Ohio Hikes: Zaleski State Forest South Loop



One mosquito.  This is why Fall hiking is the best.

Well, maybe a few other reasons too.  Comfortable day temperatures, cool nights for campfires, and the golden light of late afternoon sun filtering through the yellows and oranges of Fall foliage are just a few added perks.

Zaleski State Forest, located between Logan and Nelsonville South of 33, is a very popular backpacking destination for those in Central and Southern Ohio.  It contains a South loop and a North loop, which allow for configuring hikes of varying lengths depending on whether you have one or two nights to spend.  Water pumps are available at each campsite, which means you won’t have to carry more than 2-3 liters on you during the course of the day.

Looking at the beautiful weather we were due this past weekend, I decided a quick overnight trip to test out some new gear was in order.  As I sometimes do, I got a late start, pulling into the parking lot around 5:45.

Let’s pause here.  In case you were wondering, Zaleski is not a place you go for solitude, especially not on the weekend.  You will not be under any illusions otherwise.

So, I pull into view of the parking lot, and both lots are completely full.  As luck would have it, one car was just leaving as I arrived so I nabbed their spot.  A few minutes later, I had ascended up the first ridge, looking down at the parking lot and the remnants of the precious wetlands which once covered the low places of this region, before they were drained for roads and rail towns long since abandoned.

The trail along the South loop is pretty tame, snaking along the hardwood ridges for the most part.  Before long I reached Campsite 1, which is more of a tightly grouped congregation of suitable clearings lying just off the trail.  They were all taken, except for the far end of one of the largest clearings which became my home for the night.  As the night wore on, it became increasingly clear I had forfeited the prospects of a good night’s sleep with raucous laughter, shouts, and the barking of dogs ringing around the flanks of the hills, overwhelming the sounds of distant coyote packs vying for territory.  Still, the moonlight filtering through the trees and the smell of the forest were sufficient to remind me that I was, in fact, in the woods.

With the next morning came the next task; hike the remainder of the ~8 miles of the South loop back to the parking lot.  I could have not asked for better weather; bluebird sky, dry ground, and a slight breeze.  Approaching the East side of the loop, I took advantage of a hydration break by a cliff overlook.

Not long after, the trail alternates between dry hardwood ridgeline and cool, humid gulleys populated by ferns and a host of insects humming on an ambient level.  And then, through the canopy you can spot the approach of Bear Hollow and an unnamed pond, host to a chorus of frogs.

If there were any bears in this particular hollow, they likely disappeared shortly after the construction of the Moonville Rail in the 1870s, the remnants of which lie tucked just out of sight on the far bank.  As a point of interest, farther West along the railway looms Moonville Tunnel, which is the setting for a few ghost stories, if you lend credence to such things.

After crossing the gravel road, the final stretch of the loop proceeded without a radical change in environment back to the parking lot.  Reunited with my trusty blue Mazda, the siren call of Millstone BBQ waylaid me on my return journey to pack on the calories I had just burned over the weekend.

The Verdict:

  • Pros
    • Close
    • Loop Options
    • Beginner/intermediate terrain
    • Water readily available
  • Cons
    • Very crowded during peak times, for the above reasons
    • Can catch other background sounds, like the gun range at the nearby Fish and Game club, or heavy equipment
  • Gear “MVP”
    • Osprey Exos 58 pack – comfortable, and breezy
  • What I needed
    • Ear plugs

by ODS Staffer John T.


Ohio Hikes: Blendon Woods Metro Park

Armed with a phone camera of questionable quality and the motivation that arises from the alarming realization that I weigh about 20 pounds more than I would like to be (I suspect I am not alone in this), I decided to take advantage of a nice 85 degree day and start to burn off some of the winter insulation I accrued.  Being short on time the logical choice was Blendon Woods Metro Park, located on the edge of Northeastern Columbus off 270 and 161.

Blendon Woods has a few trails that can be linked together for a decent fitness hike, running along ridges, dipping into deciduous ravines and crossing over ancient shale-bed creeks.  While the road noise from 270 and 161 means that you will never quite forget you are in the city, you couldn’t tell by looks alone.  The 653 acres of the park present a reasonable illusion of wilderness.

At the end of April, the foliage was just beginning to surge back into its prime.  With limited time to spare, I chose the Sugarbush trail, a flat two mile trail that spurs off from the parking lot by the nature center.

The Sugarbush trail has less gravel than some of the other trails, and thus softer underfoot and a little more forgiving to soft-lugged trail running shoes.  As a result, however, Spring rains can bring some mud, as shown by this rather bizarre and well-worn detour below.  Are people really that afraid of a little mud on their shoes?

Wildlife abounds, although decidedly less wild in behavior due to frequent acclimatization to human presence.  Many times I have walked along a birch-covered ridge in Summer less than 30 feet from a procession of turkeys scanning for cicadas.  (Fun fact, the plural of wild turkeys is a flock, whereas the plural of domesticated turkeys is a gang.)

There are benches along the trail for those who just want to sit for a spell and just enjoy being outside.  Ultimately, I have found that the best way to kick off the season is to just get out, get moving, and build momentum and enthusiasm.  Blendon Woods Metro Park is a great resource for that endeavor, offering a quick and easy access for those wanting to get outside and get some exercise.  Blendon Woods makes for a great after-work destination within easy reach for those on the east side of Columbus.  Give it a shot on a nice afternoon, I think you’ll like it.

Written by John T.

Sunday on The Scioto

Looking for a local river trip that provides both solitude and great views of Columbus?

This past Sunday we paddled the Scioto River from the base of Griggs Dam past the confluence with the Olentangy, thru Downtown and took out at the boat ramp at Scioto Audobon Metro Park.

The northern portion offered enough solitude and wildlife (herons, deer, an owl) that it was easy to forget how “in town” we were. South of the low head dam at the Dublin Road Water Plant (very easy to portage around on the right side of the river) the river is much more urban. At least 20 bridges cross overhead and the views of Downtown are spectacular. The Downtown area has been totally revamped with the removal of the Rich Street Dam. We got out to stretch the legs at Rich Street and discussed heading up thru the park to grab some brunch. Next time we will take a cable lock to secure the kayaks and lunch will be part of the plan. South of Rich the river becomes a reservior for the last mile and a half to the boat ramp at the Metro Park. This trip covers about 8 miles and we were on the water for about 4 hours.

One nice thing about paddling in town is that it does not require a second vehicle to shuttle back and forth. An UBER from the takeout back up to the truck we left at Griggs was $14, then a short drive back to pick up the boats and other guys.

1. Just a bit of whitewater below Griggs Dam
2. Below Trabue Road.
3. Low head dam at Dublin Rd Water Plant.
4. Downtown Columbus from water level.

Scioto River Kayaking