Venture: Backpacking Lake Vesuvius

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Plumb a line from Columbus down past the farmland of Circleville and Chillicothe, and eventually it'll drop into a remote section of Wayne National Forest bunched over hilly pockets just miles above the Ohio River.

Deep within this land of one-pump filling stations and forgotten forest roads lie the muddy fingers of Lake Vesuvius. And deep within these hidden corners sits one of Ohio's least-used backpacking trails, a winding earthen sliver draped like a garland through the endless foothills.

Setting out Oct. 9, my group of seven saw only two other hikers, a pair trekking across one of the rocky points that poked through the fall-tinged canopy. By this weekend, crisp weather and shorter days will have ignited even Ohio's southernmost trees, turning them into orbs of scarlet, orange and amber.

Navigating overnight trails can be confusing, so try this: Start from the trailhead at the southwest boat launch, hike clockwise 10 miles to the spacious Paddle Creek campsite and save the final six miles for an easier second day. (Before you leave, grab a $6 guide from

The biggest drawback will be carrying or caching water, as there are no spigots and few treatable sources along the way. The biggest draw will be the final four miles along the Lakeside Trail option, which passes rock walls, backwater boardwalks and panoramic lakeside vistas.

Young and scrubby in places, the forest bears the scars of its proximity to the Hanging Rock Iron Region, which at its peak was among the top producers of iron in the United States. Until 1916, each of 46 area furnaces consumed 350 acres of timber annually.

Even so, highlights that pepper the 16-mile trail are striking and unique.

Flat, grassy stretches run along defunct access roads, and ravines open onto expansive bottoms beside the lake's numerous feeder streams. A handful of challenging climbs are followed by ridgeline views peering into dark, mysterious caves.

If you've already conquered courses at Zaleski State Forest and Wildcat Hollow, hit Vesuvius this weekend to send off one of the most beautiful summers in recent memory.

Tons of photos and a full trail guide to Lake Vesuvius await at the Ohio Adventure Map at

Lake Vesuvius Recreation Area

State Rte. 93 and County Road 29, Ellisonville