MARK SIREK Administrator Posts: 317
edited July 2 in ROUTES & TRAILS

Words and Photos by Mike Furhmann @PortraitOfAHiker IG - @portraitofahiker

The terminus of the Buckeye Trail looks across the Ohio River over Cincinnati

The Triple Crown trails get a ton of attention from the hiking community, and the other eight National Scenic Trails are getting an increasing amount of love in recent years. But the United States also has ~1300 National Recreation Trails. As clarified by the National Park Service, "For NRTs, there is no designated Federal oversight responsibility, investment, management, or other involvement beyond the designation recognition. The program allows locally managed trails to be recognized for their contribution to the Nation's system of public trail access and outdoor enjoyment."

Today, we're going to talk about the Buckeye Trail: a 1,444 mile loop near the perimeter of Ohio. As it winds its way around the state, the trail shows off Ohio's diversity with eighteen state parks, eight state wildlife areas, five state forests, five state nature preserves, one national park, and one national forest. And, amazingly, the Buckeye Trail is the longest designated trail loop in America! While I haven't been lucky enough to thru hike the BT (yet), I have hiked a large percentage of the trail. Here are a few highlights!

In the southeast portion of the trail, Hocking Hills State Park is a local - and national - favorite. I hiked through in the middle of June, as a heat wave followed several days of rainstorms. Even with temperatures and humidity levels near 100, the park was still pretty busy. It was also dense with amazing photography opportunities. It was my first big hike in Ohio, and I was absolutely stunned by how incredibly beautiful Ohio can be. Hocking Hills SP is also home to Grandma Gatewood Memorial Trail, which was where more than 2,500 people showed up for her last hike in 1973.

Hocking Hills State Park has incredibly unique rock formations in its forest.

On the Western side of the state, the Buckeye runs through some very pretty towns between state parks. The real stars of this section are the thousands of acres of lakes. These parks are administered by Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the dams are managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Camp sites in Ohio's state parks are enjoyed by over 1,000,000 overnight stays per year. I took hundreds of photos of people boating, fishing, swimming, birding, hunting, and hiking. Despite their popularity, I still found myself with plenty of seclusion in the forests.

The Buckeye Trail gives plenty of opportunities to relax beside water.

Between state parks, the BT winds through charming towns like Mariemont. The village of Mariemont is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Within its boundaries, the National Park Service lists 1030 buildings contributing to its historical value. The township of Milford, OH bears the nickname "Trail Town USA." The name is pretty appropriate, since Milford has an intersection of seven trails which have a total of more than 23,000 miles - almost as long as the circumference of the Earth.

Trail Town USA, located on the Buckeye Trail

The northern part of the BT barely edges near Lake Erie and traverses Ohio's only national park - Cuyahoga Valley National Park. With a history of over 12,000 years of human habitation and more than 125 miles of hiking trails, CVNP has plenty to see and do. Even on a thru hike, where nobody wants to do bonus miles, it's worth taking some side trips to explore the park. There are powerful waterfalls and slow moving streams, there are cliffs and ravines, there are accessible trails, and there are steps carved into stone that's hundreds of millions of years old.

Brandywine Falls may be the most iconic location in all of Ohio - only a short detour from the Buckeye Trail.

One difficult aspect of the BT is camping. Reservations are often required, and many places charge fees. I love dispersed camping in USFS and BLM land, but that just isn't a possibility on this trail. Ohio's state parks require online reservations to camp. Other areas may be a little more complicated. Milford, for example, requires you to email the Valley View Foundation several days in advance so they can share your info with the local police because the campsite is behind a school. You also may be sharing camp with a local scout troop. The good news is that the local Eagle Scouts have put a lot of work into improving the trail in the area. They also built one of the nicest fire pits I've ever seen. When I camped there, the school's cross country team was running laps through the park, right on the Buckeye Trail. I had a short conversation with the coach - who had no idea that his students were working out on a 1,444 mile National Recreation Trail.

We all hear about the PCT and the AT every year. I love seeing people sharing their stories from those trails. But because there are about 1,300 NRT in the National Trails System in 50 states and DC, which comprise almost one third of the total NTS mileage, I want to shine a spotlight on some of the less famous trails. The Buckeye isn't very well known, but it's not for lack of beauty!

Which NRT is near your back yard? And when will you go hike on it?