Zaleski State Forest Backpack Trail
County: Vinton, Athens, Hocking
Nearest town: Nelsonville
Total distance: 24.9-mile main trail; 10.5-mile south loop using day hike cutoff, 10.2-mile middle loop including visit to camp at Point H, 6.9-mile north loop
Hiking time: Approximately 4 to 6 hours each for the south and middle loops, 3 to 4 hours for the north loop, or up to 3 days for all loops in one trip
Trail conditions: Well established
Blazes: Main trail blazed orange, camp side trails and day hike cutoff blazed white
Water: Available at all backpack camping areas (Points C, D & H on the map)
Highlights: Secluded backcountry camps, Hewett Fork overlook, magnificent pine plantation, 19 interpretive stops
Maps: USGS 7.5': Mineral & Union Furnace; ODNR Div. of Forestry Zaleski State Forest Backpack Trail map; eTrailsOhio
Contact info: Zaleski State Forest, P.O. Box 330, S.R. 278, Zaleski, Ohio 45698-0330, phone: 740-596-5781; Lake Hope State Park, 27331 State Route 278, McArthur, OH 45651, phone: 740-596-4938
Internet: www.ohiodnr.com & www.lakehopestatepark.com
Getting there: From within Nelsonville, Ohio take State Route 278 south for 12.5 miles, crossing State Route 56 in approximately 8 miles, to the trailhead parking lot on the left, across from the Hope Furnace. Alternately, from US 33 heading southeast past Logan, exit right onto County Road 25 (Haydenville Road) at the interchange with State Route 595 and travel 2.5 miles to a right turn onto Laurel Run Road. Follow Laurel Run Road for 4.75 miles until it dead ends into State Route 56. Turn left, and follow State Route 56 for just over 2 miles and turn right onto State Route 278 heading south. Follow State Route 278 for 4.8 miles to the trailhead.
Trailhead coordinates: 39.3315°N, 82.3399°W (WGS84); UTM 17 384503E 4354206N (NAD27); UTM 17 384517E 4354423N (NAD83)
Covering almost 27,000 acres, Zaleski State Forest is Ohio's second largest state forest. Along with Lake Hope State Park located at the center of the forest, the region is rich in nature, outdoor recreation and history. The 120-acre "C" shaped Lake Hope lies at the center of the state park and provides fishing, swimming and paddling recreation. Rental cottages are located on a ridge above the middle of the arcing lake and a 187 site crowd-free campground is located on scenic Furnace Ridge, just to the north. In February 2006, a fire destroyed the rustic stone and wood Hope Dining Lodge, which overlooked the lake and sat near the cottages. Efforts are in progress to build a new structure. Over 20 miles of top rated mountain bike trails twist and turn along the ridges throughout the park.
If not for remnants of the Hope Furnace across State Route 278 from the backpack trailhead, you wouldn't know the Zaleski area was once at the heart of a very important iron-producing region known as the Hanging Rock iron region. The Hope Furnace, starting in 1854, along with others in the area, blasted 24 hours a day for nearly twenty years and produced high-quality iron, some of which was made into ammunition and weaponry for the Union Army during the Civil War. Charcoal required for the smelting process came from mighty trees gracing the surrounding hillsides. By the time the furnaces shutdown, thousands of acres of real estate were almost completely stripped of their timber. Coal mining also had a period of prosperity in the region and many tangible remnants of this activity can be found throughout the area.
The path to development of the forest followed one similar to that which led to the development of Tar Hollow State Forest. In the 1930s, federal funds were use to purchased neglected lands for conservation and reforestation. A Civilian Conservation Corps camp was installed in the forest and became a temporary home for relief workers brought in to build roads, trails, structures and other improvements.
Hiking or driving throughout Zaleski State Forest is a unique experience. The forest is big and solitude is not hard to find (except on the south backpack trail loop in October). Wildlife and birds are plentiful and beaver activity abounds in many valleys. Rock cliffs can be found on steep hillsides and overhang caves at the heads of many ravines. The human history of the Zaleski area adds to its intrigue. Old roads, abandoned homesteads and towns, old cemeteries, mining ruins and even the abandoned and allegedly haunted Moonville train tunnel are reasons for you to stop, explore and ponder the past. In the future, the Moonville Rail-Trail will utilize the old railroad grade running through the forest--and the tunnel--on a route between Red Diamond and Athens.
A wonderful oak-hickory dominant second-growth forest covers Zaleski's hills. Native pines grow near dry rocky outcrops. Unfortunately, a questionable forest management plan, with a history of igniting newsmaking protests, has brought large timber harvests close to trails and sensitive areas. These areas create localized eyesores but are not noticeably widespread throughout the forest. The ridges on which Zaleski's trees are firmly rooted reach an average elevation relief of 300 feet, topping out at 1000 feet above sea level or slightly higher. Ridgetops are narrow and slopes are steep. Raccoon Creek is the largest drainage feature in the forest and its lowest point, exiting the southeast corner of the forest at an elevation of 690 feet above sea level.
The Zaleski Backpack Trail is one of the state's most--if not the most--popular overnight hiking destinations. Many Ohio backpackers and group outings make the Zaleski Trail an annual stop on their backpacking schedule. It's no wonder so many return so often, Zaleski has a lot to offer. This scenic trail passes by many points of biological, geological and historical interest, several of which are highlighted in text (included in the eTrailsOhio download) and marked in the field by 19 numbered Carsonite signs, making this the only self-guided interpretive backpack trail in the state.
The main trail's 24.9 miles are laid out in a long contorted loop, with a cutoff side trail at the southern end and a one-mile section of two-way trail connecting a smaller northern loop. Most hikers refer to the sections of the Zaleski Trail in terms of its south loop, middle loop and north loop. The configuration of the trail offers many trip options to day hikers and single night backpackers. Plan on a double-overnighter to hike all three loops in one trip, or to hike the 18.1 miles of a combined south and middle loop trip.
The complete trail report, trail notes and trail maps for the Zaleski Backpack Trail is available as a 12-page downloadable eTrailsOhio PDF file for $6.95. This is guaranteed to be the most complete set of information for the Zaleski Backpack Trail to be found.
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