Get Wild in Shawnee State Park, Ohio's Little Smokies

Experience a blend of adventure and comfort in one of the largest stretches of protected forest in Ohio.

Randy Edwards
A man sits on a bench, overlooking a lake at Shawnee State Park

Shawnee State Park is a wild place.

The official footprint of Ohio’s southernmost state park, near Portsmouth, is 1,095 acres, but Shawnee is nestled within the Shawnee State Forest, which in turn is adjacent to forested area conserved by private conservation groups. This all adds up to nearly 85,000 acres of tree-filled hills and one of the largest stretches of protected forest in Ohio.

And while wildlife is abundant in many state parks, this vast stretch of unbroken forest, known as “Ohio’s Little Smokies,” is one of the few areas in the state where bobcat sightings have become routine and black bears and rattlesnakes can also be found. All three of these creatures are camera-shy and remain elusive to the casual visitor, so manage your expectations (or your fears). Offering miles of trails, campgrounds, cabins and a comfy lodge, what you can expect to experience at Shawnee is a blend of comfort and adventure against a backdrop of forested scenery and plenty of opportunities to experience wild nature.

Two kayakers enjoy Shawnee State Park's lake

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Shawnee has a little something for everyone, from challenging backcountry hiking to drinks by the pool. Listen to the flutelike sound of the wood thrush while sipping coffee on your private balcony, a feature of all 50 rooms at Shawnee Lodge. Catch a glimpse of wild turkeys while riding the 14 miles of mountain bike trail. Fish for bass or trout in one of the two park lakes. Watch for bald eagles overhead while boating the Ohio River from Shawnee’s marina. Fall asleep to barred owl or whippoorwill in your tent at the park’s campground.

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The park has something for every season, as well. In the spring, birders flock to the park to see migratory songbirds and wildflowers. In summer, families book cabins and lounge by the swimming pool or rent stand-up paddleboards at the beach. When the Appalachian foothills turn on their autumn display, leaf-peepers crowd the park, so book early if you plan an overnight stay. Come in winter for a solitary hike along a stretch of the Buckeye Trail, or snuggle comfortably indoors, enjoying dinner at The Smokehouse or drinks at Tecumseh Lounge.

This story is from the June 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.