Shawnee State Forest Backpack Trail
County: Scioto, Adams
Nearest town: Portsmouth
Total distance: 36.4-mile main trail; 19.6-mile north loop using cutoff side trail, 26.0-mile south loop using cutoff side trail; 9.5-mile wilderness side trail. Side trails to camps add additional light mileage.
Hiking time: Up to 5 days
Trail conditions: Well established, bulldozed in many sections
Blazes: Main trail blazed with orange, side trails blazed with white
Water: Hauled water available at or near all backpack camping areas, except Camp 6. Water can be filtered at Camp 6 from year-round streams
Highlights: Vast forest, remote campsites, diverse fauna and flora, 8000-acre wilderness area
Contact info: Shawnee State Forest, 13291 U.S. 52, West Portsmouth, Ohio 45663, phone: 740-858-6685; Shawnee State Park, 4404 State Route 125, West Portsmouth, Ohio 45663, phone: 740-858-6652
Getting there: From U.S. 23 in Portsmouth, take State Route 52 west for 6.8 miles to State Route 125. Turn right onto SR 125 and travel 6.7 miles to the entrance for the lodge, cabins and state park office and turn left. Make a quick right into the trailhead parking area.
Trailhead coordinates: 38.7413°N, 83.1972°W (WGS84); UTM 17 309029E 4290145N (NAD27)
Shawnee State Forest, also called the “Little Smokies of Ohio”, is Ohio’s largest state forest, coming in at nearly 64,000 acres, or 100 square miles for comparison. Located in the heart of the forest, 1095 acres is set aside for Shawnee State Park and its elegant lodge, cabins, campground and two lakes. A marina and golf course are located a little farther south on the Ohio River.
Shawnee Indians used the forest as hunting grounds until the 1700s when settlers, using the Ohio River as a boulevard, began to penetrate the forest, clearing and thrashing the wilderness as they sought to create homesites and farms. By the early twentieth century, the Shawnee hills were left denuded of trees, burned and abandoned. In 1922, 5000 acres of ravaged lands were purchased, building the foundation for Ohio’s biggest reforestation project. In the 1930s, six Civilian Conservation Corps camps were located in the forest. Many roads and lakes still used today were constructed during this period.
Shawnee’s size, ruggedness and opportunities for solitude are unparalleled in Ohio, making the forest a special place to visit. The seemingly endless trees comprise Ohio’s largest contiguous forest, and home for a large number of animal species–including bobcat, black bear and timber rattlesnakes, a great number of bird species and many rare and endangered plants. Ohio’s only designated wilderness area—state designation, not federal—occupies 8,000 acres in the southwest corner of the forest and is off limits to timber management and motorized travel. In 1999, an additional 8,000 acres adjacent to the wilderness area was designated as a backcountry management area. This area provides wildlife and endangered plant management, as well as walk-in recreation and hunting opportunities. Motorized travel is restricted.
The hills in the forest represent some of Ohio’s highest. Terrain relief commonly reaches 400 feet and exceeds 600 feet in some areas, especially in the southwest quadrant. Average ridgetop elevations peak between 1100 to 1200 feet above sea level with a few high points breaking the 1300-foot contour. The normal pool elevation of the Ohio River represents the lowest elevation in the region and averages 500 feet above sea level.
A variety of vegetation grows in Shawnee State Forest. Several species of oaks and hickories grace the ridges alongside sassafras and native pitch and shortleaf pines. On the mid-slopes, expect to find oaks and hickories in addition to maple, basswood, yellow poplar, buckeye, blackgum, ash, elm, hackberry and aspen. Sweetgum, beech, black cherry, black walnut, sycamore, birch and butternut can be found in bottomland areas. Hemlocks can be found thriving in narrow, cooler valleys.
In April 2009, a forest fire burned nearly 3000 acres in the central section of the forest, centered roughly on Mackletree Road. Only 10% of this acreage burned completely, with little timber worth salvaging. The remainder of the burn area suffered less damage and any salvageable timber was removed. Remaining timber stands in the burn area are recovering quickly and effects of the fire will be virtually unnoticeable in a few short years.
The 36.4 miles of the orange-blazed main trail is laid out in a large loop, with State Route 125 nearly bisecting it in the middle. A 4.6-mile cutoff side trail paralleling SR 125 from near Camp 3 to the trailhead divides the main loop into two smaller loops: a 19.6-mile north loop and a 26.0-mile south loop. Alternately, SR 125 can be used as the cutoff between FR 1 and the trailhead. The distance is shorter at only 2.8 miles, plus two 300-foot plus elevation gains are bypassed. Camp side trails will add additional light mileage to your overall trip, all are 0.25 mile or less.
Most backpackers refer to the backpack trail in terms of its north and south loops, and usually base trips on one or the other. The trail’s north and south loops are described separately in this document. The 9.5-mile wilderness side trail takes hikers into the remote 8000-acre Shawnee Wilderness Area. For backpackers, visiting the wilderness area usually involves a multi-night trip, allowing one day to hike to a base camp, usually Camp 6, and then day hiking the wilderness side trail the next. Day visitors can access the wilderness side trail via County Road 96 alongside Upper Twin Creek.
The official trailhead is located very near the junction of the main backpack trail and the western end of the bisecting cutoff side trail, which means the official trailhead can and should be used for a trip on either the north or south loop, or, of course, an extended trip of the entire trail. Beginning a trip anywhere else along the main trail would require leaving your vehicle overnight in a rural location. This is not recommended as these areas are not regularly patrolled by state park or state forest rangers.
The complete trail report, trail notes and trail maps for the Shawnee State Forest Backpack Trail is available as a 13-page downloadable eTrailsOhioPDF file for $6.95. We offer the most comprehensive coverage and the most detailed maps of Ohio’s biggest and baddest trail…Hands Down! We’ve even included the wilderness area side trail. BUY IT NOW.