the trees.  There are some short climbs, but nothing at all strenuous, so even though it’s over 7 miles to the shelter house and back, it’s very doable.

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We’ve had pretty cold weather this winter, and there were several people out lake-walking.  Tom was determined to not take any short cuts (“We’re in training!”) so we stuck to the trail.

It was actually lovely weather, with the sun shining on the fresh snow.  It was that perfect snow that clings to everything, outlining every bare branch and all the hemlocks.  Most of the time, we had our coats stuffed in our packs – as long as we kept moving, we were plenty warm.

Still, we were glad to reach the shelter house to take a break.  We were able to ditch the packs for a few minutes and have a snack before heading back to the car.  I wasn’t nearly as sore yesterday morning as I was last Sunday, so I suppose that’s a good sign!

Afterwards, we drove up to the lodge (pro-tip: there are pit toilets by the furnace and by the shelter house, but the lodge is open during the day, and there are real bathrooms there: a special boon in 20* weather!).  It was recently renovated and is super nice.

Overall, this is one of my favorite hikes, mainly because it lacks any of those ridiculous climbs that Tom seems to find necessary for a “real” hike.  The scenery is lovely and the trail manageable.  A lovely winter hike.