If you’re an Ohio hiker, there’s a good chance you’ve been to Boston Mill in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, or the Grandma Gatewood Trail in Hocking Hills State Park. Or maybe Eden Park in Cincinnati. These sections of the statewide Buckeye Trail are popular because they are beautiful hikes. But there’s plenty of beauty to go around on the Buckeye Trail, which means you can leave the crowds behind without missing out on the scenery. Try following the blue blazes on some of these lesser-known but comparably high-quality hikes along the 1,400-mile Buckeye Trail.
Northeast Ohio: Richfield Heritage Preserve
In 2014, the citizens of Richfield village and township voted to purchase land that had been a Girl Scout camp since the 1930s. It was renamed Richfield Heritage Preserve and 2.3 miles of the Buckeye Trail (BT) were then routed through this charming little refuge in 2016. Hike past Kirby’s Mill, a water-powered millwheel built in 1922 by inventor James Kirby (restoration efforts are underway to get the mill in working order again). Then hike through forest and fields, along a stream and past Lower Lake followed by Lake Linnea (Upper Lake) and the lodge before the BT exits the preserve. There are Adirondack shelters near Lake Linnea. Camping in the shelters will be open soon by permit; contact the preserve in advance.
Details: Just under two hours from Columbus; open dawn to dusk 365 days a year.
More Info: Richfield Heritage Preserve
Southeast Ohio: Boch Hollow
The Grandma Gatewood Trail is a 6-mile section of the Buckeye Trail and one of the choicest hikes in the state. But good luck waiting for someone to get out of the way so you can take a photo of a waterfall. Next time you head to the Hocking Hills, aim for Boch Hollow instead. More than four miles of the BT traverse Boch Hollow, which is home to the federally endangered running buffalo clover and fantastic spring wildflowers. This is almost guaranteed to be a crowd-free hike. Plan ahead and request a permit from the Division of Natural Areas and Preserves to visit Boch Hollow’s Robinson Falls, also known as Corkscrew Falls, which is one of the most beautiful (and least seen) waterfalls in Hocking Hills State Park.
Details: One hour from Columbus; day use only, open daily a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset.
More Info: Boch Hollow State Nature Preserve
Southwest Ohio: Edge of Appalachia
The Nature Conservancy protected a hidden gem here and now it’s even better. In 2019, the Buckeye Trail Association and The Nature Conservancy collaborated to route 16 miles of the BT through The Edge of Appalachia. For a short day hike, try the 1.6-mile out-and-back Joan Jones Portman Trail section of the BT, which includes the forests, prairies, and overlooks this preserve is known for. If you contact The Nature Conservancy in advance for a free permit, you can do an overnighter on this section of the BT—solitude guaranteed.
Details: Two hours and 15 minutes from Columbus; open year-round.
More Info: Edge of Appalachia Preserve
Northwest Ohio: Independence Dam
Outside of the Toledo metroparks, the BT in northwest Ohio is all crowd-free. The question is, how do you find a section off-road with good scenery? (Much of the BT in northwest Ohio travels backroads.) The answer is just outside of Defiance, in Independence Dam State Park. Three miles of the BT here parallel the Maumee State Scenic River, tracing the tree-lined shore of the broad, riffling waterway. This was once the towpath for the Miami/Wabash/Erie Canal. Primitive campsites along the river are open April through October, reservations required (contact below). Get provisions just a few miles away in Defiance, a Buckeye Trail Town, designated for its amenities and proximity to the BT.
Details: Two and a half hours from Columbus; open 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. for day use.
More Info: Independence Dam State Park