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Situated deep in the Wayne National Forest -- one epicenter of southeastern Ohio's rugged beauty -- the Wildcat Hollow Trail is a true test of backpacking mettle. [Trail map]
The trail runs 14.7 miles through deep forest, bottomland meadows and former oil-drilling territory. I did alone in a soaking April rain -- and it was still one of the best times I've ever had in the woods.
Here's a view from the path.
View larger image The trailhead doesn't have an address, so use these GPS coordinates: 39.5719°N, 82.0330°W. From the parking lot, you'll soon see some crazy wind damage. Things get prettier farther in.
View larger image The trail is rugged and unimproved, except for routine log-clearing. You'll likely encounter some impeded pathways, so be sure to follow the white metal blazes. I got fairly lost twice and had to retrace my steps.
View larger image Many of the campsites are really nice: wooden seating, fire rings and flat sleeping surfaces. This one was hidden near the beginning of the trail. Others are spaced well through the remainder.
View larger image Pine plantations are one of Wildcat's many exhilarating features. If you've never been through one, the going (and sleeping) is soft atop the needles.
View larger image One of Wildcat's many riparian meadows. These flat areas that border stream beds are haven for wildflowers and great views. Tough climbs aren't common at Wildcat, and you generally gain ground gradually through sloping sections.
View larger image Oil derricks, mining shacks and other relics of southeastern Ohio's mineral history dot the trail. It's cool to think about who might have been living there decades ago during a small-scale rush for black gold.
View larger image A bloom sits beneath the leaves of a mayapple. Naturalists run a series of wildflower walks in April and May, but the offerings remain solid into the summer. Birds and more reclusive wildlife also inhabit the area.