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Cincinnati Backpacking- East For State Park

I know this may be a long shot, but does anybody have experience backpacking around the Cincinnati area?  Recently moved here from Southern California and looking for a winter backpacking trip (2-3 nights) that is a CONVENIENT drive for me (no more than 2 hours from Cinci).  I have found that East Fork State Park has a ~15 mile and ~30 mile trail, and it is about 45 minutes from where I live....any other recommendations?  I realize I'm limiting myself geographically, but just looking to get out on the trail in my new area!

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6 Replies

@tadoerner Great question!

We reached out to our team in Cincinnati and did some digging online as well and came up with a couple of suggestions for you. Additionally, @CarlR just asked a similar question in their post, Looking for a good multi day hike in Kentucky, so we thought we could connect them here as well as there is a lot of overlap. Here is what we came up with:

Hopefully this helps, don't hesitate to come back here in the community and tell us about your adventures!

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Second the recommendation for Red River Gorge.  It is really easy for dispersed camping- you just have to stop in at the gas station right off the mountain parkway to grab a permit to hang in your car.  Its been getting pretty crowded on the weekends though, so weekdays might be better if you are looking for any solitude.  You might also try to get one of the Outragis map sets that show the unofficial trails (we always pair with Alltrails so we can see where we actually are on the map as we go, as it can be easy to get turned around).

Shawnee State Forest outside of Portsmouth is a little under 2 hours from Cincinnati. The main backpacking loop trial is 36 miles, but you can add in a wilderness loop section, the day hike trials, and forest roads to extend the mileage. Like at East Fork Lake, there's no dispersed camping, and, instead, you have to register for the free of charge backcountry campsites. However, far less of the trail is accessible to horses than the perimeter trail at East Fork Lake State Park, so the trail conditions are generally better and the terrain is more varied and more challenging. 


As @G_M_C mentioned you have Shawnee State Forest.  In any of Ohio's State Forest or State parks you have to camp in the established camp sites (campgrounds).

You also have part of the Buckeye trail that is around Cincy.  I am not sure of the camp sites for taht trail as the overall map does not show the camping (the trail's website might have some notes for the section near Cincy).

You also have Zaleski State Forest (backpacking/overnight parking is at the Hope School house).  There are three established campgrounds and several options for the length of the hike.  There are water spickets and outhouses at the campgrounds.  The state may not provide the water in the winter.  And they advise that you bring water just in case as the water is (I believe) in tanks that the state fills.

Then, there is Wildcat hollow (in one section of Wayne National Forest; nice trail; some of the area can be a bit trashed).  You can camp anywhere as it is a national forest (there are plenty of established campsites already there) and you have to bring you own water as the one or two ponds are noted as not safe even filtered.



The Buckeye Trail in the Cincinnati area is road walking from Eden Park to Milford, then either going roughly north on a paved rails to trails bike path, the Little Miami Scenic Trail, to the boundary of Caesars Creek State Park and then continuing on, or turning roughly east from Milford and road walking to East Fork Lake State Park. 

One other backpacking trail not mentioned above is the 19 mile Logan Trail through Tar Hollow State Forest, which has one backcountry camping area at the fire tower at the center of the trail’s figure 8 loop, and there various camp grounds in the state park, but those require a reservation and a fee. The issue with Tar Hollow, Zaleski, Wildcat Hollow and the rest of The Wayne National Forest (Archer’s Fork and Lake Vesuvius) is that they are 2+ hours from Cincinnati and their roads are often not plowed in the winter immediately following snow events, so reaching trailheads can be tricky for winter backpacking. Granted I have managed to avoid getting my car stuck at the trailhead parking lots, but it’s advisable to take the road conditions into consideration. 

Very true with the winter road conditions.  Of course, that can depend on if and when winter shows up here in Ohio.  The traveling distance is one of the "fun" things about backpacking in Ohio even for us here in Columbus (central Ohio).

Some of the state parks have plenty of day hiking trails that can be near their campgrounds.  Even there I could only talk about one.  And it would not be that close to you.

Other than those you would really be looking at trails in other states.  Kentucky being the closest to you.


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