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Shawnee State Forest is a mecca for Ohio backpackers -- the terrain you work toward after hiking your favorite backyard stomps and local metro parks for years.
In these 64,000 acres of steep, tree-covered hills lies a grueling 40-mile loop where through-hikers train for the Appalachian Trail. Others with less time simply go to burn their quads in one of the most remote sections of Ohio.
To see if you’re ready for true backcountry, try the 7.2-mile day hike that starts in Shawnee State Park, a smaller enclave that lies inside the sprawling state forest. Like a spunky little sister trying to prove herself, this section offers much of what you’ll find on the bigger loop, just in a slightly toned-down version.
Shawnee State Park 4404 State Rt. 125, Portsmouth 740-858-6652 [Park homepage] [Backpack map]
Here's a visual tour through the Shawnee Forest Day Hike Trail.
View larger image The main trailhead lies off of State Rt. 125, near the southern end of Turkey Creek Lake. Park near the boat launch and cross the street. You'll see signs. Walk a bit and you'll come to this post. Go straight and don't cross the stream to your right.
View larger image You get a nice warm up along a clear, straight path that runs parallel to a small stream. Enjoy it while it lasts.
View larger image You'll notice several areas that have been damaged by storms and are being cut to restore normal forest growth. Yellow signs caution hikers that the surrounding areas are closed, but the trail is open. You're advised to proceed at your risk.
View larger image Here stand the remnants of an old stone building, possibly an old furnace.
View larger image Welcome to Shawnee! This will be the first of several tough, curse-out-loud climbs. They are Shawnee's trademark feature -- one reason why many hikers use the backcountry loop to train for the Appalachian Trail.
View larger image You'll see this sign at the top of your first climb. Stop, rest and take in the spectacular view.
View larger image The payoff for Shawnee's grueling ascents is some true ridge-running -- walking a peak and seeing the valley below on either side. This one takes you around the entire hill, about a half-mile total.
View larger image Technical descents are another tricky part of Shawnee. They're much more complicated in deep snow, which covered the trail last weekend.
View larger image Between the steeper climbs, the trail keeps you on your toes with undulating hillside runs.
View larger image A few beech trees hold their leaves as the sun pokes through the clouds. This isn't the prettiest trail. Finishing it is more accomplishment than entertainment.
View larger image Another creek finds its way through the tall, proud hills. Another good spot to rest.
View larger image Stone outcroppings line the banks of this stream, and enormous icicles had formed over the rocks.
View larger image One of many along the trail, this quick up-and-down lies before the final climb. Just when you think you're out of the woods -- literally and figuratively -- the trail seems to get longer. Somehow, the road seems to get farther away the faster you work.
View larger image A creek crossing near the end of the trail.
View larger image This spillway at the southern end of Turkey Creek Lake seems like a giant water slide, though being on it is surely illegal.
View larger image Turkey Creek Lake, just before dusk.