Boomerang Backpacking

The Buckeye Trail

At 1,250 miles, it's one of America's longest trails, the only one to go in a circle, and the only one to circumnavigate a state. Ohio's Buckeye Trail provides 700 miles of the North Country Trail, which, when completed, will run from New York's Adirondack Mountains to North Dakota.

You won't find much pure wilderness on the Buckeye Trail. Ohio is, after all, one of the most densely populated states in the nation. But if you expected cornfields or suburban sprawl, you'll be surprised. While the Buckeye is a multiple use trail, in many sections open to bicycles and horseback-riding, it also boasts footpaths that meander through and past a surprising variety of terrain, including waterfalls, enormous caves, sandstone cliffs, hardwood oak and hickory forests, cedar and pine groves, and a couple of surprising climbs. Proximity to human habitation offers an advantage to hikers with an interest in history: The trail passes near such historic sites as the old Miami (that's Miami, Ohio) and Erie Canal, covered bridges, and monuments commemorating both prehistoric Indian cultures and more recent settlements.

The trail is not yet complete. Ed DeLaet, a volunteer and former executive director of the Buckeye Trail Association, estimates that about 35 percent of the trail is currently off road (including a combination of traditional hiking trail, paved rail-trails, and sidewalks where the route passes through towns). In addition, the Buckeye Trail Association has blazed a temporary route along scenic backcountry roads, many of them unpaved and lightly traveled, enabling long distance hikers to connect the various finished segments. (Look for 2 x 6 inch blue rectangles.) DeLaet estimated that 20 percent of the trail comprises low-grade low-use backcountry roads.

Location: Ohio. All of it.

Distance: 1,250 miles.

Maps: 22 maps available from the Buckeye Trail Association cover the state.

Contact: Buckeye Trail Association, PO Box 254, Worthington, Ohio, 43085. Phone contact: Mr. Herb Hulls. (704) 585-2603.

The route: Going from west to east, counter-clockwise, here's a rundown of the route and its highlights. South of the Michigan border and east of Toledo, the trail heads south largely following the remnants of the old Miami and Erie Canal. Between Dayton and Cincinnati, the Little Miami Scenic Park offers a 60-mile rail trail.

Backpackers looking for a multi-day trip should head to southeastern Ohio, about 60 miles east of Cincinnati and 60 miles south of Columbus. According to DeLaet, this is the trail's most scenic and diverse segment, meandering through a series of state parks and the Wayne National Forest. Plan to anchor your trip around the 25 miles of trail that pass through Hocking Hills State Park, which boasts the Grandma Gatewood Trail (named after Ohio resident and trail volunteer Emma Gatewood, the legendary senior citizen who was the first woman to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail). The trail then heads north toward Canton. Check out the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area and the Muskingham Valley Water Conservancy District, which offer more than 100 miles of trail along a series of dams and reservoirs. Finally, to complete the loop, you'll head west, roughly from Cleveland to Toledo. This section currently stays primarily on back-roads, although a rail-trail is under development. In the meantime, you might be best to tackle this section on a bike rather than on foot.


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »