Venture: Day Hiking Caesar Creek

By Columbus Alive
From the November 24, 2011 edition

Located about 80 minutes southwest of Columbus, in an area of Ohio that sees limited adventure traffic, Caesar Creek State Park often draws mountain bikers looking to explore its nine-mile network.

Yet the 11.7-mile perimeter loop is a must-do for any Ohio outdoorsman — and a great place to tackle that first day hike over 10 miles. Backpackers can create an overnight trip by camping at one of several sites along the trail, including near the Hopewell Day Lodge. Call 937-488-4595 for a reservation and permit.

Whatever your intent, start counterclockwise from the Wellman Meadows area on the south side of Caesar Creek Lake, the park’s 2,830-acre aquatic centerpiece and a haven for boaters and fisherman from across the state. (Before you go, purchase a great trail map from backpackohio.com.)

Well-worn, often wide and marked by bright yellow blazes, the perimeter trail is smooth and steady most of the way. It never gains more than 70 feet of elevation in a single climb, though you’ll find some enjoyable ups and downs through ravines blanketed by leaves and cut by creeks that flow toward the lake.

My only complaint was traversing two busy road sections — State Route 73 at the top of the loop and Clarksville Road over the earthen dam that binds the southern end. When not on pavement, the loop winds past a handful of natural gems.

Most prominent is the lake itself. You’ll see a grand panoramic view from atop a ravine, then arrive on the lake’s rocky, rugged shores less than a mile later. Save time to explore the coastline near an abandoned spur of Clarksville Road and on a peninsula slightly east of the visitor center.

Other trailside features make even the somewhat bland sections of young scrub forest worthwhile. Along the way, you’ll find a large pioneer village with farm animals (including a pig named Molly), a section of exposed limestone that’s famous for fossils and two waterfalls.

Both Crawdad Falls and Horseshoe Falls are small, picturesque and spaced at perfect points on the trail — start and finish, respectively.