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.

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 it's the closest backpacking trail to Columbus, the figure-eight loop about 75 minutes south of Downtown doesn't see much traffic. My friend Josh and I and a few birds seemed to have 16,000 acres or so to ourselves.

Running through endless hills and valleys, the Tar Hollow trail was designed in two distinct loops that meet near the Brush Ridge Fire Tower, one of only three in Ohio open to the public. It's a rare treat for those who most often see the Buckeye countryside at ground level.

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 to do both over several days.

For a single-day trip, choose the slightly shorter southern loop. After parking in a small lot near the fire tower, climb to the top for some awesome aerial views. When you finally hit the trail - on the tower's west side - don't leave without a map.

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 by accidentally taking a connector path also blazed in red.

Once you get your bearings, you'll encounter fairly tough climbs carved without switchbacks en route to distinct ridges above sprawling hollows. The fallen leaves allow fantastic views into older forests, sections that were recently logged and small winding streams.

If you run out of daylight, you can return north on South Ridge Road, which intersects the loop's bottom section. It's free of cars, completely serene and allows you to tally just more than five miles total.

You can always come back next year to tackle the rest.

Seasons change, but the Ohio Adventure Map remains. Plenty of trip guides and trail reviews for every type of weather are available at columbusalive.com/venture.