Wayne National Forest – Archers Fork Trail
Nearest town: Marietta
Total distance: 11.9-mile loop, 2.6-mile connector via the North Country Trail/9 Bell Trail connector to the Scenic River Trail’s northern trailhead
Hiking time: Approximately 6 to 8 hours, or 2 days for overnight
Trail conditions: Well established
Blazes: Yellow diamonds; blue diamonds and yellow diamonds with a red dot mark the North Country Trail/9 Bell Trail connector to the Scenic River Trail
Water: No potable water available along trail; water drawn from Archers Fork, Jackson Run, Irish Run or feeder streams must be treated or filtered first
Highlights: Seclusion, spring wildflowers, wildlife, Irish Run Natural Bridge and other rock outcroppings
Contact info: Wayne National Forest – Marietta Unit, phone: 740-373-9055
Internet: Wayne National Forest
Getting there: Take State Route 26 northeast from Marietta, Ohio for 25 miles to State Route 260 and turn right. Travel 2.9 miles on SR 260 and turn right on Shay Ridge Road (T-34). In 1.4 miles turn left on a gravel road marked by a North Country Trail Parking sign. Travel this road a short distance and park in front of the cemetery. Do not attempt to drive past the cemetery.
Trailhead coordinates: 39° 31′ 26”N, 81° 10′ 51″W (WGS84); UTM 17 484443E, 4374714N (NAD27)
The Archers Fork Backpack Trail is located in far southeastern Ohio in the heavily forested and sparsely populated northeast corner of Washington County, which is part of the Marietta Management Unit of Wayne National Forest. Archers Fork is farther from Ohio’s major metropolitan area than any other trail in the state. Getting to the trailhead may not be as convenient as some other hikes, but to experience this trail in hardcore Appalachian Ohio is worth the trip. Walking the Archers Fork Trail is a glimpse into the natural, mineral and human history defining this region.
The name Archers Fork is both the name of a stream draining the area and a very small community about a mile south of where the trail crosses the stream. Archers Fork (the stream) empties into the Little Muskingum River and forms at the confluence of two smaller streams: Irish Run and Jackson Run, which lie at the center of the trail’s loop. The Macksburg oil and gas field underlies this entire region, so expect to see results of active and historic exploitations of these resources. The area’s rocky ridges attain an average elevation relief of approximately 350 feet.
Archers Fork offers more than just a hike through the forest. Along the way you will see many rock formations in the form of caves, cliffs, overhang shelters and even a natural bridge. The Irish Run Natural Bridge is located near the trail and worth a few minutes of your time to explore. A larger cave, named the Great Cave on trail signage, is located just off the trail near the St. Patrick’s Cemetery trailhead. A network of lightly used connecting trails threaded through contiguous tracts of federally owned land extends miles beyond the Archers Fork Trail and offers the opportunity for multi-night trips.
Although not old growth by any means, the forests in this part of the Wayne are still stately with oak and hickory forests dominating upland areas. A mixed forest type of cherry, tuliptree, walnut and ash can be found on many slopes. Sycamore and beech are found in wetter bottomlands. This middle-aged forest is home to an abundant variety of bird and mammal life. As the sun fades, it is not uncommon to hear a pair of noisy barred or great horned owls, or the unmistakable call of the whip-poor-will. Coyote and bobcat roam these hills and their calls are often heard after sundown as well. Don’t be too surprised if you spot a black bear in the area as they are known to populate this part of the state. This is also copperhead and timber rattlesnake country, so a little extra caution should be exercised in warmer months. Of course, deer and turkey are well represented here as well.
Yellow diamonds mark the Archers Fork Loop. Since the western half of the Archers Fork loop is shared with the North Country Trail, you’ll also see blue diamonds marking that trail. Due to a history of oil and gas development in the area, expect to sporadically encounter old oil and gas wells (some still operational) and old steel and newer plastic pipelines (some leaking) lying on top of the ground and across the trail. A portion of the loop is maintained by the River Valley Mountain Bike Association (RVMBA) so efforts of their ongoing maintenance program may be noticed along the way, too.
Since this is Wayne National Forest, camping is allowed anywhere on forest land. There are no WNF established campsites on the trail, and, as of thiswriting, only a few sites have been established by backpackers before you. Two campsites located in the same general area were noted on the NorthCountry Trail/9 Bell Trail connector to the Scenic River Trail. Campsites appearing to receive ongoing use, either frequent or infrequent, are included on the enclosed map. Appendix A contains a table of campsite GPS coordinates. Most sites are located very near the trail or just a few yards away. Skilled topo map readers may be able to pinpoint flat areas agreeable for camping away from the trail on ridgetops or in hollow bottoms; however, a thick forest understory in most areas may make conditions difficult or unsuitable.
If treating water trailside is not an option for you, then your potable drinking water will have to be carried in. Caching water, or even gear, is a possibility near the campsites mentioned above at the 5.0-mile mark along a gravel road (Jackson Run Rd.) that travels through the valley of Jackson Run, but your trip to here and then back to the trailhead would greatly delay your start, as there is no direct route between the two locations. Cady Run at the 0.6-mile mark of the North Country Trail/9 Bell Trail connector to the Scenic River Trail is the most reliable source of water along that stretch of trail.
Download the Archers Fork Trail eTrails PDF for the full trail report