Hiking and Backpacking in Ohio: Tips & Trails

Backpacking in Ohio: A scenic Ohio field during sunset

In this post, we'll take a look at:

Ohio provides outdoor enthusiasts with varied terrain within one state, from tall forest trails in the southeast to rugged terrain sheltering wildlife near Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at hiking and backpacking in Ohio from a lightweight standpoint, providing useful tips to help you prepare for your upcoming outdoor expedition.

We’ll share the best 5 trails in Ohio in two parts. The first is for day hikes under 20 miles, great for exploring in one day. The second is for multi-day hikes, where you can restock supplies every few days.

Key Tips for Hiking and Backpacking in Ohio

  • What to expect: Ohio offers nice hiking and backpacking for beginners close to major cities, with gently rolling wooded trails and abundant water sources to filter from. Just be prepared for wet weather.
  • Essential gear: Pack good rain gear, waterproof shoes, and a water filter to deal with Ohio’s rainy weather and lots of water around. Also, bring clothes you can layer and an emergency blanket because temperatures can change.
  • Wildlife: In Ohio, watch out for critters like venomous snakes (copperheads, cottonmouths, and timber rattlesnakes) in remote wooded areas. Stay alert for spiders such as black widows and brown recluse spiders. Disease-carrying ticks, especially blacklegged ticks, can spread Lyme disease or Anaplasmosis.
  • Wild camping: You can camp in many Ohio state forests, parks, and wildlife areas, but rules vary. Check and get permits, follow guidelines like camping in designated areas, limiting group sizes, and practicing Leave No Trace. Popular spots include Zaleski State Forest, Shawnee State Forest, and Hocking Hills, but always check rules beforehand, especially during hunting season closures.
  • Best time to go: The best times for hiking and backpacking in Ohio are spring, early summer, or fall. Spring offers mild temperatures and blooming flowers, while late summer can be crowded and hot. Fall has cool weather and beautiful colors, but water sources may be low. Late fall to winter is cold and wet, with possible snow.

Top 5 Day Hikes (Under 20 Miles)

We’ve chosen some of Ohio’s finest day hiking trails, where using ultralight gear can enhance your overall experience:

  1. Old Man’s Cave and Ash Cave via Buckeye Trail (10 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  2. Caesar Creek State Park Perimeter Loop Trail (15.2 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  3. Glen Helen, Little Miami & Clifton Gorge (11.6 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  4. Zaleski South Loop Trail (10.5 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  5. Jaite to Boston via Buckeye Trail (11.1 miles).
    See on AllTrails.

Top 5 Multi-Day Trips

Explore Ohio’s scenic trails with resupply points conveniently spaced no more than two days apart:

  1. Burr Oak Reservoir Lakeview Trail (21.2 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  2. Shawnee Backpacking Trail South Loop (21.2 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  3. Shawnee State Park North and South Backpacking Loops (48.6 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  4. Buckeye Trail: Bedford Section (73.3 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  5. Buckeye Trail: Pemberville Section (57.5 miles).
    See on AllTrails.

Annual Weather Averages

Ohio witnesses a varied climate characterized by four distinct seasons:

  • Spring (March to May): Spring in Ohio is characterized by mild temperatures and blooming vegetation. Daytime temperatures typically range from 50°F to 70°F (10°C to 21°C), although it can still be chilly in March.
  • Summer (June to August): Summers are warm and humid in Ohio. Daytime temperatures often range from 70°F to 90°F (21°C to 32°C), with occasional heatwaves pushing temperatures higher. Nights are generally mild, but humidity can make it feel warmer.
  • Fall (September to November): Fall is a popular time for backpacking in Ohio due to cooler temperatures and vibrant foliage. Daytime temperatures range from 50°F to 70°F (10°C to 21°C), but it can get cooler as you move into November.
  • Winter (December to February): Winters in Ohio can be cold, with daytime temperatures ranging from 20°F to 40°F (-7°C to 4°C). Snowfall is common, especially in January and February. Nighttime temperatures can drop below freezing.

Before choosing your gear and hitting the trail, check Ohio’s (Columbus) annual weather averages:

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
High °F374152647381848376655241
Low °F242634445462666457463728
Rain/Snow (D*)7791012121198777
Note: This table is approximate; weather can change with altitude.
D* – Days of rain or snow.

FAQ

Is it allowed to have a campfire while backpacking in Ohio?

You can have campfires in designated backcountry campsites in many Ohio public lands, but check the rules for each place before your trip. Usually, fires must be in established fire rings or pits, and there might be total fire bans during dry conditions.

What are some safety tips for backpacking in Ohio?

When backpacking in Ohio, be ready for lots of rain and muddy trails by bringing good wet weather gear, waterproof shoes, and trekking poles for stability. Plan your route ahead, use a GPS or maps, and know how to navigate in dense forests to avoid getting lost. Follow camping rules and store food safely to reduce the chance of encounters with black bears in some places. Be cautious of snakes near water and bushes—stay on trails and avoid reaching into openings. Check for ticks every day and be aware of the signs of Lyme disease if bitten. If hiking alone, share your trip plans and schedule check-ins with someone.

How to deal with wildlife encounters while backpacking in Ohio?

If you run into wildlife in Ohio, it’s best to stay back and not bother them. Give space to bigger animals like deer or coyotes. If you see black bears or bobcats, back away slowly. Try to avoid snakes, but if you come across one, stay calm, be still, and carefully move around it. Never feed or get close to wild animals. Follow food storage rules at campsites. If an animal seems aggressive, make noise and look big. Also, know how to deal with common critters like ticks and mosquitoes.

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