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Mohican's state park and forest, which sprawl across Ashland County, offer long mountain-bike runs, snowmobile trails and unbroken forest tracts for horsemen. This is big country in Ohio, the type that amazes with sheer size and strength.
It's an expansive outdoor playground, yet the sliver of Clear Fork Gorge lies in its own quiet corner. [Full column]
Clear Fork Gorge Mohican State Park Goon Road at County Road 3006, Loudonville 419-994-5125 [Homepage] [Trail map]
This is a fantastic winter hike for those who like an easy warm-up, then a bit of uphill battle after a mile or so. Start at the Pleasant Hill Lake dam, located at the northern end of the park.
Here's what you'll find.
View larger image The Pleasant Hill Lake dam separates the upper and lower sections of Clear Fork, which eventually feeds the Mohican River. It's an earthen dam that you descend to meet the riparian trails below.
View larger image The river eventually emerges from a small spillway tunnel and rushes into the gorge. It's run through this land for thousands of years, carving steep slopes and exposing rock formations beneath the weathered soil. Take the Pleasant Hill Trail along the eastern bank.
View larger image Snow covered the entire outdoor world the night before I hit the trail. I was alone except for a family of deer, whose footprints had been etched into the white winter quilt. The trail is nearly as flat as the water itself.
View larger image After about 0.75 miles, you'll hit a renovated covered bridge. It's a great spot to stop and stare. If you head south along the western bank, you'll enter Clear Fork Gorge State Nature Preserve, which protects hemlock and pine forests.
View larger image Instead of finding the nature preserve, I took to the Lyons Falls Trail, which eventually doubles back to the dam. It's hilly, fairly rugged and slippery with a coating of leaves and snow. You'll get a workout during its two or so miles.
View larger image An especially hilly section wanders through some low-hanging pine trees. Because of the forest makeup, you'll have plenty of green all year.
View larger image After taking a short spur to Big Lyons Falls, I turned a corner and walked smack dab into a crystallized paradise. It was bitter cold, and the small feeder stream had iced to a halt around this small yet intriguing recess cave. Drips had formed a beautiful totem mosaic at the bottom.
View larger image Icicles line the cave at Big Lyons Falls.
View larger image Once you head back to the main trail, you'll see Little Lyons Falls, which dumps into a skinny crevasse. Bring your camera -- but watch your step.