5 Great State Parks for Camping and Hiking in Ohio
Because of its location, Ohio is home to a wide range of interesting landscapes and this is especially true of the parks scattered throughout the state. I’ve had the pleasure of hiking and camping in quite of few Ohio parks.
Here are my five favorite Ohio State Parks for hiking, camping and photography.
Mohican State Park
Description: Located roughly one hour north to northeast from Columbus, this large park has plenty of trails for a multi-day stay. We stayed in the middle of September, so the leaves were turning colors creating an abundance of photo-taking opportunities. On our evening hike the first day we saw a blue heron fishing in Wolf Creek. The park has nearly 200 campsites, three camper cabins, 25 cabins as well as a nice camp store with an ice cream stand -- and for the children -- a mining apparatus.
Pros: A wide range of trails – from easy to difficult – many wind along the creek giving hikers plenty of pleasant views. The park has a fire tower for those wishing to climb to the top and get a better view of the forest. It also has swimming pool for guests. The shower houses in the electric camping section are relatively new and have great water pressure.
Cons: Some of the restroom-only buildings need upgraded.
Insider Tip: The best camp sites are in the non-electric section. These have the best view and are close to the covered bridge, creek and trail heads.
East Fork State Park
Description: East Fork State Park is located about 25 minutes east of Cincinnati and about 45 minutes west of Shawnee State Park so it features a blended landscape. Overall, the trails are less difficult than Shawnee State Park.
Pros: All the campsites have electric hookup and if you're looking for a longer day hike, there are plenty of trails including the 32-mile Steven Newman World Walker Trail. For those seeking an overnight hike, try the 16-mile backpacking trail (it's more difficult).
Cons: Although the camping sites are large and well-maintained with newer shower houses, the sites are divided into a series of ‘cul-de-sacs’ which can make viewing them a little time consuming for first-timers and walk-ins.
Insider Tip: Although several private sellers of firewood exist near the park, there tends to be enough dead wood near the sites to supply a nightly fire.
Shawnee State Park
Description: If you love hiking, this state park, located in the Appalachian foothills, is the perfect spot. The woods are complemented by a large lake, which provides plenty of places for fishing and boating. The park is in the south, central portion of the state.
Pros: This is a hiker’s park. The Shawnee Backpack Trail consists of two loops. The North Loop is 23 miles and the South Loop is 17 miles. To hike the trail, hikers must sign in at a self-registering station.
Cons: First time campers may need to switch out their site upon arrival since it is difficult to fully appreciate a campsite’s pros/cons until viewing it. There are plenty of good sites though, however, a few a not ideal for tent camping.
Insider Tip: If you need Wi-Fi, stand next to the camp store on the side where vehicles enter the park.
Description: This small state park offers spectacular views of Lake Erie and although only accessible by ferry boat, the park has walk-up campsites. We had initially rented a non-electric because that was all that was available online, but we were able to switch to an electric site once we arrived. The island is small enough to walk or bike around in a day. There are plenty of old homes, and even old vehicles (when we visited) to view. Downtown is small and quaint, but filled with enough shops, diners, and tourist dives to spend a half a day viewing.
Pros: Besides the small town and its historical buildings, the island is also home to glacier grooves, about 10 miles of trails and plenty of fishing spots. The park has modern showers, a small camp store – and a larger privately-owned store within walking distance of the park’s entrance.
Cons: Since it is an island, if a storm breaks out it can get very windy as we found out our first night on the island. Also, since it requires a ferry boat to access the island, expect to spend another $70-$75 to get to your site. When we visited in the fall of 2017, it was $20 per person and $32 for our vehicle. The boat ride takes about 20 minutes.
Insider Tip: The island has special events which can be viewed in advance on their website. The weekend we visited was garage sale weekend and we found several good deals.
Hocking Hills State Park
Description: This is probably Ohio’s most known, and most visited, state park. Located about an hour south of Columbus, this park features some of Ohio’s most beautiful woods and rock scapes.
Pros: If you are a photographer, you will be hard pressed to find a more suitable landscape to photograph. As a hiker, there are ample trails of varying difficulty to walk. Plenty of fishing spots exist too.
Cons: Because of the popularity of the location, there is a shortage of reasonably priced camping spots. This problem was exasperated in 2016 when the state’s lodge burned down. You may want to consider privately-owned camping sites. We found one for $30 a day, which is comparable to state park rates.
Insider Tip: Visit Old Man’s Cave late in the day. This seems to be the first place tourist go when visiting the state park – creating a very packed walking experience. If you go when the crowd has dispersed, you will find it easier to park and easier to photograph as you walk through the impressive rock formations. Do not park in undesignated areas, you will be ticketed.
Become A Member
Whether you camp a little or a lot, take the time to become a loyalty card member with the Ohio State Park system. This card will allow you to collect points, based on the dollars you spend. Use the card when you reserve you site and when you spend money at the camp store. The points can be used for free nights of camping or lodging. Also, get on their email list so you will know about free camping nights (for example, Black Friday is usually free).