So you want to go camping? Awesome! You first need to choose whether to car camp or go backpacking. Car camping refers to driving to a park or campground and setting up a tent or camper near your car’s parked location. Most times, this type of camping includes access to water, restrooms/showers, electricity, yard games and sometimes even restaurants.
Should you wish to car camp, there are many possibilities in and around Columbus – such locations include:
Backpacking means heading out on a trail with a backpack and setting up a campsite in the wilderness (typically at least one mile from a trailhead), where very few amenities can be found or utilized.
Ohio has all sorts of backpacking options both within and around the state. And, backpacking can be one of the least expensive ways to access the outdoors (with a little creativity, thrift store shopping and borrowing from friends).
Backpacking in Ohio can range from relatively easy (Columbus Metro Parks) to somewhat difficult (Wayne National Forest). Beautiful forests, creeks and rivers, big views and backcountry swimming holes call to those who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Best time to go:
Camping and backpacking are great in all seasons, but the best times here in the Midwest are in the spring and fall when the weather is cool and the number of campers and hikers has decreased.
American Hiking Society - Hiking 101
Backpacking Destinations (in a general four-hour radius from Columbus, in order from near to far):
TAR HOLLOW STATE PARK AND FOREST
The Logan Trail is the most popular backpacking loop trail in the park. The trail also intersects with the Buckeye Trail, and allows for many options of loops. The trail stays almost entirely under the canopy of the forest and visits sections of forest from newly harvested and older growth forests. The loop can be around 12 miles and feature some steep and rugged terrain.
CAESAR CREEK BACKPACK TRAIL
Another trail that connects with the Buckeye Trail, the Caesar Creek backpacking loop, follows the perimeter of the lake and travels through waterfalls and forests. The entire perimeter trail is roughly 13 miles, and campsites along the way could make for a weekend backpacking trip. Campsite reservations are required, so make sure to call ahead.
Hiking, Backpacking, Camping, Boating, Kayaking
ZALESKI STATE FOREST
Zaleski holds the only state-owned sawmill in Ohio, which produces rough sawn lumber for use by Ohio’s state forests. A 29-mile backpacking trail boasts large ridgetops, many beaver ponds, old mines and old farms. The loop can be split into an 18 mile North loop and an 11 mile south loop. This is one of the least known and yet best backpacking forest near Columbus.
GERMANTOWN METRO PARK/TWIN CREEK METRO PARK
The Twin Valley Trail is a 27 mile trail that goes over steep hills and rugged terrain. The trail can be lengthened or shortened depending on your trip plan. The Buckeye and North Country trails are two other long-distance trails that come together to go through five Metro Parks and can make for a fun southwestern Ohio adventure.
Backpacking, Hiking, Camping
WILDCAT HOLLOW TRAIL
Located in Wayne National Forest, this trail offers a few different options for adventurers. The 17.2 mile scenic trail goes along ridgetops and stream bottoms or can become a 5 mile shorter trail for a solid day hike. The trails loop through tall pine forests, meadows, quiet streams, and old roads. Wildflowers peak here in the spring, and dispersed camping is allowed at the Wildcat Hollow Trail without a permit needed.
Camping, Backpacking, Hiking
MORGAN SISTERS TRAIL/SYMMES CREEK TRAIL
Also located in Wayne National Forest, this trailhead leads to six different trails that travel over hilly rough terrain with an elevation change of 280 feet. The Symmes Creek North and South trails are on the east and form a 4.53 mile loop that can connect to the Morgan Sisters Trails that culminates in a 13 mile backpacking loop.
Backpacking, Camping, Hiking
SHAWNEE BACKPACK TRAIL
Known as the “Little Smokies of Ohio”, this trail is truly enjoyable and offers a few different options for loops. The north and south loops are each about 20 miles and can be combined for a 40 mile loop. No permits are required besides registration upon arrival at the parking lot, and there are six campsites roughly 5-6 miles apart. The trail is marked as ‘difficult’ because of the rolling hills and because the trails can be a little overgrown in the summer months.
Backpacking, Hiking, Camping
These two trails encircle Lake Vesuvius and when combined create a 24-mile backpacking trail. The trail goes through overhanging hemlocks, along rock bluffs, and across foot bridges and through rugged terrain. Dense vegetation makes for a narrow trail and a challenging adventure.
Backpacking, Hiking, Camping, Boating
LAMPING HOMESTEAD TRAIL
Another trail located in Wayne National Forest, this trail offers two loop trails and six walk-in campsites. The short trails can make for a super simple backpacking trip and the pond at the site is great for canoeing and fishing. There are fees for camping, but reservations are not required.
Hiking, Backpacking, Camping, Canoeing, Fishing
ARCHERS FORK TRAIL
This 9.8 mile loop trail is the most scenic in Wayne National Forest. The rugged loop includes a natural bridge, rock shelter and great scenery. The trail and campsites do not require permits.
Hiking, Backpacking, Camping
MAUMEE STATE FOREST
Maumee State Forest is located in the Oak Openings Region, a region developed from glacial lake retreat. The forest has 66 miles of hiking trails and features a lot of work on tree improvement and research. Short trail loops allow for easy backpacking and camping in this region of Northwest Ohio.
Hiking, Backpacking, Camping, Snowmobiling, Horseback Riding
RED RIVER GORGE, KY
An extensive system of shorter, interconnected trails in the gorge makes for endless possibilities of backpacking loops. Most popular is the 333 mile Sheltowee Trace Trail that passes through the area for 11 miles, starting at Natural Bridge and heading north to the gorge area. These loops go through many large rock formations and views of bluffs. Backcountry camping permits are required and can be obtained through the Cumberland District Office.
Backpacking, Climbing, Camping
LAUREL HIGHLANDS PA/ALLEGHENY NATIONAL FOREST, PA
This 70-mile scenic trail stretches from Laurel Mountain and passes through the Youghiogheny River in Ohiopyle, PA. There are 8 camping sites along the ridge, and each area has shelters, a fire ring and wood and water. Advance registration is required. Endless loops and out and back hikes can be created along this scenic trail with expansive views and quiet streams.
Backpacking, Hiking, Camping, Snowshoeing, Cross-Country Skiing
DOLLY SODS, WV
Widely considered one of the most beautiful destinations within a four-hour drive from Columbus, Dolly Sods has 47 miles of trails and is located on top of the Allegheny Plateau of West Virginia. It is part of a very diverse landscape with grassy meadows, sphagnum bogs, boulders, mountain vistas and trails lined by spruce trees. Trails are rated as moderate and campsites are large and located in beautiful locations. Group sizes cannot exceed ten people in the backcountry here.
Backpacking, Hiking, Camping