Welcome to Paria's “Hike of the Week” series. Each week, we share one of the country's best trails. We hope this inspires you to get out there and see them for yourself! Reading about a great trail is one thing. But, seeing it in person is even better!
This week we're highlighting the Shawnee Backpacking Trail in southern Ohio.
Why This Hike?
This week's trail is located in the Shawnee State Forest in far southern Ohio. If you live in the Midwest, this can be confusing. There is also the popular Shawnee National Forest in parts of Illinois and Missouri. Fortunately, you can find hills in both! In fact, this area of the Buckeye State is often referred to as the Little Smokies of Ohio.
Obviously, you won't find towering 4,000 foot+ mountain peaks here. But, there is plenty of rugged terrain, boulder-filled creeks, and lush underbrush to at least fool you momentarily. The Shawnee State Forest is also the largest in the state, encompassing over 63,000 acres. That's a lot of area to explore!
- Length: 36 miles
- Type: Loop
- Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
- Elevation Gain: 6,000 feet (Yes, there are that many ups and downs!)
- Best time to visit: April-September ... according to the internet. We think the leafless months are better to take advantage of the infrequent lookouts. Winter is a possibility too, though the cisterns may not be filled up. So, take plenty of extra water and/or plan to filter from the streams.
- Ohio typically has some pretty easy, flat hikes. Don't let that fool you. This trail gives you tons of calf-burning ascents to ridge tops. There are plenty of water crossings too, especially in the southern part of the trail.
- Although there are plenty of creeks to filter water from, they can dry up in the hot months. Luckily, DNR hauls water out to several cisterns along the trail. More on that in a minute.
- Although you climb over numerous ridges, there aren't many lookouts along the trail. The one near campsite 5 is pretty cool, though.
- The forest offers lots of hardwood trees, such as oak and hickory. The DNR actively manages the area.
- There are 7 backcountry camps along the route. (Which you must camp at.) They are never very crowded, though. Each one has a fire pit and latrine. Most also have the cisterns mentioned above. Campsites 5 and 6 are two favorites. 5 is located near a ridgeline with a good view nearby. 6 is located near a stream that appears to flow year-round. It's also in a nice flat spot underneath a stand of pines.
- There is a northern and southern loop. So, if you don't have time to do the whole thing, you can choose one or the other. (Connector trail between the two.)
- Nearby Shawnee State Park has a campground and inn (and other outdoor activities like fishing). Just some options if you want to stay an extra night before or after.
- Typical animals in this region include squirrels, woodpeckers, turkeys, deer, and even a black bear is possible.
Before you pack your bags, keep the following in mind:
- Active logging is no stranger on and near the trail.
- Fires are only allowed in fire pits at campsites.
- Typical hazards for this part of the country include copperhead and rattlesnakes, ticks, and poison ivy.
- Many people like using this as a conditioning hike for harder trails, like the AT, because there are very few flat spots.
- Though water is provided at pumps near most campsites, it doesn't taste great. Plan to filter it.
How Do I Get There?
Columbus International is the closest major airport to the trailhead. From here, stay right to get onto International Gateway. Stay left and merge onto I-670 W/US-62 W. Continue 5.8 miles before taking exit 2A to merge onto OH-315 S. Then follow the signs to merge onto I-71 S. Drive 36.7 miles before taking exit 69. Turn left onto OH-41 S/OH-734 E/State Rte 41 S and go 4.2 miles. Next, you'll make a few short jogs. Right onto Inskeep Rd NW, left onto Old U.S. 35, and right onto Jamison Rd NW. Finally, turn right onto US-62 W and stay on it for 24 miles. After a couple more short jaunts, continue onto OH-247 S/W Union Pike for 28.7 miles. Turn left onto W Main St, then straight on OH-125 E/Sunrise Ave for 21 miles. Turn right onto State Forest Service Rd 16 and right again to the parking area.
Map of Recommended Route
The following map outlines our recommended route. Click the "Load Interactive Map" button to load the correct map. Once loaded, you can navigate along the route and view recommended campsites.
For even more detailed mapping, including being able to print a copy for yourself, click the "Open in CalTopo" button at the top of the map once it's loaded into view.
- Day 1 - Trailhead to Campsite 2 (11 miles)
- Day 2 - Campsite 2 to Campsite 6 (15 miles)
- Day 3 - Campsite 6 to Trailhead (9.5 miles)
Day 1 - Trailhead to Campsite 2
Follow the orange blazes to stay on the backpacking loop. Head left to go clockwise on the northern loop. Little hills quickly lead to a larger one. Peek through the trees to the surrounding hills. You may find a re-route near the road crossing due to logging. Past the recent logging area, there is an awesome viewpoint. It has a picnic table, perfect for taking a break. Follow a logging trail for a bit. The campsite is off the main trail a short way.
Day 2 - Campsite 2 to Campsite 6
Cross the road and follow along a nice creek for a while. Part of this walk is along the road. Past Camp Oyo, turn right and head over the bridge towards campsite 3. It's a nice flat area, but it is close to the road. Traffic noise isn't much fun when you're trying to enjoy the quiet of nature.
The southern part of the trail starts here. Some hikers claim the southern loop is easier than the northern one. But, you'll soon find that's not true. This section has a LOT of stream crossings. So, be ready to get your feet wet. You'll also find more evidence of logging.
Pass by a nice large pond near campsite 4. (Which is one of the trail's nicer sites.) You'll come across several more stretches along forest roads. Campsite 6 is a nice flat spot next to a creek underneath the pines. It has plenty of room for several tents to spread out. You might opt for campsite 5 instead if it has rained a lot recently. You have to cross the creek to get to site 6. Crossing may be tricky if the water is up.
Day 3 - Campsite 6 to Trailhead
Cross the creek a couple of times before heading up a hill that's not too difficult. Then you find one of the steepest ascents of the whole trail. After starting down, you come to a spot where you're technically on 2 other trails: the Buckeye Trail and the North Country Trail. Finally, get a nice view shortly to reward your efforts. You may find a re-route from logging, but it's actually a lot easier that the main trail. Once you reach the beach area at the state park, head left to the main road, then right back to the parking lot.
What Do I Need?
It gets downright hot and muggy in the summer. A mesh bivvy and tarp are good options for warm summer nights. The wet season for this area is in winter and spring, so you might want a backpacking tent for those seasons. Or, since you'll have them anyway, a trekking pole tent.
Again, this trail is full of ups and downs. Trekking poles are an absolute must. You'll also need something to cook your food in. Titanium cooking pots and sporks also save on weight. Plus, they're super durable so they last a long time!
Our Tri-Fold trekking poles fold down to just 15-inches when not in use, making them a great options for backpackers. They are convenient on the steep parts of the Shawnee Backpacking Trail.
If there's anything else you need to complete your pack, visit our full line of high-quality, affordable backpacking gear.
Shop Backpacking Tents
Shop Ultralight Tarps
Shop Backpacking Quilts
Shop Down Sleeping Bags
Shop Insulated Sleeping Pads
Shop Backpacking Pillow
Shop Folding Trekking Poles
Shop Titanium Cookware
Shop Tent and Tarp Accessories
Finally, to make sure you don't forget something at home, use our Ultimate Backpacker's Packing List. It even includes a convenient printable checklist!
Do I Need a Permit?
Permits are self-issued at the trailhead, but there are no fees.
If you're looking for a challenging hike in the Midwest, look no further than the Shawnee Backpacking Trail. Have you completed this or either of its shorter loops? We'd love to hear about your experience in the comments section below!
If you're looking for more hike ideas, read our “Best Backpacking Trips in the Midwest” round-up post. Also, the following Hike of the Week articles cover other great trails in the region.
Hike of the Week: Lusk Creek Wilderness to Garden of the Gods (Illinois)
Hike of the Week: Triple Crown Loop
Hike of the Week: Davenport Gap to Max Patch
For even more amazing backpacking trips, visit The Trailhead, our interactive hike map. It contains a curated list of dozens of hikes, each with a detailed write-up like this one.
Finally, check out our comprehensive list of backpacking articles that cover just about everything there is to know about backpacking. If you're just starting out, our Backpacking 101 section covers all the basics. If you already have a few trips under your belt, you can find more advanced topics covered in our Expert Articles.