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Long enough to get a good head of steam, the giant reservoir at Alum Creek State Park is a popular destination for big watercraft, which speed through its wide open southern section, often with laughing skiers and tubers in tow. In the northern end, though, narrower channels provide plenty of places for paddlers to explore without being buzzed.

Alum Creek State Park 3615 S. Old State Rd., Delaware 740-548-4631 Homepage

If water levels are high enough, the best spot to launch is a small parking lot near Hogback Road and State Rte. 521. If mudflats are exposed, head to a launch ramp just south of the Howard Road bridge.

The reservoir north of Howard Road includes prime territory for the giddy, random exploration that reminds people why they own boats. Here's more about an easy afternoon trip south from the headwaters near the State Rte. 521 bridge.

View larger image From the parking lot, you've got about a 100-yard walk to a small dirt bank, an easy launch into the headwaters. At this point, the reservoir's nothing more than a quiet stream running slowly through scrub forest and past the ruins of an old railroad bridge.

View larger image The stream eventually hits some quiet marshes pocked with driftwood and grassy sections. Picnic spots abound.

View larger image Around the first major bend, one of Alum's defining features comes into stark, beautiful view: tree-lined shale cliffs. One benefit of lower water levels is seeing the layers of rock exposed.

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View larger image About a half-mile into your trip, the small stream opens into the large, familiar reservoir. The first section is broad, though quite shallow in some spots.

View larger image The tall stands you see jutting from the water are hack nests built by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to attract osprey, an amazing bird of prey. Most of the nests are active from spring until October, when the birds migrate south for winter.

View larger image Small inlets and wooded coves dot both shorelines. They provide a chance to do some low-impact exploring after longer paddles across open water.

View larger image The white flash of a ring-billed gull stands out against the lovely fall color. Don't fret: The paddle is also great in other seasons, too.

View larger image The Wilderness Systems Pamlico 100, my very first boat. It survived the maiden voyage in flying colors.