Plumb a line from Columbus, down past the farmland of Circleville and Chillicothe, and eventually itíll drop into a remote section of Wayne National Forest bunched over hilly pockets just miles above the Ohio River.
Deep within this land of one-pump filling stations and forgotten forest roads lie the muddy fingers of Lake Vesuvius. And deep within these hidden corners sits one of Ohioís least-used backpacking trails, a winding earthen sliver draped like a garland through the endless foothills.
Navigating overnight trails can be confusing, so try this: Start from the trailhead at the southwest boat launch, hike clockwise 10 miles to the spacious Paddle Creek campsite and save the final six miles for an easier second day.
If youíve already conquered courses at Zaleski State Forest and Wildcat Hollow, hit the 16.2-mile Vesuvius loop on your next free weekend. Grab this awesome topo trail guide and heed the tips below.
View larger image The trail starts near the boat launch on the southwest corner of the park. Blazes are white diamonds with a yellow dot, and you'll need to follow them carefully to avoid getting lost on the bridle and ATV trails that cross it regularly.
View larger image Most of the trail wanders through young forest. The forest bears the scars of its proximity to the Hanging Rock Iron Region, which at its peak was among the top producers of iron in the United States. Until 1916, each of 46 area furnaces consumed 350 acres of timber annually. Some will gripe about the lack of mature woods, but even this forest holds secret spots, rock formations and lots of unique character.
View larger image You'll encounter several tough climbs during each day of hiking. However, you're rewarded with a couple long, leisurely flat sections along riverbeds and abandoned access roads. This one even had a grassy top, the ideal condition for tired knees.
View larger image We encountered this smooth green snake, one of the rarest in the state, at the start of the trail. It didn't really mind being handled or photographed. Southern Ohio boasts a surprising diversity of reptiles and amphibians, making it a popular research destination.
View larger image In hotter months, the principle drawback to the trail is carrying extra water. There are no spigots and few treatable sources along the route. During our trip Oct. 9-10, nearly all the streams were dry. This was the only filtering spot we found during day one. Your best bet is to cache water at the Paddle Creek campsite, along Forest Road 245.
View larger image This large outcropping has been undercut over the eons by one of the fingers of Lake Vesuvius. It's one of many great sights poking through the trees that line the trail. For maximum sightseeing, choose the Lakeside Trail after completing the northern loop. It roughly follows the backpacking trail -- but runs closer to the shore.
View larger image Views from one bank to the other are common along the Lakeside Trail, and you'll be treated to some of the most fantastic fall color in Ohio. Other seasons should be pretty in their own right, too.
View larger image A rare boardwalk crosses one of the many inlets along Lake Vesuvius. There are a few natural waterfalls, but none were active during our trip. I'll try heading out in April.
View larger image The final leg of the trail holds some good climbing rock, and several routes have been implanted. This wall lies just south of the Iron Ridge Campground. My friends went back the following weekend and had a blast.
View larger image The section of the trail that borders the southeastern section of the lake requires a few moderately technical maneuvers. Mostly, you're still free to admire the wide, expansive vistas.
View larger image Your final quarter-mile is along a smooth, beautiful metal boardwalk. It's a great way to finish a trail.