I'd been hankering for a weekend of fishing. My friend John, who owns tackle, hadn't had a vacation in a year. Together, we booked it to Beaver Creek State Park for two days of seclusion.
Here's how it went down.
After rolling into the Leslie Road family camp red-eyed and ragged at 1 a.m. the night before, we awake to a fantastic view of a countryside sprouting fall colors beneath a clear blue sky. The many branches of Little Beaver Creek run near the intersection of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, which means great vantages of the Allegheny Mountains. Colors should peak this weekend - a fury of orange, yellow and red rivaling any spot in the Midwest.
We soon explore the two-mile Dogwood Trail, a steep and rather rugged path with ferns, dew, rock outcroppings and dense forest that give the sense of being in the Pacific Northwest. Much of the trail runs along the creek's western section - its waters cold, deceptively deep and clear enough to spot swimming fish.
Rumors circulated about excellent smallmouth and rock bass fishing, but the first day yielded only a sparse, rather bizarre collection: sauger, freshwater drum, carp and bluegill. Before nightfall we return to the park office (the ranger can't be found) to fish a stretch near the Echo Dell Road bridge.
Nothing bites, and we return to camp with fresh supplies.
A general store with a deli, dry goods and snacks lies south of the park on State Rt. 7, and you can procure firewood at 11275 Leslie Rd. A very nice gentleman stocks $5 and $10 bundles, works on the 24-7 honor system and keeps a night light next to the cords.
Each campsite is quiet and comfortable: a gravel driveway, wide spaces for tents or RVs and a fire ring. Vault toilets and fresh water are found nearby. Try slots 21-25 for privacy; 15-19 for soft, grassy sleeping and better views. Spots start at $16 per night, and reservations are required.
Temperatures dip sharply at night and rise with the sun, so fog blankets camp at 7 a.m., when we decide to head back to the stream - Friday's meager haul attributed to poor timing, not lack of skill. Still, we think, the farther out we go, the better. (Be careful: Public hunting started Wednesday.)
Few of the park's paths are connected, so we drive five minutes to the Vondergreen Trail. Part of the North Country Trail, which runs from North Dakota to New York, the Vondergreen is a superb jaunt along a quiet stretch of water dotted with history. Among the pioneer attractions are Hambleton's Mill and Gretchen's Lock, a remnant of the Sandy & Beaver Canal built in 1834.
Little Beaver has been designated a State and National Scenic River, and that's soon apparent along the Vondergreen. Belted kingfishers dive and squawk overhead, and horsemen routinely splash across the water to access a network of popular bridle trails.
When nothing bites in a deep hole downstream of the lock, we hit one of the smaller trails that make the park good for casual hikers, boring for backpackers. The half-mile Overlook is uphill, frequented by horses and offers a decent view to the valley below.
Vocal locals along the way decry the fishing in the state park and vehemently insist we head to the state forest 15 minutes away. (A state nature preserve also rests nearby.)
As in many state forests, trails are rugged, aimed at the more adventurous. Eventually, we scale a set of giant riverside boulders jutting into virgin waters cutting through forested mountain foothills. Neither dashed hopes for smallmouth nor a sketchy, pitch-black walk back can diminish some of the most breathtaking scenery in Ohio.
For more outdoor adventures and photos from Beaver Creek State Park, click to The Riot Act blog at ColumbusAlive.com