Long shadows of fall reclined through the wooden tracts of Tar Hollow State Forest last weekend, accenting one of the glorious days that has made Central Ohio feel like the sunny southwest. The only sound Friday afternoon was the loud swishing crunch of eager feet on leaves, which echoed through a clear, stoic silence.

Even though itís the closest backpacking trail to Columbus, the figure-eight loop about 75 minutes south of Downtown doesnít see much traffic. My friend Josh, I and a few native birds seemed to have 16,000 acres or so to ourselves.

Tar Hollow State Forest 16396 Tar Hollow Rd. Laurelville, Ohio 43135 740-663-2538 [Homepage] [Free ODNR map] [Better map for $6]

At 8.4 and 8.9 miles, an experienced hiker could crush either loop in a day. Two backcountry campgrounds with pit toilets provide an opportunity for crews to do both over several days. Here's more about the slightly shorter southern loop.

View larger image The two distinct loops meet near the Brush Ridge Fire Tower, one of only three in Ohio open to the public. Itís a rare treat for those who most often see the Buckeye countryside at ground level.

View larger image After parking in a small lot near the fire tower, climb to the top for some awesome aerial views.

View larger image You definitely to carry a map and watch your way. Abandoned forest roads and bridle trails regularly intersect the path, and fallen leaves can make the largely overlooked trail even harder to follow. About a mile in, we lost a half-hour accidentally taking a connector path also blazed in red. The main trail is also blazed in red, as seen above.

View larger image Once you get your bearings, youíll encounter fairly tough climbs carved without switchbacks en route to distinct ridges above sprawling hollows. Leaves on the ground mean fantastic views into older forests, sections that were recently logged and small winding streams.

View larger image Much of the trail is enjoyable, though not exhilarating. If you've got a free weekend, it's definitely one to try with some friends. Two backcountry campsites with pit toilets give ample opportunity for overnight trips.